Are weight loss attempts similar to corporate streamlining?

I have been trying to lose weight. But that is not what drives me to write this blogpost. Yesterday, I saw a weird similarity between a person working to lose weight and a company working to streamline its operations. Weird – right? Stay with me and tell me if this is so.
First, a look at the reasons for occurrence of the problem:
1) A person mostly gains weight because they are eating more than the energy they require. A company mostly tends to gain flab because they have more people on their rolls than is required.
2) When a person’s system goes out of balance and the metabolism slows down, weight gain occurs. When employees/management do not work cohesively, efficiency and effectiveness in the company goes down.
3) Sometimes a person gains weight due to illness which is similar to a company’s operations being affected by a non-performing department.
When I became uncomfortable with the weight gain and decided to address the problem, I tried various methods – analyzing the reasons for the weight gain, diet regulation, exercise etc. Companies also undertake measures to increase efficiency and productivity.
Often one hears about companies downsizing its employee base. It can be compared to procedures like liposuction which does seem to be a good solution initially. But in reality, if other steps are not taken, the problem returns after some time. For long-term solution, core reasons for the problem have to be addressed.
Most companies in India tend to overwork their employees with the belief that it will lead to maximum returns. Such working methods lead to decrease in efficiencies and productivity due to increase in errors by employees, loss in creativity, increased stress etc. Some people tend to over-exercise or over-diet which leads to breakdown of body’s capacity to find the balance and address the weight issue. An overworked system cannot reach health and vitality.
Without real understanding of the cause of the problem, no one can lose weight and keep it off without affecting health which is absolutely true for companies wanting to streamline their operations. There is no one fit all. If one wants to permanent solution, constant work is required. Knee jerk reactions or solutions also never work.
It has been 1.5 years since I first took steps to lose weight. Many other problems have exacerbated the issue and needed simultaneous attention. Finally what has clinched it is an understanding of the problem, determination, addressing the problem on multiple fronts and a big dose of mental equanimity. I think it was the last bit that brought everything together as an effective solution.

Effective customer care – a utopian dream?

A friend had recently tweeted about not receiving replacement for the damaged product delivered by an e-com company even after 5 days. She had reported the issue as soon as she had opened the package and was promised resolution within 3 days. A week down from the day of incidence and she was still waiting.
She had always had good experience with the same company so this incidence was unexpected and troublesome. The company has, over time, built up a very good reputation for delivering to the satisfaction of the customers and thus customer like my friend has started expecting high level of efficiency from them. But problems do crop up once in a while in any service, and she was fine with it as long as it was resolved in the stated time period. The fact that promised replacement did not occur and nor did any further communication come through from Company’s end, caused her to take her ire to social networks.
One can say that not much damage occurred because of one unhappy customer but the company lost the trust of one loyal customer as well a permanent statement of below-par service was posted on internet. Besides this, she as an influencer, created a negative image of Company’s service.
This brings up the often discussed topic of customer care in India. As a consumer and a service provider, I cannot overemphasize the need for a robust customer care department which has direct access to the service team. Most customer care departments seem to have been set up to note down problems in a specific format and parrot a standard response. Customer care executives are neither trained to handle customer’s feelings nor understand the issues which may not exactly fall in a predefined structure. And they are definitely not trained to handle unresolved long-standing issues. Why don’t companies understand that customers don’t want to call them unless they genuinely have a problem?
When customers call with a problem, they want the following:

  1. Problem to be noted down (mandatory)
  2. Someone to ease their agitation (desired but not mandatory)
  3. An expected date by which the problem will be resolved (mandatory)
  4. To be provided the process of resolving the problem (mandatory)

a. if the customer can resolve himself, then the methodology to do so
b. if a serviceman needs to visit the location, then the expected date of visit & other details
c. if the product has to be brought to service centre, then details about it

When the customer’s issue falls within standard list of issues, customer care executives are mostly able to help out. Their politeness and concern for customer ensures a happy after-feeling in majority of cases. But when the issue goes beyond the standard list of issues, customer care executives should quickly pass it on those who can understand and provide proper response. Time is of essence for the customer. Quicker the resolution, better is the impression left with the customer. Unfortunately most customer care departments don’t seem to have a closely connected service department and the customer care so that complicated issues can be passed on to relevant service personnel. Such a system will ensure minimal loss of time in bringing about resolution for the customer.
Another major grouse that I have against the customer care is with respect to problems which have not been resolved despite repeated complaints. If a customer starts the call/mail with the information that they have been trying to get the issue resolved for a long time without success, it is important for the company to understand the urgency. A long-standing unresolved issue leads to erosion of company’s/brand’s image. In such cases the customer case executive attending the call/mail should have the power to escalate the issue to the service department on priority basis while keeping the manager in loop. If possible, they should also provide a direct contact to a manager so that customer feels that company is as concerned as him to bring a swift and successful resolution to the issue. Very few people abuse this direct contact but almost every one appreciates the show of trust.
Customer acquisition is an expensive and often painful process. It does not happen when a product or service is bought, but can be considered successful only when the new customer has received satisfactory service.

Will we be able to recruit teachers for our schools?

What can be done to address the immediate requirement for lakhs of teachers acrossIndia?
When I was asked this question, I rattled off a host of things that could be done. Since the exchange was on twitter, constraint of word-space forced me to be barely touch upon various tactics to address the problem.
The interaction didn’t end there as it had started a thought process.
There are millions of unemployed graduates inIndiatoday. Why is it that they don’t want to consider Teaching as a profession? Government is constantly releasing statistics about need for teachers in government schools so no one can say that opportunities don’t exist. Then is it that these schools exist in areas that no one wants to work in?  Why are such areas not favoured by people?
So why do most people not want to get into Teaching profession?
Some of the common reasons that influence choice of profession are:
1)       It is valued in the society
2)       It is paying
3)       Other members of the community have achieved success in it
4)       Fulfills family’s needs and aspirations
5)       Provides perks and prestige
Teaching profession has fallen from grace from the time ofIndependence. In that era teachers were revered by students as well the society. Though teachers didn’t make much money, they were held in high esteem in their community. Family felt a sense of pride though they struggled with low income.
Today’s society largely runs after money. Professions which do not pay well are the last choice for most young people. Families are not accepting of a choice of professions which are not high paying as their needs and aspirations are very high. Closely connected world has made people aware of everything that is available in the world and they want it all. No longer does pride in profession suffice. In earlier times, small amounts of money went a long way as the community supported teachers’ family in various ways. Such consideration towards teachers is not seen today. People with high income, however it may be earned, are feted while those with less wealth are ignored or worse insulted.
So what can we do to make the teaching profession attractive for educated unemployed?
Firstly we need to start paying our teachers a salary which is more or less equivalent to salaries people in other profession draw. Bring accountability, reward good performance, penalize on bad performance but start paying well. Just like we have for armed services, we need to substantiate teachers’ salary with perks and facilities.
Secondly, the profession has to have an aspiration quality. This is far more difficult to pull off. It will need long term concerted effort if higher powers are serious about filling up empty posts in schools. Once it becomes ‘aspired for’ profession, society will start valuing teachers and then unemployed will choose to become one.
The question still remains – are we willing to tackle the issue honestly?