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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Retail Love: Personalized Receipts

How often do you actually scrutinize the receipt you receive after paying for your essential shoppings at Nandan, Agora, PQS, MeenaBazaar etc.? Chances are very high that not many of us want to read it line by line, as it bears nothing more than the testimony of the payer being poorer at that instance. Was wondering would it make any difference if the malls would consider pepping up the plain and boring act of handing over receipts with statutory texts, legal terms, promotional items etc. by also doing the following.

1. How about asking for name of say every 10th customer and typing it in before printing the receipt. So that the receipt would read, 'Thank you (Asif, Sonia, Rahat) for shopping at Agora with us today'. Will that add a bit of personalization?

2. How about random motivational quotes or 'On this day in history' information on the slips? One might argue that what is the relevance of putting these unrelated information in a receipt? Well that exactly is the point. The objective is to divert buyer's attention to the possibly not so good feeling of becoming poorer by some hundred taka, to something lighter, entertaining and short-living, something which is good as it happens only at the bill counter or at the queue.

3. How about having a webcam installed at every till and targeting customers especially with children to make a pose and smile as the checking clerk pushes the final button for the bills and prints the receipt with a photo icon in it? Its likely that children might find this idea of printing free photos on receipts very exciting and persuade parents to visit that shop everytime, for a reason...or without time.

4. How about asking customers in the receipts to return a collection of say 10 past receipts within 2 months to be able to enter into some sort of lucky draw, free gift voucher or some sort of 'free love' from the retail shop?

5. I am convinced that I suffer from short term memory (ref. Hindi movie Ghajini :) ) as I still have the habit of writing 'things to buy from kacha bajar' in a small piece of paper mixing Bangla and English as my preparatory work. I must admit that I still don't know the names of many spices and vegetables in English and I end up writing it in Bangla in my shopping list such as 'hing, jabitri, jaifol, mushurir dal, tej pata etc'. I always mix up between cardamom, cinnamon, cummins etc. and still function better by writing and reading dhonia, jira, gorom moshla, elachi, darchini. How about asking customers if they want the receipt to be printed in Bangla or English? Is it too much of an overhead or are there too many software complications to achieve this? I reckon not.

6. What about Lazz Pharma and bigger medicine retailers printing out random health and care tips on their receipts?

This simple act of doing something new with something as old and as mundane as a shopping receipt might help those pieces of paper from not being trashed through the car window or to the nearest litter bin along the way. Also, since retail shopping has become more of an experience worthwhile, so there is no harm in giving customers new experiences through something as small as a receipt.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Renaming Customer Services Department

Recently I upgraded my service with Virgin Media by adding a basic TV package on top of existing broadband and telephone facilities. The sales team called me up a week prior installation to congratulate me for 'making the right decision' and for showing my increasing loyalty with the company. They promised me to offer special deals in near future as I have shown signs of a happy and need-oriented customer etc. etc. etc. So far so good, I hung up the phone and decided to wait for the TV package to arrive in due time.

In the following days, however, I had to make some urgent phone calls back to Bangladesh straight from my landline. I was aware of the bills but the circumstances were such that it was justified and there was no other way. My justifications were faced with a surprise shock after 3 days, now from the Collection department of Virgin Media. They first confirmed if I had made the international calls or not, then they urged me to pay 56 pounds immediately, otherwise they said they would block my telephone services! I was at my wit's end aruging with them why would I pay that amount without receiving any bill in the first place. I was frustatingly disputing the fact that it was not even a week that I proved my 'loyalty' by upgrading my service from them and here they were threatening me to block my other services! What a contrast from the same brand. The collection department decided me to hand my call over to the Customer Services Department then and I was greeted by a heavy Midlands accented lady agent.

I was struggling real bad to understand what the lady was saying in the first place, such a heavy accent it was, I was wondering if this was the listening test during my IELTS examination, I would have surely flunked miserably. So I decided to stop the lady and decided to do the talking myself by narrating her my problem. She listened and provided me the most shocking customer service advice possible. She said with her chewing accent that 'since we are a big company, its not possible for us to treat each and every customer based on their loyalty, trends, behaviour etc. I understand that you have decided to upgrade your package from us, however on the issue of the payment of 56 pounds, you will have to pay it, otherwise we will block all your services, as this is our company policy!' I didn't know pretty much what to expect from them after hearing this. I told them finally that I would pay them shit unless they send me a bill and hung up.

First came the individual's email addresses, then came mobile phones and now we have our unique profiles, friend lists in various social media networking websites. How come the companies as big as Virgin Media even think that I, as a customer, have NOT gained the necessary tools such as internet, mobiles, social networks to make my needs unique, thus making me demand individual treatment. Don't they realise that consumers who used to do 'word of mouth' earlier can very easily do 'word of mouse' with just a click and spread the good word or the bad word faster than a Tsunami? I guess its high time that companies consider renaming their Customer Services Department to 'Individual Services Department' as I am not a generic customer/consumer anymore, I am an individual, I have an identity and I hold some sort of power to convince my network of peers/consumers positively or negatively about any brand these days. You can do the same.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lets change roles for a day or two

On the founding day of the school each year something interesting used to happen. Senior bhaiyas and apus used to volunteer to take up roles of various regular teachers in our classes and attempted to teach us regular subjects such as maths, Bengali, science etc. They wore white aprons, as usually worn by teachers and put their name badges as well, to make it look like more professional and real. We used to thoroughly enjoy this welcome change and we knew that the 'one day teachers' also loved this change of role atleast for a day. They realised how tough it was to manage a class of some odd 40 restless, shouting, screaming pupils and at the same time educate them on basic principles of numbers, nature and life around us. They must have also realised how rewarding the feeling might be to in the teacher's shoes for a day and to gain that authority and respect from a full packed class of juniors. Time passed by, but the principles remain same I guess. And that made me ask today if any Bangladeshi company has this culture of role changing from time to time for atleast a day sometime in the year?

Does it ever happen that you walk into the Grameen Phone Customer Service Center say in Gulshan-2 or in Bashundhara City and see Oddvar Bhai (GP CEO) at the counter serving day to day customers? How about coming across Mamun Rashid uncle at the Citibank reception for a day? I guess Rubaba apa could pretty well try being a call center agent for a day and figure out herself how challenging or rewarding being a female call center agent might be, especially if she greets the caller by saying 'Grameenphoney apnake shagotom, ami Rubaba bolchi, bolun apnake kibhabe sheba ditey pari?'. Similarly I guess it must be a good feeling when Akku Choudhury approaches your table at Pizza Hut and asks you how the pizza was or attempts to take your order himself. How about Doma mama (Banglalink CEO) being one of the tea boys for a day in Banglalink and running around kitchens and floors of Banglalink to serve foot-formayesh from other sirs, madams, bhaiyas and afas.

I guess many of our corporate high-ups become too firewalled by their knowledge, busy schedules and ornamental designations that they fall prey to being isolated from lower or mid ranked employees. If the so called intellectual untouchables sometimes perform these corporate stunts once in a while, it does create an impact atleast to new employees to some extent. In the end of the day, all should realise that the person is never greater than the work itself. So there is no harm in finding out how it feels in each other's shoes. And for us simple consumers, its a delight for a day to know that these think-tanks of companies are, far and foremost, meant to serve us only, they have a primary role to serve and interact directly with ordinary consumers from time to time, along with their usual routines of closed door high profile meetings and hotel parties and foreign trips and giving lectures on business management around universities.

It would be nice to know examples of this happening already in Bangladeshi companies. If it does happen in where you work, share it with us here. There might be examples there for others to follow. Lets wear the teacher's apron for a day, lets get to know how a big company is run with apparently small but important roles played by staff who you don't meet perhaps in years. Lets do the job wearing their hat for a day or two.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hope Win wins! Hope Agriculture wins!

I guess it was back in 1994 when Agricultural Science was introduced as an elective subject for SSC examinations in Bangladesh. I, along with my rebel and restless classmates, remember raising eyebrows and teasing the fact that we will have to learn now how to cultivate land and milk cows! 15 years is not a short time, but if I remember clearly, boys were supposed to study Agri Science while our 'homely' female classmates were seen heading for the Home Science subjects. They were supposed to grow up to be specialists in cooking tasty food, sewing baby clothes and manage overall households. Whereas we, were supposed to invest a significant portion of our knowledge, time and expertise in agriculture of Bangladesh when we grow up. We were I guess too young to realise then that Agricultural Science was more than just another subject to clear in SSC, rather it was the science about the very backbone of Bangladesh's economy, its existence. I hated to learn about the symptoms of ranikhet disease of poultry and we had a good laugh when a truant gangmate boasted off drawing an image of milking a cow in the exam paper. I don't remember any of us ever wanted to become educated farmers or even venture anywhere near the agricultural services, produces or any related area when we grow up. Such was our allergy, such was our notion, such was our prejudice.

Its certainly an eye opener that there are still innovative entrepreneurs who are showing the way not only to young generation but to other entrepreneurs as well...the value and merit of agriculture related businesses, startups and services in Bangladesh. Win Inc. is one of such companies who has invested their interest and expertise in collecting, collating, validating, digitising and distributing latest, timely and tested information on agriculture, fishery, poultry, livestock covering more than 80 items...all in Bangla. They have set up an impressive collection of this knowledge at which can be termed as the digital gateway to agri-information in Bangla. The company also works as the content generator for agri-information to be collected and used by rural farmers, through the Community Information Centers of Grameen Phone, all around the country. They are also providing information to Banglalink's 7676 Jiggasha helpline, which is an agri-call center. Such noble has been the companies dedication towards this line of business that they have recently been nominated for an award in the e-agriculture category in the eIndia 2009 conference in India. Would be a good gesture to vote for Win, who are showing how agri information in Bangla can not only be a successful business model but also has the ability to serve numerous farmers of Bangladesh by providing them with timely and accurate information on their crops, livestocks, etc.

I still remember attending Agricultural Science classes in school and think it was a great opportunity wasted. Seeing companies like Win Inc. making sense out of this is a great learning and realisation too. I am sure we needed to hone our skills and knowledge with something that is more relevant in the context of Bangladesh. Agriculture that is. Hope Win wins in eIndia and in every other venture.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

In case of emergency, cut rope

A topic gathering enough interest lately is that of Generation G. To add to the ongoing conversations about charity, corporate social responsibility, consumers are also expecting companies to be generous through different ways.

Aircel, an Indian mobile operator took advantage of nature's adversity during monsoon rains in Mumbai and showed brand love and generousity to its customers by putting up a real inflated boat on a billboard, tied it with ropes and printed 'In case of emergency, cut rope'. I think this is a great example which proves that companies need to move beyond creating branded bus stops around cities, branding traffic islands, putting up their advertisements in virtually every single eye-space available and rather do something really innovative, keeping in view the local context, or even the natural phenomenon i.e. monsoon, floods, in this case. Similarly acts of distributing blankets during winter to poor people, arranging free eye clinics etc. are all tried and well received from time to time to show the caring side of the brand. But how many times does it actually makes the connection with the consumer and how long does the customer value that connection? As the idiom goes 'A friend in need is a friend indeed', consumers would rely on those brands only who stood next to them during bad times, hour of need and emergency.

Monday, August 3, 2009

World’s largest marketing Communications Agencies Network ComVort ties up with Bangladesh’s Roop

Roop of Bangladesh has recently joined ComVort Group Worldwide, a powerful alliance of the world's largest and leading independent marketing communication agencies network headquartered in Barcelona.

The Group's member agencies 'Work within the marketing-communication branch in almost every metropolis across the globe, ComVort has been ranked as the top global independent agency network by ‘Advertising Age’ (USA), with over 172 offices in 143 cities of 73 countries, 4,300 employees, 5,000 clients and services offered in over 47 languages. Revenue in USD 669,000,000.

The very structure of ComVort characterises the philosophy on which it was established - Think Global, Act Local, which provides for a more competitive and productive advantage over traditional integrated service agencies network.

All ComVort members offer a vast depth of knowledge of the social and cultural makeup of local consumer and marketplace. This, coupled with access to global knowledge base and expertise in diverse communication fields would give Roop, as a ComVort member, the edge to deliver exceptional value to their clients like Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel, Banglalink, Lafarge-Surma Cement Ltd, SEDF, Kohinoor Chemical, Cute, Labaid, Dekko Group, BKMEA, Samsung, Thai Trade Centre, Philips etc.

As part of the ComVort Group, Roop Bangladesh can also offer local companies with international business, access to a large network of prompt, efficient and highly involved marketing and advertising agencies in all continents.

Given its strategy to strengthen network in developing markets, both Mr Karl Jacobi, Chairman of ComVort Group and Mr Yusuf Hassan, CEO of Roop Communications, stood committed to the success of its local and international business partners in Bangladesh.