Quality – Maintenance leads to sustenance

It is clear that consistency in quality is essential for sustainability in business. As competition becomes fierce, every enterprise has to roll up their sleeves and strive to stay in the fray. Good quality, customer focus and adaptability are the important factors that help a business for a long haul. To achieve this, it is important to keep all the resources running effectively and efficiently. Regular maintenance, mundane as it may sound, is an indispensable part of doing this.

download
Image Courtesy: Google Images

A consultant had to travel to Belgaum on business. He hired a car and driver and informed him about the day and time of travel. The car picked him up as scheduled. However, as they proceeded, the passenger realized that the seatbelt would not clasp and there was a lot of disturbance in the CD player. As the car traversed a mucky road in the rain, the driver had to drive very slowly because the tyres were worn down. He admitted that they had not been changed for a long time.  The customer was very dissatisfied with the whole experience. He conveyed it to the owner of the rental service but he did not take it seriously. A few months later when they casually met the latter was complaining about the business not running too well and the customer knew all too well why!

This is but one example. We all get these experiences several times. Think about the stained tablecloths in restaurants, broken faucets in hotel washrooms, broken down lifts in office complexes, out of order traffic signals and stores that have run out of products that they have advertised! Lack of regular stocking, maintenance, repair, cleaning, refilling, checking, all lead to a very disappointing product or service experience. Such lapses can be the cause of complete failure of businesses unless mended in time. There are also enterprises, who take efforts to rectify these lacunae and lay a lot of emphasis on maintenance and are able to bring back business on even keel.

quality1
Image Courtesy: Google Images

The interesting thing is that often an outwardly attractive thing ends up proving to be dysfunctional and sometimes an overtly dull and unassuming thing may actually surprise with quality deliverance.

Both inward and outward readiness matter in business. There must be congruence in ‘What Seems’ and ‘What Is’. The outward appearance is a promise that attracts customers. The actual experience is what gratifies the customer and keeps him bonded with the enterprise.

In short, quality is not a one-time thing. It is a constant and consistent process for which maintenance is the key. Maintenance of resources leads to sustenance in business.

Author: S.R. Joshi

The author is the Director at deAsra Foundation. deAsra Foundation is a Section 25 company, a not for profit association formed to contribute to social welfare by enabling entrepreneurship, which will create employment opportunities.

This article was originally written in the Marathi Magazine- Yashaswi Udyojak (August 2016). This post is the translated abridged version of the same article.

 

Treading from Customer Satisfaction to Customer Delight!

We have always been hearing the phrase ‘Consumer is King’, but have started experiencing it only in recent years. Before liberalization in 1991, the consumer was at the mercy of the producer and supplier and had to be satisfied with whatever was available on offer.

However, 1991 onwards, as the Indian markets were thrown open to global players, competition turned fierce. Now manufacturers and suppliers had to woo customers to capture bigger market share. They realized they had to walk that extra mile to please the consumer by understanding their needs and fulfilling them to the T.

In the last 25 years of liberalization, we have seen a significant change in the scenario. More professionalism, better service and distinct consumer orientation are a part of the trend that has started taking roots.

download
Image Courtesy: Google Images

Manufacturers and service providers have now started taking proactive steps to understand customers’ expectations and their preferences. The objective has now gone beyond customer satisfaction to customer delight which meant giving them an experience that would make them come back to the manufacturer/ service provider again and again. Let us take some examples.

A family booked a room in a hotel. The hotel asked them about their arrival, further itinerary and their food preferences. Incidentally, the family was fasting on one of the days during their stay. To acknowledge this, the hotel management enquired if they would like a ‘fasting’ menu. The entire staff was courteous and warm. On the day of their departure, the manager himself asked if their stay had been comfortable and if they had any suggestions to help them give better service. Overall, the guests got a very pleasant experience, were made to feel very special and they felt an immediate bonding towards the hotel. Professional enterprises believe in creating better customer relationships, more than the increase in the number of customers.

A friend booked a cab to go from Pune to Thane. The owner of the cab service asked for all the details of the customer’s destination and timings. He texted the driver’s name, contact number and car number well in advance to the customer. The next day the driver called a few minutes before the scheduled time. The car was clean, filled with enough petrol and ready on time. The driver helped the passenger load the bags into the boot. He asked him the exact destination and entered the details into the GPS system. He was wearing clean clothes, refrained from picking up his mobile while driving and was very polite in his mannerisms. The owner of the cab service also called to ask if everything was going as per schedule. The whole experience of the trip was very safe, comfortable and enjoyable. So much so that the customer later contacted the owner to give him a very positive feedback!

download
Image Courtesy: Google Images

The long and short of it is, that modern business must go that extra mile to make the customer happy. We must admit that a lot of our systems have improved significantly. We can order a gas cylinder on phone and it is delivered in time. Railways are improving their hygiene and safety standards. Things are getting better and will continue to do so in the future because the customer is now the centre of the market universe!

Author: S.R. Joshi

The author is the Director at deAsra Foundation. deAsra Foundation is a Section 25 company, a not for profit association formed to contribute to social welfare by enabling entrepreneurship, which will create employment opportunities.

This article was originally written in the Marathi Magazine- Yashaswi Udyojak (February 2016). This post is the translated abridged version of the same article.

 

The best service at the right price!

Consistent success relies on consistency in the quality of service. It’s not desirous but rather essential for a long haul in business. As mentioned earlier, it is to do with integrity and common sense which applies in personal life and extends to professional life. Just as one would expect another person to keep their word and be sincere in their actions, so would the customer expect a business to give good quality service and be courteous and thoughtful about the customer’s needs. Once this is understood perfectly, it becomes the ethos of business and stands in good stead forever through its future journey.

Quality is important not in one or some of the business practices but in every product, service and interaction with the customer. A shortfall or lacuna in even one could prove detrimental to the image of the business. Just as a school student’s exam score comes down because of bad performance in even one subject, so can a company’s business get affected because of negligence on any front.

images
Image Courtesy: Google Images

Remember, past glory never helps in erasing the flaw that shows at any given point in time. Even if a student scores well in 5th, 6th and 7th grade, if she fails in the 8th, her past years’ performance does not help her. Another example is that of a driver. Even if you are a very cautious and skilled driver, one single mistake can cause an accident and cost you heavily. Your previous record cannot negate the damage done.

Very often consumers do not mind spending a little more just because they are getting superior service. Nowadays people don’t just look at the product they buy but also the demeanor of the salesman, the welcome they get at the door, how quickly their billing gets done, how the item is packed and many other things. It is the overall experience that lingers long in the mind of the customer.

In today’s cut throat competition, the customer has several options to choose from which is why businesses vie to give them the best service. Companies who procure products from suppliers base their decisions on timely delivery, quality of the product, after sales maintenance, turnaround time if changes are asked for and many other factors.

customer-service
Image Courtesy: Google Images

Customers don’t just look at the product they buy at the mall but even the delay in billing as they stand in a long queue can make them stop patronizing the mall and go to another shop instead!

Quality in service builds with time as customers experience the service. A new business must therefore enter the market with ‘lower than competitor’s’ prices. This will first attract customers. Later as they also experience the interaction, courtesy and quality of service, the brand gets a well-deserved lift. Reasonable prices and the best service therefore become a sure shot gateway to successful business.

Author: S.R. Joshi

The author is the Director at deAsra Foundation. deAsra Foundation is a Section 25 company, a not for profit association formed to contribute to social welfare by enabling entrepreneurship, which will create employment opportunities.

This article was originally written in the Marathi Magazine- Yashaswi Udyojak (January 2016). This post is the translated abridged version of the same article

 

Cooking up a small food business? Read these tips to get a head start.

According to statistics, 9 out of 10 start-ups fall by the wayside. This figure may paint a grim picture, but rather than getting discouraged, budding entrepreneurs should take heart, because 1 start-up out of every 10 does manage to tick all the right boxes, and that start-up can be you. In this article, the business mentors at deAsra have put together a few challenges commonly faced by small-scale food businesses, along with tips to help you sail over these speed bumps smoothly.

But first, what qualifies as a micro/small-scale business?

A mess service, a home-made ladoo business, or even a food packaging and reselling outlet can fall under the category of a small business, as long as the capital investment in machinery does not exceed 5 crores, (for businesses in the manufacturing sector) and is up to 2 crores (for businesses in the service industry) If your investment in machinery is up to 25 lakhs (manufacturing sector) and up to 10 lakhs (service sector), your business will be classified as a micro enterprise. In this case, revenue generated does not bear much weight – For example, a vada-pav vendor could be selling 1000+ vada pavs a day from his cart, yet, his business is still classified as a small business.

Partnership, Proprietorship, or Private Limited? Depends on the need.
Another question often raised deals with registrations – what kind of company registration should start-up founders and co-founders opt for? According to deAsra mentors, it depends on the need. For example, when you’re at the cusp of transforming your chakli-making hobby into a full-fledged business, you may start off with a proprietorship registration, and later, as the business scales, convert it into a private limited, in order to run it in more professional way.as well as to take advantage of tax benefits.

Checklist
Source: Google Images

Get your licenses right before anything else.

Before you get your business in place, it is essential to get your licenses in order. Miss this step, and fines or penalties could be staring you in the face.

For any business, however small, FSSAI registration and the Shop Act registration are compulsory. Manufacturers, distributors, retail traders and stockists also need to get licenses if their business turnover exceeds 12 lakhs.
A variety of legal formalities too are applicable on the different kinds of company registration. For example, partnership businesses call for partnership deeds and registration thereof, and private limited companies need to get registered at the Registrar of Companies (ROC).

Funding is more accessible than most people think.

Since Pune (and the surrounding region up to a radius of 40 kms) is classified as a developed zone, certain government subsidies do not apply to businesses here. However, to give women entrepreneurs a leg-up, the government has launched many organisations, like the Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal, which offers loans at beneficial interest rates.

The big F word in the start-up scene – funding – is not out of reach anymore – especially if your business is commercially viable, enjoys a continuous stream of revenue and you can raise up to 25% of the margin demand by the bank. And even if that margin is beyond your scope, organisations like deAsra connect you to banks and financial institutions who can give your business some amount of runway.

food-final
Image Courtesy: Quora

Research before you figure out your pricing sweet spot.

“How should I price my products/services?” is one of the foremost challenges every entrepreneur faces. Low prices can undercut competition, but can also make your business unviable, while high prices will put you out of the running completely.

 

To tackle pricing, deAsra mentors help the business owners undertake a thorough audit where they assess the financial viability of a business, and estimate various fixed and variable costs, including raw materials, equipments, electricity, packing material, etc.
They also encourage entrepreneurs to carry out extensive competitor studies, observe the rates in the surrounding localities for the same product/service, and then work on the pricing model.
The USP of your business and its competitive edge can also affect pricing.

food1
Source: Google Images

Marketing matters.

A preference for a brand can only be born when there is awareness of that brand’s existence. To get customers beating a path to your shop, deAsra mentors recommend converting your current brand champions into marketers for your business, since referrals, according to them, work the best. Roping in relatives and friends who swear by your delicacies and spreading the news through them is a good way to get one foot in the door.
A few other marketing tactics which can get you off to a good start include distributing food samples and leaflets in your area of operation, distributing products through retail outlets and offering incentives/discounts, especially to referred customers.
Keeping in touch with customers through Whatsapp and email marketing channels; and closely monitoring people’s preferences is also crucial. For example, people are becoming increasingly health-conscious, so incorporating that aspect into your product (think ‘diet chiwda’) could help boost sales.
For a vada pav seller, a simple change in the presentation of his product – and a switch from a wooden cart to a swanky mobile van – did wonders for his business.

hy07grab-your-g_hy_1747051g-copy
Source: Google Images

Watch out for these hurdles.

As an entrepreneur, it’s ok to make mistakes; in fact mistakes are the stepping stones to success. But learning from those mistakes, and more importantly, learning from other people’s mistakes, can take you a long way ahead in the entrepreneurial journey.

For example, many food businesses end up buying wholesale quantities and building unwanted inventory, which leads to revenue drain. Also, home-grown businesses borrow money from chit funds or micro-finance institutions, which lands them with higher rates of interest. Instead, opt for banks and reputed financial institutions, suggest deAsra mentors. For food businesses, maintaining consistency in quality and taste is also a major problem area. This can be solved by strictly adhering to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Raw materials need to be tested too, which is not widely practised in India. For example, there are more than 20 kinds of potatoes produced in our country, so a vada pav seller has to test all varieties and find out which works best for his vadas.
Keeping tabs on the shelf life of products is equally crucial; maintaining a batch-wise record of products can prove to be helpful in this case. Apart from this, maintaining a proper book of records is essential and comes in handy when you need to recover pending payment dues.

The food business is beset with labour problems – how does one handle that?

According to deAsra mentors, most business owners forget that their labourers too, at the end of the day, are customers, and should be treated with dignity and respect. At deAsra, business owners are introduced to HR management techniques, which help bridge the gap of discord between labourers and owners, while building loyalty and reducing attrition.

img-20150510-wa0005
Source: Google Images

Finally, don’t give up too soon, and don’t pass up expert help.

Any food business generally takes a year to pick up pace, and that’s if the quality is top-notch and the right marketing strategies and SOPs are followed to a T. What’s the advice of deAsra mentors to budding entrepreneurs? ‘Don’t give up on your business too soon, but more importantly, don’t hesitate to ask for expert help. Help can move you forward, fast.’

deAsra partners with mentors, business experts and other complementary organisations and financial institutions to help entrepreneurs build a successful food business from the ground-up. Need help with your food business? Give us a call at +91 20 65365300 / 11.

To know how we helped other food businesses take off, read our impact stories here.

 

Delight Your Customer!

In the previous blog post, I wrote about how Quality has different meanings for different people.When we sell goods internationally, it is critical that these goods are produced to and maintained at a certain high standard – one that is decided by our customer and that we have committed to meet.

However, for a service, the customer does not define a standard and we do not have a clear idea of his expectation. As we have no idea about the customer’s expectations, the question of agreeing to meet them does not arise. Even so, there are some basic expectations that we must fulfill if we want to provide good quality service. Let’s look at some examples to understand this.

On a visit to a dentist, as soon as I had sat in the chair, I saw the previous patient’s extracted tooth, a swab of bloodied cotton and used instruments on a round table next to my chair. I also saw some red stains in the basin next to the chair. I mumbled an excuse and promptly got up and left. I went to the dentist next door. At the second dentist, I was called in only after everything had been cleaned. The dentist washed his hands in front of me and sterilized every instrument before examining me. I was impressed by his methods. After that, not only did I become a regular patient, I also recommended him to numerous friends and acquaintances.

On another occasion, I had called a plumber to my house to fix a leaking tap. The plumber came, changed the washer and got the tap working. After that, he threw the old washer into the garbage bin and cleaned the tap and the surrounding area. He then proceeded to check all the taps in the house and clean their filters – all this without being told! While leaving, he gave us a bill for the work done, along with a detailed break-up of the amount. He told us that we could call him any time between 7 am to 9 pm for anything we needed. He has now become the ‘go-to’ person for my household.

The well-known Marathi writer, Shri Va Pu Kale, has recorded several observations in his story ‘Satavalekar’ from his ‘Karmachari’ collection. He has described in accurate detail how finding a piece of onion or garlic skin or chilly stalk in one’s ‘kanda-pohe’ is enough to dampen one’s enthusiasm!

Nowadays, most weddings serve buffets. There, if one has to wipe one’s own plate, spoon and bowl, then, however good the food may be, it is unlikely to earn any praise. At some buffets, some of the items have to still ‘arrive’. When this happens, a person usually eats whatever he can get, compliments the hosts on the good food and makes his way out!

Small things like these cause a customer to feel let down. Every customer won’t give you his feedback; he will simply avoid you.

Overall, we have to think about what will make our service good, decide the processes to be followed and keep making improvements to bring our service to a level of excellence. Only then will our customers say that we offer ‘quality’.

Author: S.R. Joshi

The author is a director at deAsra Foundation. deAsra Foundation is a Section 25 company, a not for profit association formed to contribute to social welfare by enabling entrepreneurship, which will create employment opportunities.

Quality Lesson from a Taxi Driver

As customers, we often get frustrated when we don’t get satisfactory service at the time when we need it. How many times have we been angry and frustrated at call drops just when we are in the middle of an important conversation? Similarly, when you are in the role of a supplier, your customer expects service that meets his expectations.

However, in the daily flurry of running a business – raw material procurement, production, marketing, delivery, managing cash flow and loan repayments – we often forget this most important aspect of our business – Quality.

What exactly is Quality? Quality has many different meanings. Often, quality is relative. Everyone measures quality based on their own expectations and perceptions. These expectations are different for different customers and sometimes they could be diametrically opposite – hence, it is difficult to define ‘Quality’.

Overall, it is important for a businessman to know the expectations of his customers and what is critical to his customers.

The Taxi Story

Mumbai Taxi

I’d like to illustrate the concept of Quality and Customer Delight through a personal experience.
I was outside Dadar Station in Mumbai one day, looking for a taxi to take me to Santa Cruz. I was impressed by a taxi that looked spick and span and promptly hailed it and got in. To my pleasant surprise, the interior of the taxi matched its exterior – it was clean and fragrant. Moreover, the taxi was equipped with every conceivable item a passenger could possibly need – English and Marathi dailies, copies of rail and air timetables, a list of emergency numbers, a sealed bottle of drinking water and a mobile charger. The driver was courteous and disciplined, even asking me what kind of music I would like to listen to! I was so delighted that, on reaching my destination, I gave him a hundred rupee tip.

I was curious and asked him how he could afford to provide this level of service to his customers. He replied that what he received in tips more than made up for the expense incurred. What’s more, he had the satisfaction of happy customers, who, in turn, would go forth to do their work with enthusiasm!

Have you ever had such an experience? No? From now on, I tell every taxi and rickshaw driver I meet, that if they provide such excellent service, they will never have to go looking for customers; customers would come looking for them!

I hope we realise the importance of quality and understand that it requires prioritization.

Author: S.R. Joshi

The author is a director at deAsra Foundation. deAsra Foundation is a Section 25 company, a not for profit association formed to contribute to social welfare by enabling entrepreneurship, which will create employment opportunities.