Saturday, December 18, 2010

How Poor Service Ruins Brands – eZone (Pantaloon Retail) and LG in India

eZone claims to be a leading retailer of electronic and white goods in India.  I though so too.  The customer service I have received is consistently poor and prompted me to think how brands are ruined by poor service.  

As a practice I don’t write on a specific experience on my blog – I do not want to be accused of generalizing a specific.  But, I am making an exception.

What is customer service?  I recently conducted a series of workshops and simulations for a services organization and explored this question with the participants using real customer stories.  Over 200 participants (in groups of about 20-25) came to similar conclusions:

  1.  Timely and sincere apology can save the day
  2. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver
  3. Keep the customer informed and DON’T lie
  4.  The only customer you have is the one you are serving right NOW.


eZone failed on every account in my case.  In fact it has been so hopeless that I am forced to include it as an example that I hope no other retailer emulates.  It may not help anyone if I get into specifics – but in summary, we bought several items from the retailer before the Indian festival of lights, Diwali.  All items were promised to be delivered in ten days or so.  While other items were finally delivered (with some delay and lots of follow-up) a washing machine is yet to be delivered after over 45 days!!! 

In this time I have spent more time following up and losing my patience than eZone has bothered to spend on trying to deliver.  I pity the lack of creativity in making up stories – I was given same story twice.  Obviously they forgot what lie they told the previous time.  During this period I have asked for complaint process – there was none.  I have written on their website – no reply yet.  They have made it impossible difficult for a customer to complain.  Smart thinking.

While I still await the washing machine, I thank eZone and LG Electronics for giving me a wonderful story of how poor service can ruin brands.  Big brands.  I am a quality professional and conduct a lot of training sessions – I am always looking for a good story to tell.  Thank you eZone and LG India.


Update (Last week Dec) - Well eZone salvaged some reputation.  I sent this post to the CEO and he surely got the wheels moving. Washing machine was delivered, apology from store manager, money refunded, and a complementary gift (reluctantly accepted).  


I guess speaking up helped.  Lesson - don't tolerate poor service. Speak UP.  Chances are service provider is actually keen to listen.  We just don't shout often and loud enough.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Saving the Baldrige – How to do it, if we have to?

I am a huge Baldrige fan.  My last two jobs were built around deploying the Baldrige criteria and I am certain I got my current job based on that experience (primarily).  I am convinced that it has done a lot of good not just to the American industry but to several companies across the world. 

What is happening and Why?
Is withdrawing Government grant a bad thing? Maybe not.  World over there is a strong move to remove government aid and subsidy in various forms.  Why should the Baldrige program be different?  If the program had followed what it preaches maybe it would have become self-reliant by now.  I am not being acidic here, just being a little blunt.  Don’t get me wrong – all I am saying is that the Baldrige program needs a dose of what it prescribes.

I have been actively using the Baldrige criteria and have some awareness on how it is run – and I am afraid, in all these years I have not yet heard of or seen a strategy document come out of the Baldrige program.  Apart from opening up the program to more categories there has been little change to the program (I mean the program, not the criteria).

I am not sure why the program needs government money.  It can collect fee from applicants and run the program like any other business.  I can understand government sparing money for research activities as part of the program, but program administration surely does not need government money.

What can we do about it and How?
Firstly, take the program international.  I work in India and am certain if reasonable fees are charged there will be several Indian companies keen to apply for the Baldrige.  The Deming prize is already an example of this.  100s of Indian companies use the Baldrige already – only the Baldrige program doesn’t know. 

Secondly, reduce costs.  Apply Six Sigma and Lean to administration processes and reduce costs.  Practice what you preach.  I understand the need to maintain quality and high standards but surely a disciplined application of Six Sigma and Lean principles can help the program.

Thirdly, develop a program for IT and ITES industry.  There is a huge global market for a Baldrige kind of product for the cash rich IT and ITES industry.  The competitive and offshore nature of the industry will ensure that there is an immediate market for the product.

Fourthly, develop a global communication approach about Baldrige and its benefits.  If possible fund or encourage books on companies that used Baldrige.  The program just does not reach out to potential markets.  If one applies Category 2 to the program, I am certain a good examiner won’t give more than 30%.

Summary – Practice what you preach.

ASQ’s Chief Strategy Officer Paul Borwaski, has raised the issue of potential withdrawal of government money in his latest blog post.  His concerns are genuine and anguish real.  I am in agreement with Paul when he says that those who are pushing for the cut have probably not even bothered to look at what the program does for the USA and world.  But then, if they haven’t bothered, what has the NIST and ASQ done to communicate the benefits over the years.  I am not saying it has done nothing – it surely has done a lot.  But like in Baldrige, results matter.  And in this case the people who matter doesn’t seem to know how good the Baldrige program is.  NIST and ASQ therefore need to improve their communication (to the right audience).

Also, if the government does pull the plug, why not call it the Juran award.  It’s high time we repay some part of our debt to the contributions of JMJ.  This may be our chance!

I repeat, I am not favoring the removal of grants.  I am only seeing some logic in reducing the grants.  And even more logic in the Baldrige program practicing what it preaches.