Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Call centre bloopers

Despite calls being scripted, adherence to "call models" being emphasized, despite the strictest of quality controls being applied, there is the rare occasion that a tired, hapless agent commits a blooper. When you get to hear these, you thank God that all the quality guidelines failed because these are the funniest things that you will hear in your hectic day, things that will linger on in your memory for years & make you smile when you need it the most.
I present some on-call bloopers from memory here:

Agent: Can I speak to Pamela please?
Man: Pamela can't come to the phone right now 'coz she's sucking my c***!
Agent (out of sheer force of habit): Could I speak to the spouse please?

An agent is telling her colleague between calls how terribly sleepy she is, when a call comes up...
Agent (Lady): Can I speak with Maria please?
Man: She's not here.
Agent (dead with sleep): Could I sleep with the spouse please?
Man: WHAT?
Agent (mortified & suddenly very awake): I mean, could I speak with the spouse please?

Agent: Could I speak to Maria please?
Man: DON'T CALL HERE YOU F***ING @#$%^&!
Agent (following procedure): Sir, I request you not to use profanity.
Agent: Sir...
Man (interrupting): SHUT UP & HANG UP YOU F***ING A***H*LE!!!
Agent (still following procedure): Can you at least give her a message?
Man (growling): OK. Tell me...
Agent (in total violation of procedure): Ask her to take you to a good doctor...! CLICK!

Feel free to add to this list if you have any more such priceless gems.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Life Philosophies at Work

For the longest time ever, I handled myself at work rather abominably. I relied totally on the experience & guidance of the organisation to mould my approach to work, and towards people at work. I was taught to believe that if I made work my everything, I would prosper like no man's business! I did exactly that. Until I realized that something was amiss.

It's only recently that I have realized that work isn't everything. There is something else called Life. There is a beautiful world outside of work calling, and I do not intend to ignore that call anymore!

Recent cogitation on life and it's deeper mysteries has brought on some kind of a mild spiritual awakening. I am suddenly aware of the true meaning of what the Quran & the Gita say about how one should conduct oneself.

The Quran likens criticism to "eating the flesh of one's brother". So how does one manage conflict in the organisation? How does one provide feedback?
I'm sure some philosophy somewhere asks us not to judge our fellow man. How then does one conduct appraisals? How does one fit employees into the bell-curve?

The Gita says that your right is to your labour alone, not to the fruit of that labour. The next time my boss asks me why the desired outcome wasn't achieved, I am going to quote this to him. And I would like to watch his/her expression change.

So what does this tell us? Does it mean that we must conduct ourselves at work the way we would conduct ourselves in life? Or does it mean that there is a marked difference between what we must do at work & what we must do in Life? I believe that the latter is the pragmatic approach. This is what I believe the essence of "work-Life balance" to be. And this is where I differ radically from Shyam Vishwanathan (a man I admire immensely on all other counts).

Airtel Indictment!!!

This should have ideally gone up here as it has to do with the world of commerce & business (just barely touching upon the BPO bit though), but anyway, here it is now...

Link from a post that I put up on the Mutiny. Mutiny uses Wordpress, which has some amazing features, but it's pro-tech-savvy approach sometimes makes the most simple tasks like linking to a photo extremely difficult. So here's the original photo in a more viewable format. Enjoy!

Spread the good word!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

On Business Ethics (& more on the Nano)

A while back this blog was buzzing with the thrill around the Nano.

I am (as is my wont) trying to present another view.

One thing to understand about business is that there are two approaches to it. One is the business house that insists on providing a high quality product to it's customers (example, Apple Inc.?). Another is the kind of business house that determines what the customer is willing to pay for a product and designs a product around that price range.
Much as I respect the Tatas, it is for this second reason that I don't accord the same respect to all their products.

I drive a Tata car. It's a very nice car in many respects, but it's nowhere near international standards. The seatbelt malfunctions, so does the horn, there's very little finesse in it's finish. (This is almost like writing a movie review... Somebody else does the hard work, and we get to sit & criticize it!)
There really shouldn't be a reason to crib. The Tatas made an excellent VFM product! For X price, they've provided some great features! Except that there a gadzillion features missing as well! In trying to make an affordable vehicle, the Tatas cut cost on almost every component: the interiors, the door hinges, the wiper jets (need replacing every 6 months!), the tyre size!!! The actual tyre is one size smaller than the ideal size (as informed by a gentleman in the tyre industry for over 25 years). This apparently saves them Rs. 500/- per tyre. That's Rs. 2500/- per vehicle. For a car that's sold 1 Lakh units, that amounts to a saving of Rs. 25,00,00,000/-! That also amounts to me driving on less that perfect tyres!

It is this aspect of business that I find disappointing. It is this disregard for a good quality product (or even safety features!) as opposed to an affordable product that I find disconcerting. The Tatas aren't the only ones to blame, the consumer who agrees to buy such products is equally to blame; but one should expect more product responsibility from a corporate, the same we way we expect corporate social responsibility.

So think again about the Nano. Even if you cast aside the potential traffic nightmares, the environmental nightmares, do think about what safety features the 1 Lakh car will offer us. Or do safety features not matter in "the people's car"?

Inviting inputs from you gentle readers and future industry stalwarts on this aspect of business.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Golden Rules for Career Success - Richard Moran

I don't usually borrow whole posts & put them up on this blog, but this one is is a classic & HAS to be here.

WORKING as a business consultant all over the world, I have discovered some basic career-related rules that everyone should know but many don’t.

- Business is made up of ambiguous victories and nebulous defeats. Claim them all as victories.
- Keep track of what you do; someone is sure to ask.
- Be comfortable around senior managers, or learn to fake it.
- Never bring your boss a problem without some solution.
- You are getting paid to think, not to whine.
- Long hours don’t mean anything; results count, not effort.
- Write down ideas; they get lost, like good pens.
- Always arrive at work 30 minutes before your boss.
- Help other people network for jobs. You never know when your turn will come.
- Don’t take days off sick unless you are.
- Assume no one can / will keep a secret.
- Know when you do your best morning, night, under pressure, relaxed; schedule and prioritize your work accordingly.
- Treat everyone who works in the organization with respect and dignity, whether it be the cleaner or the managing director. Don’t ever be patronizing.
- Never appear stressed in front of a client, a customer or your boss. Take a deep breath and ask yourself: In the course of human events, how important is this?
- If you get the entrepreneurial urge, visit someone who has his own business. It may cure you.
- Acknowledging someone else’s contribution will repay you doubly.
- Career planning is an oxymoron. The most exciting opportunities tend to be unplanned.
- Always choose to do what you’ll remember ten years from now.
- The size of your office is not as important as the size of your pay cheque.
- Understand what finished work looks like and deliver your work only when it is finished.
- The person who spends all of his or her time is not hard-working; he or she is boring.
- Know how to write business letters including thank-you notes as well as proposals.
- Never confuse a memo with reality. Most memos from the top are political fantasy.
- Eliminate guilt. Don’t fiddle expenses, taxes or benefits, and don’t cheat colleagues.
- Reorganizations mean that someone will lose his or her job. Get on the committee that will make the recommendations.
- Job security does not exist.
- Always have an answer to the question, What would I do if I lost my job tomorrow
- Go to the company Christmas party. Don’t get drunk at the company Christmas party.
- Avoid working at weekends. Work longer during the week if you have to.
- The most successful people in business are interesting.
- Sometimes you’ll be on a winning streak and everything will click; take maximum advantage. When the opposite is true, hold steady and wait it out.
- Never in your life say, Its not my job
- Be loyal to your career, your interests and yourself.
- Understand the skills and abilities that set you apart. Use them whenever you have an opportunity.
- People remember the end of the project. As they say in boxing, Always finish stronger than you start.

More on bad people managers

So, there's this friend of mine.
He's spent 22 months with his current company, a BPO that refuses to acknowledge that people join this industry because it offers faster growth & better salaries than other industries.

A BPO that's packed with top management bereft of "relevant work ex", and one that refuses to act on the advice of it's staff that possess that work ex! Totally oblivious to the proverb "Only the spoon knows what cooking in the pot"! Surely they know what happens to kings who don't listen to their advisors? Surely they can fathom what would've happened to the great Chandragupta Maurya had he not paid heed to Chanakya?

As things stand today, this friend of mine can't stand being in this company anymore. He's started looking out. One of 2 things will happen now:
  • He will find a job to his liking & leave.
  • The company will promote him, give what's overdue, in order to retain him.
What the company doesn't realize is that someone this dissatisfied will leave even after this promotion!!!

Either way, their mismanagement of his expectations & his perception of where his career is going is leading to another victory for Mr. A!

Monday, February 25, 2008


Excerpt from the web, reinforcing what Thomas Friedman says about the Indian Outsourcing Industry.

And proof to the naysayers that the Industry is growing in hitherto unimaginable ways!

And a warning to employers that industry growth potentially means more employment opportunities to their dissatisfied staff!

"Honey has completed her first project for me: research on the person Esquire has chosen as the Sexiest Woman Alive. I’ve been assigned to write a profile of this woman, and I really don’t want to have to slog through all the heavy-breathing fan websites about her. When I open Honey’s file, I have this reaction: America is f*cked. There are charts. There are section headers. There is a well-organized breakdown of her pets, measurements, and favorite foods (e.g., swordfish). If all Bangalorians are like Honey, I pity Americans about to graduate college. They’re up against a hungry, polite, Excel-proficient Indian army."

Read full article here.

The selfish kind of employer...

One of my ex-managers recently told an ex-employee of mine: "When will my managers grow up?" in response to his (pre-informed) leave clashing with a weekend training programme!

It really upsets me when managers only seem to expect employees to live to contribute to their company, with no focus on their personal needs.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

On Employers & Employment...

Edit: Sandy's comment made me add this disclaimer:
This post shouldn't be interpreted in absolute terms. It is meant to highlight the pitfalls of corporate life and has therefore, deliberately ignored the good about organizations. If you're looking for good, scroll down to the beginning of this blog.

Having held 9 jobs in 10 years, in different industries, and different kinds of companies, one can safely say that I am now a semi-expert on "employers".
And with the absolute roller-coaster of a ride it has been, I believe I am qualified enough to comment on the pitfalls of corporate life.
So here goes:

Step 1: NEVER EVER work for a small firm if you can help it! By & large they are owned & run by people who have no training or education in man-management, HR, corporate law etc. etc.
This means you risk working in the corporate equivalent of a dictatorship. For example, if you have a problem with your manager, who do you go to? Your boss often owns the damn company! There is often no HR to intervene! And even if there is, they're not going to risk upsetting the boss!

No experience in corporate law sometimes translates into a total disregard for the law; meaning you work for a company that is potentially low on ethics and is therefore open to sales tax raids, other kinds of scrutiny etc.

Risky proposition either way.

AND... If you're a management graduate, who has studied what they have often not, it's very frustrating to work for people who don't understand where you're coming from.

Step 2: Stick by what you believe in. Don't let your bosses or managers influence you against something you hold dear. They have what you want, you look up to them for guidance, yes...; by all means be open to feedback, but if they say something that something inside you finds it difficult to digest, however often it is said, don't buy it. If you're not at the start of your career, always remember: You got here by doing what you do best. By all means pick up new skills; but don't for God's sake drop the old ones because someone higher in the Org structure tells you that you need to change! This is a twisted one, so I'll expand on this one in a separate post sometime.

Step 3: Despite their exhortations, always remember, companies are NOT family! They are not friends either! They are employers. And you're extremely lucky if you find a good one!
Family & friends will not stab you in the back. Organizations do & employers if they need a fall guy will! I have learnt from my experience as I have mentioned before.
But let me not ask you to just go by that. Let me give you another example.
A friend of mine was once in trouble over some overtime issues. Most BPO companies do not take pains to educate their managers on the legal limits of overtime. He wasn't educated about it either, so unbeknownst he slipped up. Now his company was worried about being audited & found lacking. They had to show that they'd taken some action against the person who broke the law. So they went after this friend of mine! Luckily, he had me! I told him to ask his company whether he'd been offered his position on the basis of a degree in labour law. Also why after his hiring had they not spent time training him in the important legal aspects of the job? His company of course had no answers. I also asked him to tell them that he would not only take the company to court if they took any action against him, but also that he'd go to the press with the story! That was it. He hasn't heard anything on the matter after that.
The other thing I've warned him about is that he needs to watch his back now that he's messed up their egos. But I think he's learnt how to handle them now.
Lesson: Remember to treat a job as just that. It's just a job. It's not the beginning or the end of the world! There are many more where those came from! (Thank God for these times & may he bless the likes of Manmohan Singh & Rajiv Gandhi!) It's not your family, it's not your life, it's only a job! And they're just your current employers, and they're not indispensable!

Step 4: Companies today are wondering why they're losing people so fast. It's really simple actually. It's not about more opportunities existing today, the money being better in another company, other companies poaching your talent. It's about the 3 points I mentioned above.
It's about living the values you boast of (in hiring ads & induction sessions) as a company! You can't issue broad statements like "We're a family" & then summarily terminate the employment of your family members!
These are pitfalls a company must learn to avoid. Among the others that I am going to mention.

Jobs earlier were more relaxed. You spent 8-9 hours in an office, you worked 5-6 out of those. You spent time chatting up colleagues at the water coolers, took a long luxurious lunch sometimes. Work was a walk in the park.
Then came the days of increased productivity. Technology could now keep tabs on what you did with your time in the office. You were being watched & punished. Work became more stressful. Not that companies didn't do business earlier. It's just that competition intensified & in order to survive the company wanted more productivity per employee. If you couldn't give more productivity, you had to settle for less pay/no promotions/no job. You had to sacrifice ambition if you wanted a less stressful life. Of course, the company couldn't sacrifice it's market share ambitions!

So here we are today: Highly stressful jobs, personal ambition, lack of work-life balance. To make matters worse, employers are insensitive & tell you to your face that:
Job security is a thing of the past!
And then they wonder why they have high rates of attrition!!!

So here's my modern management maxim to that:
Employee Loyalty is a thing of the past!

Much as that will hurt brick & mortar relics of the past, it is the truth. And the only way it will change if these relics managing companies wake up to this fact!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Set a Good Example v/s Listen to your Mind!

I began this post about 2 years back, but only completed it now. It has therefore changed much in nature, content, tense, heading & perspective.

Set a Good Example...

One of the chief challenges that has plagued Industry through the decades is Attrition. Not a new phenomenon, but the levels it has reached in the BPO (despite us trying to do far more for our employees than other indutries in India) does make one wonder.

Although the start of my career was peppered with 7 month stints in various low paying *ales jobs for small organizations, once I broke into the mega-business of BPO, the structured approach & management methods gave me enough reason to hang around.

Initially this was only due to my early track record being questioned & held against me; but recently even the prospect of a job change makes me cringe, unless I have put in a decent amount of time & contributed to the betterment of my process. Conditioning I think...

Why I began writing this is because I had received a call from one of my ex-bosses with an extremely tempting offer (even if you do not consider the fact that my stint at my then workplace had been less than thoroughly satisfying). However, I found myself turning the offer down. And the reasons were as follow:
When this organization had hired me, they gave me everything that I had asked for at the time:

- Designation, Quoted Salary (well almost), a good hiring experience.

- In the initial months, they were considerate to my personal needs.

- Employee Loyalty isn't something that this industry is known for, but at that time I felt that my taking up this presumably better offer would be tantamount to ditching the organization. I'm not saying I'm indispensable. I'm just saying that it would've put them through the unnecessary trouble of looking for a replacement. Most importantly, it would have set an extremely bad example on my floor. I had been stressing the importance of staying with an organization for long periods of time in order to reap the benefits of displaying loyalty & performance; and if I were to quit, it could potentially permanently shatter the belief of the people who currently work for me. This had led to a drop in attrition rates & I didn't want to jeopardize that performance for the company.

- Additionally I wanted to believe (as I was trained to) that whatever was lacking may in part be due to my not asking firmly enough.

Therefore, I did what I thought was at that time, the right thing. I shared my concerns with my manager and stayed there until things improved or until I thought that I had contributed & learnt enough to warrant moving on.
I definitely didn't want to contribute to intensifying the hurt this industry feels by quitting randomly.
I wanted to set a good example.


Listen to your Mind...

What happened after I shared my concerns & the details of the new offer with my boss was this:
My boss convinced me that things were on the up & that we will shortly overcome all the challenges. I felt better that I had spoken to him & that I was staying back.

During this time, my General Manager who had hired me quit. My VP had quit around the same time. Another existing GM was moved in to replace the earlier one. This GM had rejected my candidature a few years back and I was obviously uncomfortable with that fact. Additionally I had heard horror stories about this new GM from my colleagues & subordinates. About his political games, his lack of people focus etc. But I decided to ignore all hearsay (as per my training again!) and give it a fair shot.

Shortly after his moving in, my immediate boss was quietly & suddenly moved out into another area. We wouldn't even have heard if it wasn't a stray email mistakenly marked to us, made it's way into our inboxes!
I immediately called up my boss & asked him what was going on. He gave me some roundabout explanation. Then I asked him what I should be doing at this point. He said (again in a very roundabout way) that I should disappear. Why he hadn't told me when I had an offer in hand, I'll never figure out. Except that he got caught by as much surprise.

Expectedly, the very next day, this new GM (henceforth Giga-Monster) asked for a meeting with me and began by throwing stuff in my direction meant solely to intimidate me. There was a new DGM-HR who I hadn't met before in the room as well, sitting unsmilingly at me. Whatever I was saying in defence of my performance was being brushed off as insignificant or simply not enough. I quickly realized that my time here was limited. I left the room terribly shaken.

I quickly called up all my contacts, trying to secure another suitable position, fully aware that it would be next to impossible to find a desirable job in the limited time I had.

Anyway, like all things, it worked out OK in the end. The side-effects of this entire exercise, however, were felt by me for almost the next 2 years! I had realized that despite your loyalty & performance, things can still go awry at work. There was a constant sense of pressure (from the baggage I was carrying) even at the new job. Coupled with the fact that my work had been my sense of identity, this episode made me question a little bit of that identity, it had jolted my self-confidence. It took me very long to realize that the episode had very little to do with me. It had more to do with the giga-monsters biases & machinations. And of course with the fact that they had to look for 2 scapegoats (my boss & I) in order to save the process. The good news is that they lost the process anyway! I wonder if the GM looks like a fool right now. I sure hope he does!

What this brings me to is this set of questions:
  • If this is the reward for employee loyalty, does it make any sense for an employee to hang around despite having better offers?
  • Should one go by someone's reputation?
  • Should one go by gut-feel and listen to one's Mind, instead of doing the apparent "right thing"?
  • And therefore, is all corporate training meant to mould employee thinking to suit the organization instead of genuinely making the employee smarter?
More on all of that in the next post.