Wednesday, October 14, 2015

'Attitude', lessons from the street

I'm a faithful believer of learning something from every single human being. I make a genuine attempt to keep the good ones with me, but the bad ones, recognized, sorted and discarded at once.
I traveled back in time while reading Why attitude is more important than IQ?
First experience - fruit vendor
I pulled my car closer to a roadside vendor selling fruits on a cart which had fresh apples and luscious yellow bananas.  I just realized how weak I became by the very look of healthy fruits.
I stepped out of my car and approached the cart.  I found a little boy, must be around 8 years, sitting on top of the cart along with the pile of fruits.  He actually appeared to be another apple there.  I looked around to see if he was accompanied by his father, mother or someone bigger than an the largest apple.  To my surprise there was no one other than the little boy anywhere closer to the cart.  I was happy to find his school bag with some books next to him.
A middle aged man pulled his 150cc bike closer to the cart and shut down the engine.  With a big sigh of relief he removed his black helmet tattooed with a Bridgestone sticker.  He appeared to be very tired and probably must have had a tough day at work.  He also looked famished and hurriedly pulled a banana from the hands without seeking any permission from the little boy and started peeling its skin.  I was busy picking the best apples that I could find and kept adding them to the basket kept in the weighing scale one by one.
Half way through eating, the biker tossed almost rest of the banana that he was eating towards a pile of thrash in a box lying next to the cart.  Probably the banana was not good.  He appeared to be visibly upset about it.  For some reason he decided not to sulk or complain but took a 5 rupee coin from his pocket, tossed it on the cart towards the boy and was about to start the bike.
The little boy was busy weighing the apples for me and packing them in a cover.  Interestingly, he was quite observant and mounted a smile on his face and glanced at the biker.  He plucked a banana from another hand of ripe bananas and extended his arm towards the biker and also asked the biker to keep his money. 
This gesture really stunned me.   When did the boy see the biker throwing the banana? and how did he probably know that the biker was not happy with banana he was eating?
The second - at the shoe shop
Few days later, on a busy evening, I visited a modern shoe showroom in a busy street.  It was very well lit, flashy and ostentatious.  I went inside and after a quick search I ended up finding what I wanted and asked the salesman to help me with the billing.  The price tag for the product read Rs. 499/-.  I moved towards the cash counter and found a middle aged women at the cash counter busy chewing something.  She appeared to be stiff, grumpy and certainly the boss for the shop. 
The salesman humbly crossed his arms and was waiting for her command while she was busy completing the transaction with me.  From her looks I figured out that she wasn't happy dealing with a customer like me who was buying something small in value.  Smile was certainly missing.  After I gave her a fresh Rs. 500/- note, she punched some keys in the store computer, took the receipt out and tossed it towards the assistant.  Bad manners! I thought.  The receipt did not land on the desk but slowly glided down the floor.  The boy appeared to be familiar with this treatment.  Without any reaction, he slipped the footwear into its box along with the receipt into a paper bag and handed over to me.
I waited hesitantly expecting the lady to give the 1 rupee change back to me.  She did not pay any attention but buried her head into a magazine that she was reading.  She also resumed chewing.  Already annoyed by the treatment, this attitude further irked me.  I said "Maam...its 499 Rupees with a stress on the NINETY NINE."   She looked at me with her laser sharp eyes and with a grumpy voice "mmmm...I know".   She straightened her back and pulled the cash key, scrambled to find a one rupee coin and kept it on the desk.  She went on reading the book.
On that evening, I was certainly really not in a mood to react.  I took the coin and walked away with a big disappointment.  
After many years, I had an opportunity to reflect on the two different 'attitudes' that I experienced.
Dr Travis draws references to Psychologist Carol Dweks research on attitude on performance.  Dweck found that people’s core attitudes fall into one of two categories: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
"With a fixed mindset, you believe you are who you are and you cannot change. This creates problems when you’re challenged because anything that appears to be more than you can handle is bound to make you feel hopeless and overwhelmed.
People with a growth mindset believe that they can improve with effort. They outperform those with a fixed mindset, even when they have a lower IQ, because they embrace challenges, treating them as opportunities to learn something new.  "
When I compare the boy and the lady both had many things in common.  They both were sellers, one fruits and other footwear, both had products, both had customers, both had capital investments, both had attitude.
One was richer than the other.  With her fixed mind set she did not have the caring attitude towards her customer and the basic need to smile and serve.  Whereas the little boy went deep inside my heart.  He understood the importance of being a good human, read his customer well, acted even when not complained.  He was gifted to have the growth mindset.   I bet the biker would go to the boy again.  I'll definitely go there again and buy fruits if I'm still able to recognize the boy.
"People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude -John C Maxwell"
In both experiences, I did not hear their words but felt the attitude.  Yet another time, I had an opportunity to keep the good and discard the bad

"to have a great attitude you don't have to be rich
to provide the best service you don't have to be sophisticated!"
- Kay

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The 9 best things I learnt from fixing a leaking sink

I've been part of the services industry for over 15 years now, playing different roles from being a trainer, consultant, project manager, architect, directly and indirectly managing projects, and also providing services to internal and external customers.  I'm often intrigued by several factors that potentially affect the customer satisfaction or even dissatisfaction.  In my experience I have failed and also succeeded to provide the 'Wow' factor.  I find this to be a never ending learning process.

In a recent experience of being a 'customer' myself for a home improvement project, I had the unique opportunity to understand see the different 'point of view'.   Obviously there were loads of learning and opportunities to reflect several aspects of this project, the men who provided the service and finally how it affected me as a customer.

The problem

My wife was extremely unhappy with the way our home kitchen sink was installed by the interior designer before we moved into our new apartment.  It was a bad design and a shoddy work ultimately leading to water leakage through the gaps between the sink and the granite platform.  This also started spoiling the wooden structure beneath the sink.

The hunt for the "RIGHT GUY"

For many months this was a dream maintenance project for us.  Finally, when the right time came, I started calling few contractors to get this done.  One considered this project as a 'too small job'.  Another said 'I can do it, but your house is located far away!' .  The third one said 'available after two months!'.   Some visited, took measurements; some interested in making money; few others talked about the labor involved in cutting the granite; polishing it; mentioned about material and the hardship in moving them; estimations included separate line items for cutting, polishing, carpentry, someone even had a line item for 'cleaning the debris'

The hunt seemed to be a never ending one.


Fayed, an innocent looking young man, talked something very different from all the others.  He asked many questions, wanted to understand the problems, the changes we wanted and how we wanted them.  Fayed took his notebook, drew pictures, used for explaining his ideas, took measurements and also carefully written down all the work involved.   I thought he could be an expensive guy to deal with.  He behaved like a true consultant who knew his job very well.

He finally came up with some convincing ideas, a quotation and talked completely a different language that no one else spoke.

Fayed said "Sir, before I start the work, I would like you to call few of my customers who I worked with in the past.  Please call them and ask them about the quality of work that I did".

This approach certainly surprised me.

He continued, "I'll also give you guarantee for the work that I'm delivering - you will not have any leaks for the next several years and the finish will be one of the finest ones"

Suddenly, he appeared to be the RIGHT GUY for my job.  He was talking about the value that he can deliver

The confidence plus the promise; I was convinced; I hired him.

The Start

We marked a long holiday weekend in early October to complete the work.

He was supposed to start the work on a Thursday.  We were really nervous and also apprehensive about this since we decided to compromise a long weekend for this maintenance project.  Our children were not happy either.

Fayed called me on Wednesday afternoon and said Hussain, his granite craftsman, was sick and recovering.  He requested me that he would start the work one day later.  He apologized for the delay.

I thanked him for his promptness and accepted the delay.  I too wanted Hussain to recover.  Moreover, I did not want someone at our home with viral fever with the presence of our children.  At the same time, I seriously started worrying about messing up with the long weekend.  In the evening I received a message from Fayed which read "Sir, we will start the work tomorrow at 11.00 am" and brought me a good relief.

The next day, he called me at 10 am and said he was running late by one hour and requested to start the work by noon.  I again thanked him for informing me about this.

Fayed, Hussain and an assistant finally arrived with their tools and raw materials at 12.15 pm, apologized for late coming and started the work.  I was finally happy to see the work commencing.

Day 1

After starting the work, Fayed called and said he had to break the a smaller section of the first granite platform (original plan was to reuse it) because it was stuck to the wooden cabinet with Araldite instead of metal paste.  Usually metal paste is used and the granite top can be easily removed with a small but careful effort.  It wasn't a problem to me since Fayed had purchased some extra granite that could be used.  His men had to finally smash and pound it into smaller pieces and also cut it with an electrical grinder.

He also warned me that his men had to do the same thing to remove the second granite platform (larger in size 5 ft. x 2 ft.) and that would cost me an additional Rs. 8000/- to buy a new one.  I had to accept it with a reluctance since I did not have much choice.  He also removed the kitchen-pantry door and kept aside which was a hindrance to their work.  I was worried about the mounting expenses.

Late in the afternoon, I went out for buying some groceries and when I came back, Fayed said, "Sir, you are very lucky today.  I took some extra care in removing the large granite platform, we can reuse it and there is no need to buy another one."   Later my wife also confirmed and said the men did a lot of thinking before removing it.

At around 6.00 pm most of the work was completed.  I asked them to stop the work at around 6.15 pm - told them that there was a hard deadline to wind up labor work before 7 in our apartment.  We already received a complaint from one of our neighbors for the irritating noises coming from our apartment.

Fayed said - "Sir, we need just about 15 mins to cut some material and prepare them - keep them ready so that the next day morning the work can be completed without any cutting efforts"   Since we had another 15 mins to go to hit the 7 pm deadline, I allowed them to continue.  I appreciated his dedication.

He agreed to come at 8.00 am the next day.

Day 2

I was pleasantly surprised when I received a call from our apartment security about his arrival at 7.55 am.  The work continued and all the finishing actions were in full swing.  Once everything was done (as per his definition of completeness) he asked me to come and inspect.  My wife and I went around and checked, suggested some minor corrections and changes.  Fayed agreed to few and did not agree to few others.  Finally, after discussing the reasons, we made some compromises and with a smile he carried out those changes.  He called us for an inspection again.

The missing 5%

The second time when I went to look around, I noticed that he had done a great job indeed.  Everything was in place, the new sink inside the kitchen, the old one shifted outside in the utility area, the wooden doors, handles, edges were trimmed, debris cleaned and collected.

I waited for him to complete and said "Fayed, first of all, thank you so much for completing 95% of the work"  

"Why Sir, I have done a good job" he was visibly upset

I showed him the uneven edges produced by the metal paste filled between the granite and the sink.

Fayed said with a chuckle "Sir, why are so worried about it, this will disappear as you start using the kitchen".  

"This can cut someone's hand Fayed....!" I said to him.

Fayed instantly understood my concerns and said "Sir, within 10 mins I'll make them smooth"

He called me again for the final inspection.  This time I was impressed by the work and said 'yes'  I looked at my wife for her acknowledgement too, even she said "yes" bringing a big sigh of relief to both Fayed and us.

The reward

My wife and I decide to pay him 10% more fees for the good work and the experience he delivered.  When I handed over the money his eyes were nearly in tears.  He was so delighted, thanked me while holding my hands with a firm grip.   Before leaving he mentioned that "Sir, I'm going to take my family out for dinner, they are already waiting for me"

The OOPS moment

After Fayed left our home, an hour later I realized that he did not put back the door in its place.  I made an attempt to fix it myself but found that one of the hinges were broken.  I was little puzzled by this carelessness and immediately called Fayed explained him the problem.  He said "Sir, I'm already running late, my family members are calling me continuously - can I come and finish this tomorrow?"  I agreed.

But, within 30 mins, there was someone at the door and Fayed rushed inside with a big smile.  He said "Sir, I made a mistake of not fixing the door and also concerned that the door was broken"  He came inside, checked the door and I realized that the hinges were not really broken.  He fixed them, shook my hands once again and left my home.

All of us had a peaceful sleep on that day night for bringing this project to a successful closure.  I closed my eyes and started reflecting on the experience.

9 best things

As a customer, dealing with the fix for a poor quality kitchen work, had left me behind leaps of learning points.  This experience gave me a feeling of going back to the best business school to learn about the secret ingredients of providing the best customer satisfaction.  I learnt about the importance of the following 9 aspects that Fayed and his men provided to me to bring the best experience at the end.
  • Communicate the value:  I don't think anyone cares about how a job was done at the end.  Certainly the success testimonials, plan, the process and controls are important to instill confidence.  Fayed was unique and spoke convincingly about the value that he was going to deliver.  Others spoke about efforts or even the difficulties involved in completing the work.  It is important to communicate and deliver the value or even more than that to leave behind a long lasting impression.
  • Look beyond the scope: The goal of a service provider is not to find opportunities to bill the customer.  It is not always needed to deliver more than what is promised.  Identifying opportunities to save some $$$$ is also important.  This comes only with an extra passion and care towards the customer and the work that one need to deliver.  From this experience, I don't think I will remember the money that I spent on fixing the leaking sink, but I will certainly remember the Rs 8000/- that Fayed helped me save.  He looked beyond the scope.
  • Respect time  Fayed cared for his time and also mine.  He took efforts in calling me to inform about the inability to start the work on time.  He communicated every little delays and he was punctual.  I want to respect time and I respect anyone who respects time.
  • Take care of your people: After removing the large granite carefully, cutting it carefully, fixing and completing the job, Fayed spoke proud about about Hussain, he also said said "Sir, I'll reward him for his good work".  He also cared about Hussain's health and requested to start the project one day later.  It is common to find employers pushing their resources to stick to customer commitments even if they are indisposed.  But Fayed certainly knew how to take care of his men.  Hussain will certainly like to work with Fayed for this caring attitude.
  • Communicate We often come across poor commitments, delays and missed opportunities to identify risks and failing to deal with issues.  Fayed called me one day in advance about the delays in starting the work.  He also warned me about additional costs in case if he had to break the stones.  He called me to show the progress and inspect after completing every part of the job.  He had my sign off on every single change, issue, delay and risk.  His communication (not the language though) was the best.
  • Be responsible - Fayed could have come the next day to examine the broken hinges and fix the door.  His conscience did not allow him to go home to have the best moment with his loved ones that he was waiting to have.  But instead, he apologized, came back, proved he did not break the door, fixed it in its place and went.  Every project will have its own OOPS moment.  Sometimes the customer might come back with questions after the project was closed or could even say that the project had issues later.  Pay closer attention, listen to the problem and see if you can go back with the correct explanation or even a fix to ensure a proper closure happens. Fayed was responsible.
  • Be cheerful:  There were few occasions I had to be very strict about what I wanted, I made him repeat some work and also challenged the finish quality.  They were annoying but Fayed responded to them with a smile in his face.  Even though he was running late, he was still cheerful, came back and fixed the door for me.  I really don't know how much troubles he took, but he did not show his annoyance at me.
  • Learn: Knowing everything is great but also turning every project into a new learning opportunity is exceptional.   Fayed did not know about the concept of 5% finish.  In his line of profession he delivered 95% where others would have delivered only 70% and call it the best service.  He is certainly regarded one of the best.  He was open and learned something new. He will certainly deliver 100% or even more in his next project.   He was open to learning.
  • Deliver the last 5% with style:  He meticulously took efforts in finishing the metal polish, cleaning the work area, and took care to come back and fix the door, apologized for delays and mistakes - that's the 5% I'm talking about.
I'll certainly remember Fayed and the experience that he provided for my life time. I’m also confident about applying these learnings as a service provider and strive to provide the best experience to my customers.

What is your experience as a customer and the learning from it?

What is the remaining 5% that you are going to complete today?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

How many scissors are you holding in your hands right now?

Early in a morning, I was walking through a large house with several rooms, one leading to the other. There are various random things lying on the floor. Paper clips, tooth brush, electronic gadgets, flowers, dry leafs, pencils and scissors. All the rooms are cluttered with similar things. While walking, the only thing that pulls my attention are the pair of scissors. They appear in different sizes and shapes; a variety of them; could be a really attractive collectible. I decide to pick all of them.
Bending down over and over I pick up several pairs...; carefully filling my pockets, grabbing them in my hands; in between my fingers; also holding the largest one that is used for trimming plants in between my right hand and chest. After a while, I'm passing through a long corridor and at the end I see a large door which appears to be an exit. I decide to go through it. After going closer to the door I find it to be locked. I don't find a door handle or even a bell to ring. Since my hands are full, I lean forward and knock the door with my elbows but with a struggle; the door doesn't open; I'm trying again and again and the door doesn't open.
I suddenly realize that I was doing something wrong. Feeling of guilt and shame. The scissors don't belong to me. None of them. "my God! what did I do?" "How can I be greedy to pick something that doesn't belong to me?".
At that moment, I decide to dump them right at the doorstep and try knocking the door, but wanting to be much more responsible, I decide to keep them back in the same room where I picked them. I'm now walking back, room to room, but at the same time going through a state of confusion. I don't remember where I picked the scissors from. After thinking and squeezing my brain with despair I decided to keep one in each room, randomly.
After a little while, I'm back at the same door step, feeling a big sigh of relief, finally expecting the door to open this time. I knock the door gently with my knuckles, with lot of hope, once, pause... hearing no response, the second response...and the third time...pause again. After my third knock, I hear a deep voice...."Did you keep the scissors in the same room where you picked them from? the door will open in 10 minutes if you have done this"
How did I get into this trouble? how can I get past this door? a sudden rush of fear sets in me. Talking to myself I realize that In those hurried moments I never bothered to know from where I picked what. Knowing the time is running, I frantically run back, going room to room to check and remember if everything was kept in order.
I go through all the rooms, one after another and finally thinking that I did a good job of moving and shuffling the scissors into their respective places. Time is running... 2 more mins to go, thinking everything has gone right, I sprint to get to the door, with some familiarity of standing there...with regained hope I started knocking, first response....second response.....taking a deep breath the third one....sweating and panting....awaiting with so much anticipation for the door to open...and then suddenly I hear some music...starting really slow...and in a gradual progression the volume is going up....slowly and slowly up and phone alarm goes off at its full volume....
good god....! everything was just a dream!!!
I have been thinking about this weird dream of clippers; since morning; while brushing my teeth; while having breakfast; while driving to work and also during the entire day. Puzzled by how the brain can process our habits, behavior, fear, joy etc., and dream. It sounded really spooky to me. I started asking many questions like why this dream? why scissors? was it connected with something in my own life? what is the real meaning behind this dream? what can I interpret from this? what can I learn from this?
May be I'm not completing my job very well; may be I'm not organized; may be I'm doing things that I'm not supposed to be doing; may be I'm believing no matter what I do the doors will open; over confidence? over doing? may be I should have picked something else lying on the floor instead of those scissors....or may be even I have deep connection with the magical modern fairy tale of Johnny Depp's dark fantasy movie Edward Scissorhands, story of the uncommonly gentle man, with his hands full of scissors falls in love with a beautiful girl. and on and on...
At the end, I'm glad that a pair of scissors, put in a metaphoric language, can alter my believes and provoke some fresh thinking - time to really look back and see how many scissors are in my hands now.
How many scissors are you holding in your hands right now?
How many scissors did you ever put back in the same room where you picked em from?
What was your dream today and what did you discover from it?
p.s I googled to find if anyone really collects scissors and to find an associated English word for this hobby.
I came across an interesting blog Scissor Stuff written by someone who is passionate about this useful tool. Wikipedia's List of Collectibles section doesn't have any mention on collecting Scissors. Time for Merriam Webster to introduce a new word :) or do you know what it is?

I'm neither poor nor that entitled

The insightful report that I read today on how students background affects the performance made me think about my own life. "Wealthy...