Data structure assignments and torture

Data structure & algorithms form backbone of programming. It is expected that any computer science graduate to have very good experience in using various data structures like linked lists, queues, stacks, trees, hash tables etc. During my REC Warangal days, passing thru the Data structure course was a real torture. The professor will ensure we slog thru our bones by having a very strict evaluation mechanism to evaluate every other assignment. Let me explain this in detail.

To start with, every week a new assignment topic will be given. We will create a basic design and start coding them, while theoretical part was still thought in the classroom. By the end of the week (Sunday 5 PM) we were supposed to copy the corresponding C file into a particular directory with a particular format. If it is done even at 5:01, it will not be allowed as an automated script would block write access to directory. Followed by this, every C program will be turn thru a Shell script, which will find 20% of total lines randomly and delete from the program by placing some special character (ex: /* $ */) as a placeholder. There is also a mandate that all assignments should not have any comments, thereby preventing students escaping by filling up comment lines instead of actual C program statements.

The story is not over yet! During lab session (in the next week), one hour of time will be provided where each one of us needs to fill-up deleted 20% lines followed by successful compilation and execution of the program. Here also timings are very strict. Just after one hour a script will automatically logout each of us from the computer. In the final phase of evaluation each of us should show the truncated program (from previous phase, whatever state it may be) and explain/answer some difficult questions related to data structure, asked by the professor. At any point of time the professor gets doubt (of copying assignment) whole assignment score will be nullified.

At the age of 18, it was too much of a pressure to handle. Completing program on time, copying to specified directory before Sunday 5 PM, Missing a meal/dinner, Skipping sleep, trying to fill-up missing lines within a hour and answering questions was a too long a process. In order to make it effective, the professor distributed marks across all these phases, thereby one cannot escape so easily without working hard. At the end of evaluation, I used to get a huge sigh of relief and sleep like a baby for hours together. Each one of us used to curse the professor for torturing us so much!

Today when I look back, I get a totally different perspective. If not for that strong evaluation mechanism, each one of us could have become lazy and never learned the art of programming. We could have mugged up some programs and passed exams. In my another post about going technical hands-on, I mentioned about debugging some of my old Kernel programs within a week, even though I was out of touch from programming for years together now. Definitely, the DNA which got injected in form of data structure programming is still there in my blood, which is helping me to pick-up programming with ease.

I also tried out a Shell script (of deleting 20% random lines from a C program), will upload it soon.

Choice and Adversity

It’s always fun to act against gravitational force!

Last Sunday Karnataka state went for election where I got an opportunity to vote.  After completing the process, multiple thoughts started occupying my mind. In countries like India, it’s very easy to sail the stream of cynicism starting with political system by asking simple question like “what is the point in voting? Will it really make any difference?” . On contrary when things are going well and positive (in both personal and professional spaces), we tend to go with the flow because naturally enjoy that. However when things go wrong (or lot of cynicism around), it creates an uncomfortable situation for an individual. During such adverse situation, it requires tremendous amount of self courage (or mental stamina) to act against gravitational negativity.

Consider the following examples:

  • Every other political party and leader appears to be corrupt. What can I do about it?
  • For team, created plan ‘A’ but due business situation, complete plan needs to be scrapped by creating plan ‘B’. As a leader of the group how can I handle this?
  • In leadership responsibility, there are many things that are outside my sphere of control but still hold accountable when things go wrong. How do I answer myself during such situations?
  • There is enough and more political and positional advantages enjoyed by certain individuals which makes the situation full of ‘grey’. How do I navigate thru this?
  • Issues/mistakes made in the past are passed on as a ‘legacy issue’ which requires needs to be solved with no head-or-tail information about core of the problem. How do I handle this?

In such adverse situations, no formal education or quick fix stuff would work. It requires a lot of self courage, derived from character and say “yes, I know things are not great, it’s hard out there. But I am stick to basics by doing the right thing in a step-by-step manner. Such situations are temporary, not a reason for me to do wrong things”. After gaining more personal and professional experience (or getting older) I could see such situations can arise out of nowhere which can suck complete energy out if not taken care properly. So it requires stronger willpower to hold on the guns when things are not going in favor, fighting against gravity.

The power of choice, especially during adverse situation matters a lot, which eventually makes all the difference in the long term!

Right thing in a right way

Recently I was given an opportunity to discuss about ‘Business alignment’ with a set of people in my group.  To make the session interactive, I asked each one of them what exactly they understand by aligning with Business. Most of them replied saying ‘aligning individual aspirations to business needs’, ‘understanding organization opportunities in better manner’, ‘developing business acumen’ etc. While most of them are correct, I asked them back ‘In every given opportunity is it possible for an individual to be absolutely open and align himself to business needs? Can we always say business is heading in the right direction?’ and I could see many blank faces. While text-book definition of business alignment looks easy to understand, it’s extremely hard to implement.

Let us take an example. Assume a business leader is having a specific business goal (ex: improving customer satisfaction) considering the current business trend of customer complaints. Based on his understanding of business and his personal view, he typically comes up with ways to implement certain actions to achieve desired result. However, when the business task starts coming down the hierarchy, it gets interpreted by different layers in different ways. What is seen as the ‘right thing’ from the top might be seen as a ‘absolute blunder’ from the bottom layer of people. It can also be easily interpreted as the business leader trying to implement his ‘personal agenda’ to gain some benefit for him. This is one of the key reasons why practical implementation of business alignment becomes very challenging except for cases where the whole hierarchy consist of ‘yes sir’ type of people.

Now, how a business leader can ensure the ‘right thing’ gets implemented in the ‘right way’? In my opinion there is only one way to do it – Establish trust! For people who see value of implementing an action (to improve customer satisfaction) will right away go ahead and implement without fail. For people who don’t see or perceive the value of implementation will still implement because of the trust. He will work on a fundamental belief that ‘I might be missing something, let me implement this and understand this better rather than telling reasons for not implementing it’. This also leads to another case where an individual in the chain will build ‘disagree and commit’ mindset. This individual might not believe in the way it is implemented but still go ahead and do it in his own way because he is committed for the business leader.  For all you know such actions might lead to totally new set of possibilities which the business leader might not even thought of.

The power of trust is much bigger than we actually can think!

82.5% of indian technical graduates are not ready to be employed, but who’s listening???

I came across a recent report which claimed that only about 17% of Indian technical graduates are ready to be employed.

From my experience it is usually about 6 to 12 months before a fresh Engg graduate gives more to the team than he or she takes. Most of what is taught in Engineering degree is pretty much useless or irrelevant. In fact if I have to go back to my 4 year Engg syllabus and re-look what part of what I learnt (or was supposed to learn) has been useful in my 20 year career, it would be a very low percentage.

Now coming back to the survey, based on the track record, the response from the industry would be on the following lines:

Decry the deplorable levels of tech education and write long petitions to the Education Ministry to improve the quality and relevance of our tech degrees and how this is impacting the industry. After all this, continue their existing hiring policy of campus recruitment and have a graded starting salary based on the ranking of the college.

Im fairly confident that none of the big hirers from our IT services sector is going to change their hiring policy in any manner. They will continue to hire Engineers every Engineering college that they can lay their hands on, put them through a long training process before the candidate is ready to contribute anything meaningful.

If 82% of them are unfit and you anyway have to put them through a few quarters of training, why bother with the degree in the first place? Why not just take in students who have just completed their high school, put them through a 1 or 1 1/2 year training instead of hiring fresh Engineers and training them for 6 months before they are ready?

While this does sounds extreme, this is exactly what a Chennai based technology product development company has been doing for the past 4 years now. I understand about 15% of their 1300 work force is actually from their own University and they expect to raise it to 30% over the next few years based on the current strength in their University and their hiring plans. I believe their 18 month course has been designed keeping in mind the needs of and expectations from a “Software Engineering Trainee” in their company. Roughly 95% of the students from this University have been absorbed into their company and the “graduates” from their University are actually more “job-ready” than fresh graduates who have spent 4 years in an Engineering college.

Of course there are other dimensions to this company’s initiative – they hire disadvantaged high school pass outs who would otherwise not be able to afford our super expensive (but inefficient) education system and are willing to take this “chance”. The students are paid a nominal stipend and are free to “drop out” anytime from their University – during or after the course.

Its high time that our IT industry looks at such innovating means of fulfilling their resource needs than relying on a system that delivers 82% unfits and believing that the government / education system “owes” them better trained people. Nobody owes anybody anything.

This would also put an end to people believing that they can start an Engineering college if they just have 50 acres of land in the middle of no where and turn out unfits who would be hired anyway.

NWritings

A new year resolution – Talk Straight

I recently read a brilliant (and hugely popular) article on the HBR Blogs.  Readers of Dilbert too would recognize how this buzzworks are getting irritatingly more prevalent. Few people would disagree with what the author says, but continue to use most of these phrases in our work – in both internal communication and in external communication with customers and partners. There is a general perception of “smartness” when a person uses many of the terms mentioned there.

Referring to people as “resources”, time as “bandwidth” are other examples of the same – “We are constrained on the bandwidth front” makes you sound smarter than “We don’t have the time”. “I’m in the process of socializing this initiative among the various stakeholders” makes you sound smarter than, “I’m talking to the people about this to get support”. “Leverage”, “(Doesn’t) get the big picture”, “Evangelize” and “cross-functional” are among the other buzzwords thrown around. Deep down I don’t think anyone enjoys talking or writing like this, but this seems to be endemic and people continue doing this because everyone else does it.

Narayana Murthy was bang on when he said in one of the interviews, “In India, articulation is mistaken for accomplishment” – and using these phrases is associated with better articulation…. and since usage of these phrases is a global phenomenon, looks like Narayana Murthy’s observation seems pertinent to not just India.

So, here is my New Year resolution. “Cut out the buzzwords and keep it straight”. “In the process of” can be dropped from most sentences that you write and so can “productivity enhancement” and “organizational synergy”. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep a check list of these buzzwords handy so that you can “check” every mail to cleanse them of these before hitting the Send button.

Keep it simple! — NWritings

When Tendulkar drops a catch, Dhoni doesnt have to tell him to focus

Its a big Test match and India are desperately looking for wickets to tighten the noose around the Aussies. Ishant is streaming in and bending his back on a wicket that is providing the assistance needed for a determined bowler – bounce and movement off the seam. The Rainas and Kohlis have been doing their best with their constant yellings of encouragement. Hussey, or Mr Cricket as hes known, has been the lone source of resistance from the Aussies and they will surely go down in this key test match if hes gone. The ball is pitched outside the off and angling away and the otherwise cautious Hussey pokes it at tentatively. Ninety nine times out of hundred Hussey would have left this alone, but not this time. The ball takes the shoulder of the bat and flies off towards the waiting hands of Tendulkar in second slip for a straight forward regulation catch. Ishant has already sensed a wicket and is almost ready for his celebratory leap when the great man fumbles and the ball loops off his fingers – he had grabbed at it too early. Ishant is distraught and every Indian fielder has his hands on the head. The camera zooms in on Tendulkar and he knows he has screwed up – his face says it all. Numerous replays from different angles ensue. Dhoni and Dravid in first slip just walk to Tendulkar, pat his shoulders and unruffle his hair with a possibly a “take it easy…. come on” and move on to focus on the next delivery.

Now, this is exactly what most managers DONT do. The typical manager reaction to a screw up is long monologue, a dressing down and a stern warning of a “you better not do this the next time around”. They view this as the appropriate time to “educate” the employee on how things are done. Now, I’m not asking managers to turn a blind eye to screw ups or accept incompetence. However, In most cases the person who screwed up is already aware of the seriousness of his error and what he needs is a dose of confidence and being reminded of his achievements of the past. Back him!!! Help him remember the great slip fielder that he usually is and restore his confidence to be prepared for the next ball – unless this was the third catch hes dropped that day… in which case you want to move him to fine leg and pray that the ball doesn’t go there. Even if there are issues with the “catching technique” of Tendulkar, it is best addressed at the end of the day’s play.

Managers should look at themselves as “Coaches” who are vested in bringing out the best in people rather than “supervisors” who are trying to tell people how things are done.

 

– NWritings

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, jwritings.com 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!

Education: State Vs Central board

Its time to talk about education!

I grew up in a small town, educated in state board , in regional medium (Tamil) of instruction. Apart from my studies, all I knew was about something called ‘English medium’, where subjects were taught in English and those students boasted as if they knew many things. Acronums like JEE, AIEEE, CBSE, ICSE were totally unheard until I went to do my Engineering. These days I am discussing schooling related topics with my friends and family, so that I can make a better choice for my little one. However I am not sure if there is anything called ‘better’ choice? Will it make any difference at all?

Based on my discussion folks fed me with following data – In (Karnataka) state board is relatively easy to score marks (in terms of percentage), thereby having a better chance of making into good state colleges. However it is completely rote based, will not provide room to grow analytical/application thinking. In case of central (ICSE/CBSE) boards, it is totally opposite – getting marks is difficult, but it is comparitively make analytical thinking better. Also by taking up central sylabbus one has a better chance of cracking national level competitive examinations like JEE. But there is also a risk, where getting lower marks in central board, means ending up in mid/lower tier colleges in the state.

Leaving the boards & marks apart, I am having more fundamental questions about our education system. I know these questions are not easy to answer, but let me line them up as follows:

  1. Why there are so many boards, with different standards and evaluation procedures? Shouldn’t we have a common sylabbus across the country, where things are done in a uniformed manner? Even today there are not many ICSE/CBSE schools in smaller towns, thereby not providing them to have a fair chance in national level entrance examinations.
  2. Recently Tamilnadu government attempted to do this unification by removing state and matriculation sylabbus by coming up with a uniform school system. However thanks to the recent government change (from DMK to ADMK), it has taken a nasty route, where even today they are not sure which sylabbus to follow. Its been two weeks since schools  re-opened in the state, still my nephew (in 9th standard) didn’t get his text books, reason being schools don’t know which one to follow. Why should we allow education becoming a toy in hands of politicians? Shouldn’t it be governed by an independent body like election commission?
  3. Where and how are we taking care of the passion part? Thanks to the current situation, we seem to be pushing anyone and everyone into Engineering, so that they can get a high paying software job. This resulting in people who are not so passionate about the technolgy entering the industry, which will create a long term problem both for individual and industry as a whole. Why are we are not giving enough importance to arts, science and commerce? Why there is a common thinking of measuring success only in terms of salary he/she gets?
  4. While we are very happy to see movies like ‘Taare Zameen par’ and ‘Three idiots’, how many parents today are even making an attempt to understanding their kids and helping them choose their career/education, depending on his/her interest?

I am more than happy to hear your views/thoughts on this topic.

Retailing – Mallu Chettan way!

About 5 years back the organized retail was portrayed as the ‘next-big-thing’. Big players (like Reliance) were flocking into this space, where many of us (including me) feared that small retail shops (run by fellow mallu chettan/annachi) will vanish overnight. However, today its totally different picture, where small players not only survived, but also came out stronger and bigger businesses. In my neighborhood, three major players (Reliance Fresh, More & Smart) opened up retail outlets within 1 kilometer distance. Mallu chettan’s store is also located between them, who was expected to go back to Kerala within months after big players stepped in. But in reality the opposite happened! More outlet has already shut-down and I could hardly see any growth with Reliance Fresh & Smart. Whereas chettan, shop has grown leaps-and-bounds. How chettan got it right? Here are my observations.

Annachi retail
Annachi retail

Retailing means relationship: Unlike western countries, in India, retailers have stronger relationship with customers. Every time I walk into a chettan shop, he welcomes me with warm smile and his employees connect well with every other member in the family. I know cases (in my native town), where the retailer was even invited to family functions. There was an instance, where we requested chettan to keep his shop open for some more time in the night, so that we can purchase milk for my little one when we were returning back from travel. Such strong customer connection is totally non-existent in retail shops run by big players. They hardly have eye-contact with customers, let alone building relationship.

0% labor attrition: In chettan’s shop literally there is no attrition. The main reason being,all of his employees belong to his native place, who are mainly recruited thro’ family connections & network. All employees stay together in a shared accommodation, which creates a better linkage among them. In few cases he also has arrangement, where some portion of employee salary is directly sent to their families/parents back home. Because of such strong engagement, there is no attrition. As a customer, when you walk into the top you see familiar faces every time. On the other hand, organized retail industry is facing double digit attrition for years together.

Customer experience: Thanks to high labor attrition, every time big retailers bring new people who are not trained well. They don’t know which section is located where and how to help the customer to choose what they want. Manier times I have seen sales person struggling thro’ the items or re-directing to a different person (you know..its not my job BS) which doesn’t provide good customer experience. In chettan’s shop, every person knows in and out of various sections and they go thro’ regular section rotation. Most of the times I have seen these folks walk along with me and help to choose & purchase items. Strong employee connection results in providing better customer experience.

Divide and conquer: This is another interesting strategy that chettan has adapted. Among his employees if he finds a high potential individual, he funds them and helps to open up a shop nearby in a non-competing space. For example, I am seeing former employees of chettan opening cloth & novelty stores nearby. This has created a “win-win” situation where chettan has aided his employees becoming entrepreneurs and enjoys a major stake in the new business. By creating different shops serving different needs of the customer, he has literally captured a huge market in my locality. I am not sure such strategies can even applied in retail shops run by big players.

The above mentioned points are my observations from my neighborhood retailer. This will not be true for all cases, also such model cannot scale well across different cities & branches. However there are very small but significant lessons that big retailers should learn ,so that they can really succeed in the long run. After all the purpose of real value is as perceived by customers!

Retailing – Mallu Chettan way!

 

About 5 years back the organized retail was potrayed as the ‘next-big-thing’. Big players (like Reliance) were flocking into this space, where many of us (including me) feared that small retail shops (run by fellow mallu chettan/annachi) will vanish overnight. However, today its totally different picture, where small players not only survived, but also came out stronger and bigger businesses. In my neighbourhood, three major players (Reliance Fresh, More & Smart) opened up retail outlets within 1 kilometer distance. Mallu chettan’s store is also located between them, who was expected to go back to Kerala within months after big players stepped in. But in reality the opposite happened! More outlet has already shut-down and I could hardly see any growth with Reliance Fresh & Smart. Whereas chettan, shop has grown leaps-and-bounds. How Chettan got it right? Here are my observations.

 

Retailing means relationship: Unlike western countries, in India, retailers have stronger relationship with customers. Every time I walk into a chettan shop, he welcomes me with warm smile and his employees connect well with every other member in the family. I know cases (in my native town), where the retailer was even invited to family functions. There was an instance, where we requested chettan to keep his shop open for some more time in the night, so that we can purchase milk for my little one when we were returning back from travel. Such strong customer connection is totally non-existent in retail shops run by big players. They hardly have eye-contact with customers, let alone building relationship.

 

0% labor attrition: In chettan’s shop literally there is no attrition. The main reason being,all of his employees belong to his native place, who are mainly recruited thro’ family connections & network. All employees stay together in a shared accommodation, which creates a better linkage among them. In few cases he also has arrangement, where some portion of employee salary is directly sent to their families/parents back home. Because of such strong engagement, there is no attrition. As a customer, when you walk into the top you see familiar faces every time. On the other hand, organized retail industry is facing double digit attrition for years together.

 

Customer experience: Thanks to high labor attrition, every time big retailers bring new people who are not trained well. They don’t know which section is located where and how to help the customer to choose what they want. Manier times I have seen sales person struggling thro’ the items or re-directing to a different person (you know..its not my job BS) which doesn’t provide good customer experience. In chettan’s shop, every person knows in and out of various sections and they go thro’ regular section rotation. Most of the times I have seen these folks walk along with me and help to choose & purchase items. Strong employee connection results in providing better customer experience.

Divide and conquer: This is another interesting strategy that chettan has adapted. Among his employees if he finds a high potential individual, he funds them and helps to open up a shop nearby in a non-competing space. For example, I am seeing former employees of chettan opening cloth & novelty stores nearby. This has created a “win-win” situation where chettan has aided his employees becoming entrepreneurs and enjoys a major stake in the new business. By creating different shops serving different needs of the customer, he has literally captured a huge market in my locality. I am not sure such strategies can even applied in retail shops run by big players.

 

The above mentioned points are my observations from my neighbourhood retailer. This will not be true for all cases, also such model cannot scale well across different cities & branches. However there are very small but significant lessons that big retailers should learn ,so that they can really succeed in the long run. After all the purpose of real value is as perceived by customers!

 

 

Retailing – Mallu Chettan way!

About 5 years back the organized retail was potrayed as the ‘next-big-thing’. Big players (like Reliance) were flocking into this space, where many of us (including me) feared that small retail shops (run by fellow mallu chettan/annachi) will vanish overnight. However, today its totally different picture, where small players not only survived, but also came out stronger and bigger businesses. In my neighbourhood, three major players (Reliance Fresh, More & Smart) opened up retail outlets within 1 kilometer distance. Mallu chettan’s store is also located between them, who was expected to go back to Kerala within months after big players stepped in. But in reality the opposite happened! More outlet has already shut-down and I could hardly see any growth with Reliance Fresh & Smart. Whereas chettan, shop has grown leaps-and-bounds. How Chettan got it right? Here are my observations.

Retailing means relationship: Unlike western countries, in India, retailers have stronger relationship with customers. Every time I walk into a chettan shop, he welcomes me with warm smile and his employees connect well with every other member in the family. I know cases (in my native town), where the retailer was even invited to family functions. There was an instance, where we requested chettan to keep his shop open for some more time in the night, so that we can purchase milk for my little one when we were returning back from travel. Such strong customer connection is totally non-existent in retail shops run by big players. They hardly have eye-contact with customers, let alone building relationship.

0% labor attrition: In chettan’s shop literally there is no attrition. The main reason being,all of his employees belong to his native place, who are mainly recruited thro’ family connections & network. All employees stay together in a shared accommodation, which creates a better linkage among them. In few cases he also has arrangement, where some portion of employee salary is directly sent to their families/parents back home. Because of such strong engagement, there is no attrition. As a customer, when you walk into the top you see familiar faces every time. On the other hand, organized retail industry is facing double digit attrition for years together.

Customer experience: Thanks to high labor attrition, every time big retailers bring new people who are not trained well. They don’t know which section is located where and how to help the customer to choose what they want. Manier times I have seen sales person struggling thro’ the items or re-directing to a different person (you know..its not my job BS) which doesn’t provide good customer experience. In chettan’s shop, every person knows in and out of various sections and they go thro’ regular section rotation. Most of the times I have seen these folks walk along with me and help to choose & purchase items. Strong employee connection results in providing better customer experience.

Divide and conquer: This is another interesting strategy that chettan has adapted. Among his employees if he finds a high potential individual, he funds them and helps to open up a shop nearby in a non-competing space. For example, I am seeing former employees of chettan opening cloth & novelty stores nearby. This has created a “win-win” situation where chettan has aided his employees becoming entrepreneurs and enjoys a major stake in the new business. By creating different shops serving different needs of the customer, he has literally captured a huge market in my locality. I am not sure such strategies can even applied in retail shops run by big players.

The above mentioned points are my observations from my neighbourhood retailer. This will not be true for all cases, also such model cannot scale well across different cities & branches. However there are very small but significant lessons that big retailers should learn ,so that they can really succeed in the long run. After all the purpose of real value is as perceived by customers!

Introducing – NWritings!

I have been talking to few of my good friends about blogging and making it as a co-blogging platform for learning & sharing. One of them, an expert in product management has shown interest for the same. He will be writing in the name of ‘Nwritings’, where his posts will revolve around the world of building products and managing them successfully. Publishing his first article in few minutes from now.

Welcome Nwritings to Jwritings!