Saturday, June 29, 2013

Add-ons and Group tours

In the initial days of "No-frills Airlines" or "Budget flights", a passenger holding such a ticket entered the cabin and was greeted by the cabin attendant.  The passenger had been made to walk a long distance from the boarding station to the aircraft.  The airline had dispensed with the use of aero-bridge or buses for transporting the passengers from the boarding station to cut costs.  The exchange between the attendant and the passenger went on like this:

Attendant: Welcome aboard, Sir. May I see your boarding pass?
Passenger: Sure.
Attendant: You're in seat 21 C. That will be $5, please!
Passenger: What for?
Attendant: For telling you where to sit.
Passenger: But I already knew where to sit.
Attendant: Nevertheless, we are now charging a seat-locator fee of $5. It's the airline's new policy.
Passenger: That's the craziest thing I ever heard. I won't pay it.
Attendant: Sir, do you want a seat on this flight, or not?
Passenger: Yes, yes. All right, I'll pay. But the airline is going to hear about this.
Attendant: Thank you. My goodness, your carry-on bag looks heavy.  Would you like me to stow it in the   overhead compartment for you?
Passenger: That would be great, thanks.
Attendant: No problem. Up we go, and done!  That will be $10, please.
Passenger: What?
Attendant: The airline now charges a $10 carry-on assistance fee.
Passenger: This is extortion. I won't stand for it.
Attendant: Actually, you're right - you can't stand. You need to sit and fasten your seat belt. We're about to push back from the gate. But first I need that $10.
Passenger: No way.
Attendant: Sir, if you don 't comply, I will be forced to call the air marshal. And you really don't want me to do that.
Passenger: Why not? Is he going to shoot me?
Attendant: No, but there's a $50 air-marshal hailing fee.
Passenger: Oh, all right, here - take the $10. I can't believe this.
Attendant: Thank you for your cooperation, sir. Is there anything else I can do for you?
Passenger: Yes. It's stuffy in here, and my overhead fan doesn't seem to work. Can you fix it?
Attendant: Your overhead fan is not broken, sir. Just insert two quarters into the overhead coin slot for the first five minutes.
Passenger: The airline is charging me for cabin air?
Attendant: Of course not, sir. Stagnant cabin air is provided free of charge. It's the circulating air that costs 50 cents.
Passenger: I don't have any quarters. Can you make change for a dollar?
Attendant: Certainly, sir! Here you go!
Passenger: But you've given me only three quarters for my dollar.
Attendant: Yes, there's a change-making fee of 25 cents.
Passenger: All I am now left is a lousy quarter? Whatever will I do with it?
Attendant: Hang on to it. You'll need it later for using the toilet.


The above exchange between the passenger and the cabin attendant may appear far fetched.  But those who frequently travel do not find this amusing.  Every additional service (?) is charged extra.  Finally, the consumer would be left wondering as to whether the old system of charging fare was much better!

Arranged tours are no different.  Touring or taking a vacation has now caught the imagination of the present generation.  Those from the older generation linked to the younger generation are no exception.  A vacation or "Leisure Travel" as it is called in the travel agent's language, is planned in advance and is a part of the family budgetary exercise.  As the name itself suggests, it is well and truly a budgetary exercise and involves all the ingredients of a balancing act.  Period of the vacation should be the maximum and yet cost should be minimum.  As many places or attractions are to be covered within the shortest time.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner should be included in the package and the choice of items (Vegetarian/Jain/Non-vegetarian/European/American) should also be as desired.  Travel Agencies keep all these in mind and prepare the packages.  Later on sell them using all marketing skills.  When the booking is finally done, both the agency and traveler are happy.

A recent tour of  Singapore and Malaysia brought these things into sharp focus.  There were some funny aspects too.  Some of them are here:
  • The Agency and its employees are mainly interested in  finalizing the bookings without delay.  It is their business.  Standard and well known companies never lie and answer all the questions truthfully.  The only problem is that unasked questions are not answered.  These unasked questions create many problems as the tour progresses.
  • We advise young bankers about dealing with auditors: Do not withhold any information from the auditor.  Do not volunteer any information either.  An auditor is a trained and knowledgeable person.  He is expected to ask the right questions and get his answers.  If he does not ask them, well, we are not at fault.  Travel Agencies and their employees have perfected this art.
  • They give full details of the attractions/places covered by them as part of the package, in their pamphlets and websites.  As regards others, it is only said "Explore at your convenience".  You are taken to the gate of the building or theme park or attraction.  Their duty ends there.  To enter the building or park or attraction, you have to pay an entrance fee.  It is not included in the package.  It is optional!
  • If you have the money and are willing to pay, the day or evening is well spent.  Otherwise you need not worry; you can sit at the gate and patiently wait for those who have gone inside to come out to resume the tour.
  • You do not have the luxury of sitting in the air conditioned coach to await the arrival of fellow passengers who have gone inside.  The coach drops you at the gate and is gone for bringing the next batch of tourists.  Either pay up and go inside the attraction or stay out and sweat it out.
  • While waiting like this you may need food or water.  It can be bought at the nearby outlet.  At your cost as it is not included in the package.  Not included in the package because you are expected to be inside the building or park or attraction.
  • If there are children in their fold, parents have an additional problem.  You are taken to the gate.  Children see the attraction from the outside.  They want to go inside.  They cannot be sent alone. Adults have to accompany them.  Tickets for admission are not part of the package.
  • If the aged (senior citizens would be more appropriate) are with you, the problem is even more acute.  "We have come this far.  We may not come again.  If we do not see now, we can never see it" would be their refrain.  Children may at least be promised another visit.  What about seniors?  Can we guarantee another visit?
  • The guide with you at the spot tells you that he does not know what was told to you when booking was made.  The one who made the booking is across the seas and cannot be reached.  Even if you reach him by some means, he/she would say that the questions were not asked.  He/she would also assure you that had it been asked, he/she would have truthfully answered them!
What is the solution for these problems?  It is not always possible to travel on one's own, especially to parts of the world where you do not know the local language and conditions.  Temptation to travel and see the world also cannot be resisted.  Tours by well known operators offer good value for money and have their plus points.  The real solution lies in doing one's homework and ask the right questions.  It also lies in putting some extra money in the purse or get an enhanced limit on the credit card.  Dispensing with the practice of keeping accounts while on tour is an added virtue for a leisure traveler.    

Monday, June 17, 2013

They are never Late!

They were there, as usual, sitting with their tools on the steps of the entrance to the closed shop.   It was still 5 AM and the shop itself would come to life four hours later.  Men and women, who were more fortunate than them, were trickling on to the streets for their morning walks or to get milk for the hot cup of coffee to start their day.  Day after day, even on most holidays or festival days, these labour women would be up much before 5 AM and report for duty on the steps of the closed shop sharply at 5 AM.  They may not know how a cup of hot coffee or tea tastes in the morning.  Their breakfast probably was met out of the leftovers of the food they cooked on the previous night. The tractor would show up in a minute or two and take them with their tools to begin the day's work.  They do not know their place of work on that day or any other day.  The tractor is their destination and the tractor driver knows the final destination for the day's work.    Their work would end just before sunset and wages for the day would be paid to them.  On the return journey, they would again be dropped at the pick up point.  Then they get back to their roadside temporary hut after buying the day's requirements and cook their supper.  They sleep well after the meager supper.  They are fortunate not to know what is "sleeplessness".  They are not lucky to know what is "Provident Fund" or "Earned Leave".  They need not spend on beauty creams and hairdo mainly because they cannot spend on them.  It is difficult to guess their age; they look forty even when they are just twenty.  

The three women labourers from North  Karnataka do not know what is being late to work.   What they know very well is that they lose their daily bread if they are not there at 5 AM.  They do not know what is being late because they cannot afford to be late.

They were not there, as usual, while others waited for them.  Those waiting for them were losing patience because they were getting late.  The vehicle in which they were sitting was parked against the traffic rules, but their was no other place to park.   The policeman round the corner may pounce on the driver at any time.  The city had come to life long back and the traffic was getting thicker by the day.  Everyone was rushing on their two-wheelers or four wheelers or in public transport.  Young children were already sitting in their school buses dressed in crisp uniforms looking for the day's excitement at school.  But for these who made others wait for them, things were casual.  What if they are five or ten minutes late?  Heavens are not going to fall.  They are not there for the others; others are for them.  After all, they are colleagues; what is the problem in waiting for a few minutes?  This is not the first time they are coming late.  This is their usual practice.  A practice developed because others have allowed them the luxury for so long.  Should they change their practice just because some others are annoyed?  Let others learn to develop patience.  Patience is the first of virtues.  Patience prevents tension and heart attack.  To be late is their right.  They know they can be late because they can afford to be late.

Being punctual is a way of life for many.  Being punctual is an anathema to many others.  Being unpunctual is itself a way of life for them.  "Take life at your own pace" is what they believe in.  Even if other lives are affected due to this practice.  Some go a step further.  They take pride in being late.  Sometimes they even say, "Look, we are so consistent.  We are always late!"

There is a popular anecdote about Bharata Ratna Sir M Visveswaraya, former Dewan of Mysore.  He entertained visitors every day in the morning for a few minutes even when he was in his 90s.  He lived actively for a full hundred years.  One senior functionary of the Government sought an appointment to meet him.  The appointment was granted for 11AM.  Sir MV as he was known, was faultlessly dressed and in his study to receive the guest at the appointed time.  The guest was late and after waiting for a few minutes, Sir MV went inside the house.  Next day, the guest arrived early and waited for the former Dewan.  Sir MV met him alright, but gently chided him for two things; being late on the first day and coming without appointment on the second day!  Sir MV was known for immaculate preparation for any meeting or delivering a speech.  And always being punctual.

Sir MV may be a person too difficult to follow.  The lessons are far too many.  But the lesson from the three labourers from North Karnataka is simple and easy.  Not to be late on any day.  Even if you can afford to be late only because you value others time.

Better late than never, they say.  But never late is better than that.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

It is the ability that counts!

The young Branch Manager (BM) had a big problem on his hands.  Authorities in the bank had specifically briefed him about the new assignment.  Recently promoted, he was posted as the In-charge of the bigger branch with a heavy customer inflow and growing business levels.  Eye brows were raised when the inexperienced greenhorn was handed over the reins of the sensitive branch.  He was aware that he was under scrutiny of his peers and many of them desired that he should fail.  Manpower shortage was a problem for the entire industry and his branch was no exception.  With business growing month after month, managing the affairs of the branch with limited manpower was indeed a challenging task.  He and his two Assistant Managers were very active and had formed a core team to manage the affairs of the branch.  One of the senior clerks in the branch was as good as an assistant manager and shouldered far more responsibilities than expected of his designation. They were early years of computerization and  this branch was chosen for a initial implementation of a new software for advanced computerization of operations.  Quantity of manpower was limited and its quality compounded the problem.  Aging staff members fighting to upgrade themselves to handle the requirements of new environment presented a pathetic sight.  But the show had to go on.  Each day brought new and unexpected problems.  He was more into fire-fighting and trouble-shooting than attending to the requirements of business development.

Bank organized a three day workshop on computerization and he was directed to attend the same.  He was sitting in the program next to a very senior BM who was due for retirement in less than a year.  Partly due to age factor and partly due to the deliberations which he hardly understood, the old man often dozed during the sessions.  He would suddenly wake up in the middle of his stupor and ask a question of the moderator.  Even before the answer was completed for the irrelevant question, he would be back in his sleepy world.  This was an irritant for the moderator but provided comic relief to the others.  On the third day of the program he suddenly got up from his drowsiness and uttered a sentence: Kuch nahi hoga (Nothing will happen).  The senior man resumed his sleep before our hero could ask him what was the meaning of his statement.  Fortunately, the veteran was wide awake during lunch time and this gave a chance to our hero to pull him aside and ask him the meaning of his comment during the session.  The veteran smiled and replied, "You see, they are talking of new machines and new technology.  Machines do not work.  Humans work.  Aaap jitna bhi accha machine lagaao, Chalanevaale wahi gadhe hain!" (The machines (computers) and software may be of excellent quality, but those who run them are the same old donkeys).  BM was left wondering how true the experienced man's uttering was.

When the BM returned to his branch from the workshop, a rude shock awaited him.  The senior clerk was promoted and transferred to another branch.  A substitute was provided in the next two weeks.  He was an elderly man who was weak in application of interest and arithmetical calculations.  Most of the bank work revolved on these requirements.  Assistant Managers found difficult to work with him and complained about him to the BM.  BM cursed his own fate but decided to get on with things and face the situations as they unfolded.

The branch had its share of complaining customers who frequented BM's cabin with their complaints on various issues.  Their number came down progressively over the next two months.  BM was pleasantly surprised at this development and probed the matter.  He realised that the complaining customers were spending more time with the new elderly clerk and left the branch thereafter with a smiling face!  This man was very good in public relations and had his own way of tacking tough customers.  He could not manage routine counter work but was an expert in understanding human behaviour and meeting customer expectations with unorthodox approach.  Most of the complaining customers were pensioners and senior citizens.  This man was very effective in making them feel important and solving their emotional concerns.  Once emotional concerns were attended to,  they were not much worried about minor service issues which resulted in complaints earlier.  Suddenly BM found an alley in the substitute clerk who gave him relief and time to attend to business matters.  He slowly stated relegating some other issues like liaison with software and hardware vendors and follow-up actions with Government agencies etc.  The substitute clerk did not have the ability to manage routine banking hall activities but able to deliver out-door errands quite effectively. In course of time this clerk was even better than the two Assistant Managers form utility point of view.  The branch won the "Best Branch Award" that year and the new clerk had made substantial contributions for the achievement.

There is a maxim in HRD: It is the ability that counts, not the inability.  Every person is bestowed by the creator with some qualities or the other which could be used effectively.  Effective leaders are able to spot such talents quickly and harness them for achieving team goals.  Of course, the leader should have the time and patience to work on this belief.  Otherwise most of the team members in many teams may be declared as useless or ineffective.