Loud and Clear

You have to hand it to the Gurgaon administration. When it comes to deploying advanced technologies for better management of traffic, they are second to none.

After a careful review of tools that modern technology has placed at our disposal, Gurgaon traffic police has decided to introduce the cutting-edge technology known as “loudspeakers” at prominent intersections in the city, starting with two, one of them, as always, being at the intersection closest to where I stay, the HUDA City Centre. As the name goes, it is the City Centre and perhaps one of the busiest.

On a trial basis. Mind you. They make sure, don’t they? Nothing implemented till fully tested. Without any tracking or monitoring of results. They have our backs, don’t they?

Like in the case of the series of underpasses that punctuate the length of Golf Course road, that still have an “Opened for Trial” board hanging at the entrances even though it is more than two years since most of them have been thrown open, with some having already notched up enviable records of death and destruction.

Trials are trials. And must be done. Especially in cases where the project is a fait accompli. Like the series of underpasses which, I believe, are uni-directional constructions. You cannot unmake an underpass once made, can you? I mean of course you can, if you take it literally. You can get back all the rubble that was excavated to create the underpass, and fill in the big hole, and demolish all the construction that had been done and send back that rubble to the place it had been excavated from. But you know what I mean, don’t you?

But, as usual, I get distracted. Perhaps it is the excitement of being back at the fairgrounds of my youth, with loudspeakers blaring music, announcements and ad jingles and everyone having a great time.

I am fortunate enough to pass through the City Centre intersection almost daily. Today was no exception. I drove out of our building and the next thing I know is that I had stopped at the red light at the City Centre intersection.

As I was jostling for space with other motorists to be the fastest on the draw as soon as the light turned green, I heard a booming sound, “Don’t use your mobile phone while driving. If you do, it could be your last call.”

I froze. I furtively looked on either side, then guiltily at my mobile, lying silent and forlorn on the car dashboard. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Did the government then manage to even switch on the great ancient Indian invention of “Akashvaani” (literally, Celestial Voice), the celestial messaging system perfected by our ancestors and recorded in mythological texts, that sent out personalised messages to humans, in time for the next general elections. I confess that I have questioned senior ministers’ claims of having invented flying and their arguments that apes are not our ancestors since no one saw an ape turn into a human. But a personalised “Akashvaani”? That would have been the tipping point for me.

Alas, it was not to be. At least at that point. I recollected, in time, the Gurgaon traffic police’s plans of installing loudspeakers at that intersection. I looked around at drivers in other cars. Only the ones not talking on their mobiles seem to have heard the announcement. The loudspeaker strategy seemed to have achieved the desired early results.

“Please stop at the red light”, came the Akashvaani again. But this time I was ready. It was a great message, this one. Made a lot of sense to me as I was already stopped at the red light.

“Please wear seat belts while driving and please wear a helmet when on a two-wheeler,”

“Please park only in designated areas,”

“Don’t drive on the wrong side of the road. Doing so could cause grievous harm, even death, to yourself and others,”

…came in quick succession, while I was still waiting for the light to turn green. Such a simple idea. How would people know that they should wear seat belts while driving, or helmets if on a two-wheeler, or park only in designated areas, or not drive on the wrong side of the road, doing which could cause grievous harm, even death, to yourself and others, unless “loudspeakered” to them at busy intersections? After all, they only been issued driving, or riding, licences, after suitable checks.

No apprehending offenders. No traffic violation fines. No cameras. No issuing tickets. No electronic tagging. No satellite tracking. No concern for noise pollution. Just plain announcements. Revolutionary.

It was mesmerising. I was transported to another world. How long before they unleash its full potential by handing over the system to corporates, was the question raging through my mind.

“While you wait for the 2 minute long red light, have a 2-minute noodle snack made by an MNC.”

“Turn your nails from green to red while the light turns from red to green.”

The possibilities boggled my mind.

“Will the black Fabia please move. The light has turned green.“

“Will the black Fabia please move. The light has turned green.”

Was it my imagination or did the loudspeaker just become even louder? There was a tap on the driver side window. I was woken from my reverie. A traffic policeman was standing there and about to tap again. I lowered the window and looked at him with some disgust as he had interrupted my train of thought. I asked him crossly, “what is the matter?”

“Sir, can you please move. The light turned green 30 seconds back and could turn red again any time again. We announced it twice already.”

“Uh, oh,” is all I could mutter while I engaged gears of my black Fabia and testily jerked out of danger of the impending red light.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for great ideas and technological innovations that further the agenda of humanity. But I draw the line at getting personal.

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Alive and Kicking

Traditionalists have had the last laugh, for once. Doomsday predictors predicting the demise of Test cricket, the oldest and, according to many, purest form of cricket, have been forced to eat humble pie. Test cricket is alive and kicking.

And all credit to the Indian cricket team for this swift turnaround, all in a matter of two weeks. Pretty much in keeping with its position as the leader in world cricket. Generating over 80% of global revenues from cricket and, well, generating some x share of cricketing capability where, in mathematical terms, x currently is tending to zero.

The Indian cricket team has made a rousing statement for Test cricket in the ongoing series in England. It has often been felt that in the modern world, Test cricket, which is played over a period of 5 days, has no future, as nobody has either the time or patience to spend 5 days on one game. After threatening to compete in the first game, they have pulled out all stops and shown that a Test match can be completed in a period of just two days without ending in a tame draw. Overcoming rain and inclement weather as well.

Imagine the amount of time they have given back to the nation; 3 billion days, assuming a billion follow the game.

Imagine the amount of time they have given back to themselves for shooting commercials.

Great teams do not follow established rules and standards. They set their own. This team has set a new standard for speed. At which a team ranked number one can plummet to the bottom of the pile. Top ranked teams don’t just lose. They capitulate. As they have so ably shown in the past as well. To ensure the last two weeks’ performance does not turn out to be a flash in the pan and to constantly remind themselves of the uphill task at hand, they even have coined a new motivational slogan that they break into each time they go out to play:

Come rain, come bright shine

Defeat, thou shalt forever be mine

Selflessly, risking their own legacy and rankings, they have ensured that future teams, irrespective of their performance, look like they have fared better than earlier ones. And, like great politicians and great corporate leaders have done so successfully earlier, kept us salivating at the prospect of a bright future without trying to worry about events past.

They have also been able to give us a hero that we so desperately yearn for. Not good performance, not winning teams, but individuals as heroes. How many other teams can make this claim? By collapsing in a heap around one player, the legend of that single player, in a game of eleven, has been fed and strengthened.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the richest sporting body in the country by far, and always ahead of its times, has constituted a committee to look into the performance in the first Test, which took almost four days to finish. Could we not have lost that match as well in two days?

Another committee has been formed to address the issue of talent in cricket. Why are we still allowing talent to thrive in Test cricket? Why have we not killed it, as we have so effectively done in ODI and T20 cricket? Why are bowlers still allowed to bowl fast and swing the ball and be accurate? All at the same time. Difficult questions will need to be answered.

The BCCI President has also called for a revamp of the ranking structure in Test cricket. It has to be kept independent of performance, he has apparently stated. You cannot mix two unrelated things together.

I am looking forward to the next Test starting later this week. I have already made plans for the three days the team will give back to me. Have you?

Customer Loyalty

While trying to clean up my mailbox, I came across an email from an airline that I had, apparently, left in my inbox without any action, like Delete, which I often resort to in haste and sometimes repent later at leisure. The subject line of that email is the title of this post.

This airline had come into being with a lot of fanfare several years earlier, promoted by a flamboyant liquor baron. I used it occasionally, circa 2010, around the time of this email. For the record, this airline is now out of business, apparently on account of its inability to pay mounting debts.

I now recollect that when I had received this email, I was more than a little confused and of the view that the subject line did not do justice to the content, or perhaps the content did not do justice to the subject line. In my confusion I left the email parked in the Inbox, to be read and disposed of in a more relaxed frame of mind. It came to my attention today when I was trying to clean-up my Inbox. And it confused me all over again.

From the subject line of the email, I gathered that the email was sent with the objective of building loyalty amongst its customers, like me. But after reading through the email several times, I was not at all sure. But it could just be me and my sceptical outlook. You judge for yourself.

Presented below is the complete email, with my interpretation of a particular section in parentheses, in green italics, immediately after that section. If you delete the content within parentheses, it becomes the complete original email received by me. To avoid ruffling feathers more than need to be ruffled, we will call is ABC Airlines.

The Email, then:

Dear Sir, As one of our most valued guests, I share with you our commitment to building a stronger ABC Airlines.

(We have not been able to do it in the several years of our existence. However, we assure you that now we are committed to doing it. Of course, we are informing you because we believe our building a stronger airline will be of tremendous interest to you, as it will make all of us at the airline, richer, and make no difference to you whatsoever as you will continue to have options of other airlines to fly with.)

Since inception, ABC Airlines has stood for the best in air travel in the Indian skies. As we navigate through one of the most turbulent times, we remain strong, committed and driven.

(Even if you had not come to know of it from other sources, we want to ensure that you, our loyal customer, is aware that we are navigating through turbulent times, so that you can think twice before giving us your business, which might give us the opportunity to navigate through even more difficult times, and allow us to remain stronger, more committed and more driven. Especially as it makes no difference to you whatsoever as you will continue to have options of other airlines to fly with.)

We will emerge, stronger than ever before. Our key mission remains, placing your experience at the heart of our operation. We are committed and expect to continue to:

• Provide safe and reliable service. I assure you that we have full confidence in our aircraft fleet, and will not fly an aircraft unless we are completely sure that it is safe to operate.

(Though in the past we have not had full confidence on our fleet, and have flown aircraft without being completely sure that it was safe to fly, we assure you we will not do the same again. Promise.)

• Operate our flight as per schedule and on-time.

(Now we are going to. As stated earlier – Promise.)

• Provide competitive fares across cabin classes and markets.

(We thought the in-flight video of our boss asking in-flight stewards to treat you as a guest in his house would be enough to charge you a premium. We may even have got away with it on occasion. But now that we know that the premium service of the boss’ video has turned out to be inadequate, we will offer competitive rates.)

• Ensure that our guests continue to earn and retain their elite tier status and that the Frequent Flier Miles earned by our guests remain secure and intact with Frequent Flier Club.

(We had planned to wilfully downgrade the tier status of guests, and also to arbitrarily reduce the miles already earned and accumulated. But we will defer this plan to a more appropriate time in the future.)

• Enjoy benefits with the Frequent Flier Club which is at par, if not more advantageous than what is on offer. Our schedule along with best fares is available at http://www.abc.com With your continued faith and our nerves of steel, we are confident in restoring our position of excellence in the Indian sky.

(We have confused even ourselves with our first statement here. We think what we are trying to say is that you will get benefits with the Frequent Flier Club, which you are already getting. And that is a great privilege which is why we need to call this out in our email to you. Further, we have understood from our experience that the one key attribute required to succeed is “nerves of steel”. Not knowledge, not experience, not customer service, not operating excellence, but “nerves of steel”. We have got all employees grafted with this key attribute. So now, as a logical conclusion, we are bound to restore our position of excellence in the sky. Which we have never held in the past. You may also need them (nerves of steel) if you fly with us, we might add.)

My team joins me in thanking you once again for your loyalty and patience.

Unquote

After having read through the email section by section, I feel bad for the investors and management of the company.

Is this a sincere but misguided effort at building customer loyalty?

Or is this a planned and meticulously worded effort at eroding whatever little customer loyalty remained?

Or is this an email which actually helps in enhancing customer loyalty, which I suspect was the original purpose of the email?

What do you think? This could be used as a case-study in customer communication.

 

All About Us

It has been an educational week past.

I now know that Mukesh Ambani is India’s richest person.

I am kidding. I already knew that.

I now know that he has a son by the name Akash. Actually, I might have known that also.

So how was it educational? What DID I learn?

I learnt that Akash got engaged to Shloka Mehta on 28th June and a grand party was thrown by the Ambanis on the 30th to celebrate the event.

I learnt that Shloka has known the Ambani family since she was two years old.

I now know Shahrukh Khan was the host for the evening and that he and his son Aryan had a father-son moment at the bash. I learnt that they, Shahrukh and Aryan, even shared a light moment with Gauri Khan, Shahrukh’s wife and Aryan’s mother.

I learnt that Sachin Tendullkar has a daughter whose name is Sara. I learnt that Sara looked resplendent at the bash.

I learnt that Amitabh Bachchan’s maternal grand-daughter is called Navya. I also learnt that Navya stole the show at the event in her sari.

I also learnt that Abhishek, Aishwarya and Aradhya looked like a happy family.

I learnt that Karen Tran is a luxury floral decorator from California. I learnt that Karen Tran decorated the venue.

I learnt Argentina grows flowers. I learnt some Rs. 25 crores (about USD 4 million) worth of them were flown in from Argentina to decorate the venue. I learnt that it is possible to put Rs. 25 crores worth of flowers in one single house in one single night.

I learnt there is a bakery called Laduree in Paris. I learnt that Laduree is famous for its macarons, a sweet meringue-based confection that is made with egg white and icing sugar, among other ingredients. I learnt Laduree whipped up some delicious desserts for all at the bash.

I learnt that decorations at the venue included transparent umbrellas with wax chocolates hanging from them.

Phew!

These learnings were flying at me from many directions, like TV news channels, like newspapers, like workplace gossip, like the Internet, like WhatsApp forwarded messages between other forwarded messages asking people to refrain from wasteful consumption and mind their own business.

And I was hungrily lapping it up.

Because it matters.

Because now I can speak more than others about the ceremony that I think everyone else is talking about.

Because now I can authoritatively confirm or debunk the trash that people are bound to circulate about the event.

Because I can now send more WhatsApp forwards, in between messages to avoid wasteful consumption and minding our own business.

If so much can be learnt during the engagement, the sky will be the limit when the wedding comes around. I am hungry for knowledge. I am already counting the days to it even though I don’t know the date.

Now that I know it, I wish Akash and Shloka a happy married life.

After all, it’s all about us, baby!

Travel with Rohin

I have travelled all over the world these last few years.

Vicariously.

Through my friend Rohin who is an avid traveller. Actually Avid sounds too tame for him. Animal, Fearsome, might be better adjectives to describe his Travel bug.

What’s even better is that he chronicles his travels on his Blog on Blogspot, our poor cousin of blogging. As I invariably fend off the green-eyed monster reading it, I am sharing a link that should take you to his latest post about his travels to Slovenia, Croatia, et al, as Blogspot, it seems, does not allow direct sharing onto WordPress.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

http://rohin-arora.blogspot.com/2018/06/slovenia-lake-bled.html?

 

Stay Blessed

As if the goodness thrust upon us by leaders of various types was not enough. We now have goodness coming at us from family and friends as well. You could have too much of a good thing.

It could be in the form of:

“Smile more than you cry

Give more than you take

And love more than you hate.”

OR

“Don’t overthink things

Don’t stress about what might not happen

Just chill out.”

That make you go HOW.

Smile more than you cry;” great idea, but please explain how.

…love more than you hate;” what a great piece of advice, but can you please elaborate and tell me how.

Don’t overthink things;” you are the best, please help me understand how.

A bit like the popular cook-book that publishes a recipe for cooking “delicious hare meat” but forgets the crucial first line, which is, “First catch your hare.”

Did it not strike our benefactors that they should also have provided an instruction manual? To answer the crucial HOW.

It could be in the form of:

“That being who neither runs away from disagreeable karma (unpleasent work, which causes bondage to itself or its fruits) nor gets attached to agreeable karma (pleasant work, duties), without any doubt such pure Satvik being is intelligent & true renunciater. As none of the human can renounce, entirely & completely, all the karmas, one who doesn’t gets attached to the karma & doesn’t desire fruits from Karma, is the true renunciater.”

OR

“Beings who dont get free from attachment & desire of fruits from Karma, get good, bad or mixed fruit of their karma after their death (in terms of how & where they r born in next life). The one who doesn’t attaches himself with karma & doesn’t desire fruits from Karma, doesn’t face any fruit of it (as enlightened ones move out of circle of life n death).”

That make you go WOW. How come I did not receive this advice earlier (even discounting for the spelling and grammar issues)?

…one who doesn’t gets attached to the karma & doesn’t desire fruits from Karma, is the true renunciater.” You know I have been dying to become a true renunciater, no pun intended (on “dying”).

Beings who dont get free from attachment & desire of fruits from Karma, get good, bad or mixed fruit of their karma;” so it seems there is a choice of fruit available, please tell me where I need to click to indicate my choice?

Anyone can see that the advice dished out is so unique that nobody in his right mind would ever even dream of it on his own. Let’s be honest, without these messages, would you have guessed that you ought to “smile more than you cry?” Or even “don’t overthink things?” And it talks directly to that part of us that has been waiting for it eagerly from the time we were born, like becoming a  “renunciater” when we die.

Yes, we are talking about the greatest tool for peace, goodwill and harmony invented by mankind, Jan Koum and Brian Acton to be specific; the Group messenger on WhatsApp, the Wonder App, as christened by my friend N V S Sastry, and the favourite tool pf people who bombard unsuspecting, inveterate do-badders with these messages of love and goodness.

For years I have been bombarded with these messages, I believe they are called “inspirational”, on WhatsApp Groups, and for years I have been ignoring them.

It is not difficult to understand why I have not become a “true renunciater” or I don’t “smile more than cry”.

Suspicious as I have been of these messages, I have to reluctantly admit that they have been an invaluable source of strength for me in the most trying of times. Like at work, where they have helped me consume the tedium of office life by pretending to secretly read messages and responding, thereby appearing to be busy to others. They have also helped me in rapidly consuming my phone memory and equally rapidly upgrade to a phone with a memory, and cost, several times larger. And, above all else, by randomly forwarding messages that very few recipients will read, I suspect I have become a far more popular member of society. As has I believe everyone I know. Everyone has become more popular in equal measure.

And the do-gooders continue to boldly go where no WhatsApp Group message blind forwarder has been before.

They now blindly forward Good Morning messages. With the picture of a flower too.

Not any flower, but a rose. Not to me but to the whole group. Not to one but many many groups. And mind you, yesterday, it was yellow roses. And tulips a day prior.

They blindly forward videos of spiritual gurus, many of whom will probably later end up behind bars on account of sexual misconduct, on these groups.

Even inspirational quotes from unknown people, people who may have never existed.

All to reinforce the HOW and WOW effect.

In order to atone for past sins (some of them) and become a “true renunciater”, which I could not earlier, and to “smile more than cry” which, again, I could not earlier, I have started reading these forwards.

The first one I read was “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Almost immediately thereafter, the phone beeped again and came “Dreams don’t work unless you do” into another group.

Can someone please explain if I should dream or I should work.

The next one said “If someone points out your mistake, be happy that at least someone is interested in your perfection and success”, immediately followed by “Stay away from negative people, they have a problem for every solution.”

Can someone please confirm that someone who points out your mistakes is a positive person.

Then came “The secret of success is to know something nobody else knows.” I swear even my wife does not know the Password to access my bank account. I am waiting for the success that is about to envelop me in its fold.

I was afraid these messages might stop after the Madras High Court recently foolishly ruled that forwarding a message tantamounts to deemed ownership of content and the person forwarding can be held accountable for spreading slander and misinformation if that be the case.

I spent many a sleepless night with my mobile clutched tightly to my chest. Each blindly forwarded message in every group being reason for me to eagerly lap it as if it would be the last.

But I had reckoned without the tenacity of the forwarders. They took as much notice of the forwarded message announcing the Madras Hight Court ruling as they have been doing of other messages they have been forwarding.

Needless to say, the goodness continues unabated.

I am nominating WhatsApp Group messages for the Nobel Peace Prize with an honourable mention for everyone who has blindly forwarded such messages to foster goodwill, peace and harmony in the world.

Like the ending of many of the blindly forwarded messages, “Stay Blessed!”

How?