Product review – Peprisimine [Customized clothing]

Customization & personalization has become one of the key areas these days. In my opinion, it is relatively easy to offer such customization for a pure online service (like iGoogle), than doing it in a traditional industry. Snapfish ( is the first one that I used for online photo customization and printing. This service eventually became a success by adding lots of customization associated with  it. One can create calendars, mugs and so many other goodies which are personalized. In similar lines, recently I came across a service Peprismine (http://www.peprismine) who are offering customized clothing.

The idea is very simple – go online, choose the appropriate shirt material you are interested in along with answering a set of questions (shirt size, height, weight etc..). The site claims to have an intelligent backend algorithm which will create a customized shape information according to the inputs provided, which is used to create a ‘custom designed’ shirt for you. One can request for free fabric samples before ordering. They also seem to have a pretty customer friendly exchange policy.

While the service looks very interesting, I have few fundamental questions which remain un-answered:

  1. Why should I order my clothing via online? Will it replace the ‘touch and feel’ experience I get by visiting a shop?
  2. While the testimonials claim that the quality of design is very good, how much different it can be compared to popular brands?
  3. Since it is purely consumer market, what would be the size and scale of the market?
  4. There are players like Myntra, who moved away from customization service to plain-vanilla online brand shop. In such cases how well Peprismine can continue to offer consumer customized services?

While the service looks innovative, need to see how well it gets adapted by customers.

An Irate customer….a lost opportunity

In the blog post titled ‘An Irate customer….a great opportunity’ by co-blogger NWritings called out few important points that organizations should take care when they deal frustrated customer.  By providing excellent service, the frustrated customer can eventually play significant role in building the organization brand image. However when it is not done properly, irate customer will become even more frustrated.  Recently I had an experience, which I would like to share along the same points mentioned by NWritings.

Let me give some background. For about a month, site was having some serious issues with loading its content only from Airtel Broadband network. However it was working perfectly fine when I accessed it via BSNL or office network. Some of my friends (including NWritings) who got Airtel connection reported the same problem. I called their customer compliant number 198 and raised a ticket to resolve at the earliest. However the way Airtel took up this case was really bad, where they consistently failed to meet my expectations and eventually forcing me to write this post. Let me line up the list of issues.

Delayed response: To start with, Airtel always have a Service Level Agreement (SLA) by which they will resolve the issue, whenever a support ticket is logged. I have been a long term customer for Airtel, always respected the company for the customer focus as they stuck to SLA commitment all the time. This time they failed to meet the SLA, where nobody turned up to investigate the issue reported by me. I need to do multiple follow-ups to get a customer support engineer to visit my home. Added to that, the long IVR menu made the experience a non-pleasant one.

Blame the customer: The real fun started when the customer service engineer visited my home for the first time. During my initial days of work, I was a test engineer responsible for testing DSL routers, mainly focusing on networking protocols (ex: PPPoE). With this background I did initial level of technical troubleshooting by checking out various options (LAN/WAN connections, executing utilities like ping/trace-route/packet capture etc…) which I clearly explained to the support engineer. In spite of me providing all the details, he went on checking local wireless connection, which has got no relation to the issue. Upon further conversation he made lot of loose statements like ‘once in a while such sites become inaccessible, why are you so bothered?’, ‘Airtel nowadays not paying much attention to customers’, ‘In case you are still having issues, try to change the modem’ which made me all the more frustrated. Eventually he put a request to the backend L2 support team and confirmed back saying ‘there is no issue from our side sir, there is something wrong with your laptop’ and eventually closed the support ticket without informing me. In spite of me doing most of the technical troubleshooting, this was the last answer I was expecting from them.

After doing some more follow-ups, I got a new support ticket created. Now the second support engineer visited my home, who was even worse than the first one. He had no idea about basic network troubleshooting utilizes like ping and went on complaining that there is something wrong with my machine or with the web hosting provider. Without getting into further details I politely requested him to leave my house.  Again, after multiple phone-calls, explaining to different customer support engineers the conclusion was very simple – the problem is with me (customer), there is nothing wrong with Airtel.

No proper follow-up: To provide a last opportunity, I reached their escalation department and clearly told ‘See boss! If you don’t fix the problem, I will be terminate the connection’. After couple of days, I got an SMS saying my problem will be fixed by a time-frame, which already passed. Throughout the issue, there is no proper follow-up from their side trying to understand the problem and provide the solution. As a customer I was totally unhappy to see the  ‘don’t care’ attitude expressed by them in every other step. Nobody was even able to understand the core issue and associated emotions (of my passion for writing, not having the site up and running preventing me from writing) which were clearly below the standards.

No call-back: After my escalation phone-call, the site started working just fine. I am not sure what exactly they did and where the eventual fix was made. Till date there is no call-back from Airtel to confirm whether my issue is really fixed. In case I run into the problem again, I am pretty sure it will again start from ‘square-1’.

I am one of the long term customers of Airtel, mainly because of their excellent customer service. Especially during the initial days of me purchasing the Broadband connection, the service levels were simply outstanding with 100% adherence to SLAs. In case the SLA is not met, they will pay penalty as compensation. I clearly remember getting 200 rupee deduction in my monthly Broadband bill as they were not able to meet their SLAs. This level of great customer service is something very unique in Indian context. As a matter of fact, I purchased Airtel stocks, when I started my share market investing. This was mainly because of the fundamental belief that any organization with such strong customer focus will eventually become great organizations.However my recent experience clearly indicates clear degradation in their customer service. When I put a message in Facebook about this incident, many of my friends responded with similar examples.

Never the less, I still continue to be an irate customer!

BOOK REVIEW: Don’t sprint the Marathon


Price: 199 INR

Author: V. Raghunathan

Taking real life situations, mapping into a model and deriving some interesting observations is something comes natural to author Raghunathan. In his first book ‘Games Indians play’, he gave a very good perspective by mapping behavior of Indians to Game theory. In his second book he tried a similar approach by taking a different approach into our educational system and how parents are reacting by putting unnecessary pressure into children. Being a parent of two year old, I am able to very well connect with the points mentioned in this book.

The author starts deriving basics for his argument by comparing Sprint Vs Marathon running. In the world of athletics, they follow two entirely different approaches for preparing aspiring runners. The former is all about strength, energy, rush of speed, visible progress with main focus towards the end, whereas later is all about stamina, mental toughness, persistence and competing with self. Life, if at all can be compared, can be done only with marathon running. Also, assuming the fact that every individual has a career span of 30 years, it makes all the more sense for comparing it with marathon, than sprint.

Cut to education! As middle class parents with lot of ambitions and aspirations, most of us tend to put pressure on kids for making them as ‘someone’ in life. In this mad rush for the so called success or rat-race, middle class parents prepare their kids well as sprint runners, who may not achieve excellence in the marathon called life. By not allowing children to grow at their own pace by understanding their strengths, will eventually set the children for failure when life throws different set of challenges at them. The commonly perceived notion of ‘success’ will not mean anything in the long run.

In order to substantiate his viewpoint, author refers to so many real life examples where multiple individuals (ex: MD & CEO of GMR infrastructure) who were not so great during their school time but eventually achieved excellence by taking a long term view of life and focusing on their real interest and passion. While he is not disagreeing to the fact that doing well during school and getting admission into top college does mean getting a good ‘start’ do the life. However it will not guarantee a great ‘finish’ which is what life is all about. He also states that there is enough number of opportunities in all fields for people having the right set of skills and attitude.

In practical, I could connect very well with that he has mentioned in this book. Providing costly education has become a fad these days where nobody bothers about the quality or what exactly the kid gets out of it. Children have become man made instruments, thro’ which parents can achieve their own dreams which they couldn’t due to many constraints they faced during their childhood. Because of this approach, most of the people end up choosing careers that is not suiting their own strength and passion, which is resulting failure in life. This is also one of the main reasons whey ‘excellence’ it not achieved in many of the fields.

Overall I found this book is very relevant in the current context of India. In some ways it is sending messages in the similar lines of ‘Taare Zameen par’ and ‘Three idiots’. I would strongly recommend this book for professionals, parents and to some extent teenage children to put things into perspective.

Innovation – Type 5 – Product performance [Case: Reva electric car]

In part four of ‘ten part’ innovation series, let us take a look at Reva Electric car for innovating in product design.

The idea of clean/green technology has taken main stage with main focus on having options other than petrol or diesel Reva is one of the early players in this space by inventing a city car, which is 100% battery operated. In bigger cities (like Bangalore) traffic during peak hours is a huge concern for working population, who want to move swiftly across the city. The main innovative aspect is not only for alternative fuel option, but some of the design considerations that Reva has incorporated. The key value of Reva is due to the way it is designed where it has created innovation.

To start with the vehicle is designed with maximum of 80 kilometers capacity, when it is fully charged. This basically differentiates the vehicle from other four wheelers by clearly targeting urban customer who wants to move within the city without much hassle. It has additional key features like ‘maximum 2% discharge’ concept, by which it will not run out of battery in case the customer is caught up in a long traffic jam. It also has state of charge (SOC) gauge on the instrument cluster in the car that is colour coded to give information on the charge left in your car. If you enter the red mode on the SOC gauge the car will warn you with a chime and also enter a mode where the power used for running the car is reduced (speed decreases and ac switches off) so that you can go home or to the nearest charging point comfortably. This vehicle is ideal for a family, who is looking for a second car option for moving in short distance.

Taking a strategic positioning is related with the trade-off a product or solution has voluntarily adapted. By having features mentioned above, Reva has strongly positioned, thanks to its design. With the global push towards a ‘greener’ world, a product like Reva has a strong potential to grow in the urban car segment in a big way. However the higher price range (about 4 lakh) is one of the barriers for customers to opt for this car, even though there is a significant long term can be achieved in terms of reduced fuel expense.

In spite of above mentioned advantages, commercial deployment and usage of Reva car is not of that great. Even though about 5000 cars are sold domestically, it is relatively very less compared with traditional cars. What should be done to promote this and making it better?

Related links:

[Introduction to ten types of Innovation]
[Innovation – Type 1 – RangDe]
[Innovation – Type 2 – RedBus]
[Innovation – Type 3 – Narayana Hrudhayalaya]
[Innovation – Type 4 – Mumbai Dabbawalas]

What is your work culture?

The concept of ‘work culture’ becomes important when any organization goes global. This very topic becomes all the more interesting when I look into Indian tech companies. Before getting into details, let me lay down two major type of work cultures (Eastern & Western) and their underlying philosophy.

Eastern Vs Western work culture
Eastern Vs Western work culture

It is also important to understand that work culture is primarily derived from the societal architecture of that particular country or geography, where the organization has its origin. For example, US is known for creating innovative stuff (ex: iPhone from Apple), ranging from cars to music players, whereas organizations from countries like Korea (ex: Samsung Galaxy) is known for optimizing and making them cost effective. Free thinking oriented western approach helps in creating new products, whereas discipline oriented eastern approach helps in optimizing the product in terms of cost, quality, time-to-market etc. If we look little deeply these are strengths ‘by design’, derived from the way how the society functions.

The fun begins when these technology companies (both from east and west) open their offshore/captive organizations in India primarily to leverage the low-cost talent. India is very different both from east and west where we don’t have a work culture of our own. The first generation public sector organizations still follow the same old hierarchy oriented system and second generation manufacturing organizations have somehow able to create a work culture aligned with Indian society. But for folks working in technology companies the experience varies from one organization to other, depending on the origin of parent organization.

The bottom line is this – Are people are really productive? For example flexible, open and responsibility oriented western work culture is perceived as a ‘cool place’ to work in India. Based on my personal experience I have seen very high level of misuse. The so called ‘flexibility’ is misinterpreted as ‘doing less work’ and openness is misinterpreted as ‘can ask anything to anybody’. I see such behavior creating a great damage in the long run as the cost advantage already started evaporating over the years now.  On the other side we are not as disciplined as eastern organizations. When policies are imposed, people started cribbing from all the ends.

This leads to another interesting question – What exactly is going to be the value addition from Indian product organizations in the long run, beyond cost? If neither innovation not discipline is our core strength, how long it can sustain? How long we can sing the song of ‘software engineering processes’ and derive sustainable advantage out of it?

MBTI Type indicator

I am currently working on a program for creating a map of members working in my team. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment is one of the standard indicators used for such process. The compiled presentation is available in the link below.