Thursday, June 19, 2008

Can Telephones Help You See????

Yesterday, I attended a training program where one of my colleagues, who is also a close friend, was conducting a session on “Selling Skills”. My colleague is a great trainer and I decided to take this opportunity to pick up some tips from his session.


During the course of this session, there was a discussion on making phone calls to the prospective customer to gain appointments. An interesting point arose when telephone etiquette was being discussed. Does the way you are sitting or the condition you are in at the moment influence the way the person you have called perceives you? Is it really that important to mind the way you are dressed or your posture when you are just talking on a phone call, where the recipient of the call cannot actually see you? Or, is there a hidden camera in your telephone instrument which transmits images of you across the telephone line?


The simple answer to this question for most people would be, “No, obviously the person on the other side cannot see me. So why even bother about all of this? If I can’t be the way I want to even when I am calling someone from home, then it’s a real shame!” But to all us discerning people, the answer is mightily different from what it seems. A few examples of this were quoted in the session which I will put down here:


1.      Imagine a call center employee (lets call him Sharath) in an inbound calling unit in India catering to customers of a popular US mobile service provider. It is 3 minutes to 6 am, the time the shift changes. Sharath has had a long night and some tough customers to handle. He feels he has done a good job in solving their problems and is looking forward to some hot breakfast and then sleepytime! He stretches and wishes he could get up but knows that rules say that he cannot get up from his seat till 6. At that instant, his headphones buzz signifying a call. “Damn!”, says Sharath, “Not now, not when I am about to leave!”. He knows that he has to take the call and it may stretch another 5 mins after the close of his shift. Reluctantly he presses the “receive” switch and drawls out a lazy “Hello, this is Saaaammmm, how may I help you?” The customer states his problem and Sharath replies in terse short sentences. He closes the call at 6:01 am and finally leaves. During all this, lets imagine what the customer might have been thinking. When we call a call center, we are used to and expect a certain level of courtesy and service. Most call centers set store for a high level of both and this is the reason why even the most irate customers are pacified after speaking to a good executive. What Sharath did here was not at all what the customer expected. What he or she must have seen (in their mind) would be someone somewhere who is not really interested in helping them, someone who just wants to finish their call as quickly as possible, someone who is really casual about what they are doing. All the good work Sharath did in that night could go waste with just that last call.

2.      Let us take another situation. Ramesh is a sales executive with a multinational bank and has been assisting customers with their financial needs. One Saturday morning, around 10 am he calls a prospective client to get an appointment for selling a long term investment plan, a lead that was referred to him by another of his customers. Ramesh has just risen from bed so he is still in his night clothes. His wife is watching Baba Ramdev’s pravachan on Aastha channel and his 2 small children are playing in the room. The call goes something like this:

Ramesh: Good morning, am I speaking to Mr. Sharma! This is Ramesh Sawant (am using fictional names; do not mean anyone in particular) from so-and-so bank. You were referred to me by Mr. XYZ. Is the right time to speak to you?

Customer: Yes, tell me Mr. Sawant. XYZ did tell me about you.

Ramesh: Well sir, I had wished to meet you regarding a long investment plan. As you are yourself aware, life is very unpredictable and we all need to plan for our family’s future in the event of anything happening to us. Financial security is of paramount importance.

(At that very instant, Baba Ramdev intones in the background: Bhakto, jeevan moh maaya hai aur paisa hamare haath ka mail. Aadmi jo lekar aaya tha wahi lekar jaayega!)

Ramesh continues: Sir, in this regard sir…………..a brief shout from Ramesh…..and then…sorry sir, dropped some hot tea on myself.

(At that moment, Ramesh’s son comes running and playfully pulls Ramesh’s hair)

Ramesh: CHINTU, I WILL SLAP YOU! Sorry sir, that was not for you, my son, sir!

Customer (by now a little irritated): Well Mr. Sawant, what do you want from me?

Ramesh: An appointment, sir. When could I come over to your house to meet you sir?

Customer: I think Monday, that is the 23rd of May would suit me – say around 8 pm.

Ramesh (fumbling for and not finding his date diary which is in his bag in his bedroom; now grabs a pencil and tries to note on the newspaper in his lap): Huh sir, could you please repeat?

What happened here? If Ramesh had followed the accepted practice of calling customers from his office, where he would be professionally dressed, with no TV to disturb him or kids to distract him and with all his essentials like a pen, appointment diary next to him, he would have definitely stood a much better chance of closing this call.


While more examples were dissected, I suppose that these two convey the essence of what I wanted to say. That you are definitely seen by the person you are calling. It is just that this is not literal “seeing” but in the mind’s eye, we do develop a picture of someone we are speaking to from their tone, their nuances of speech, their voice modulation and ultimately their state of mind. How often have we called a close friend and when he / she has replied “Haan bol?” in an abrupt fashion and deduced that they were in a meeting or with their boss? Or on the other hand been greeted with an expansive “Boooooooolllllllllllll....wassup?” and inferred from their tone as well as background sounds that they were in a club / pub / disco enjoying themselves?


While these are small things that all of us already knew, most people give these signs a miss and neglect to give them the importance they deserve. One good part about my writing this post is that I, on my part at least, have decided to imbibe these learnings and put them into practical use. And obviously all the credit goes to my friend!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Favourite Literary Characters!

Picked this really interesting tag from Shruthi. I have the feeling any book lover would love this one. The simple thing to do is "List your ten favourite characters from literature." Or is it really that simple; seeing the number of books I've read and loved over the years, I don't think it is going to be that east to list down just 10.

Anyway, here they are!

Aragorn (The Lord of the Rings; Author: J.R.R. Tolkien) - An apt character for the splendour of Middle Earth. Equipped with all the qualities any man would like to possess - Intelligent, sensitive, caring, handsome, rugged, strong, always on the right side, romantic. The way he conducts himself anywhere he goes is something to emulate. Unforgettable character from an unforgettable book.

Dirk Pitt (Many books; Author: Clive Cussler) - I read Clive Cussler's books only recently but this hero of his became a quick favourite of mine simply for his daring and presence of mind under the most fantastic and worst possible situations.

Rhett Butler (Gone with the Wind; Author: Margaret Mitchell) - Rhett Butler provided the perfect foil to Scarlett's feistiness, he was the spice to her sweet, he was the Devil to her Angel, he was the reason to her silliness and ultimately he was the right to her wrong. This "gentleman" was the first ever heroic villain or villainic hero, what have you. I remember feeling frustrated with Scarlett's waywardness and then when Rhett arrived on the scene, feeling that he would take care of the situation.

Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice; Author: Jane Austen) - An exemplary lady; one who made a very strong impression on my then teenaged mind. I clearly remember thinking it would have been great to have a elder sister like Lizzie who could stand up to anything for the people she loved. Her love for her sisters and parents, the way she carried herself in the presence of others, her sense of propriety and fairplay, her indignation at the "wrongs" inflicted by Mr. Darcy on her family are all qualities that stand out in this book. One girl from the literary world I can never forget in my life!

Sherlock Holmes (The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes; Author: Arthur Conan Doyle) - Arguably my most favourite literary character of all, this gentleman, who has made a name for himself as the most sought after private detective, has fascinated me for years with his sheer intellect, wit, determination and panache. One characteristic of Holmes which made me look up to him was his critical attitude towards the foibles of society, especially the law enforcement machine as it existed in his time; he never used rose tinted glasses and most of his observations were spot on. Even the most obscure problems turn out to have the most simplest of explanations - this was one statement which was proved time and time again by Sherlock Holmes in association with his friend and associate Dr. Watson.

Tally (The Painted House; Author: John Grisham) - The author went off the beaten track when he wrote this book (which was loosely based on his own childhood in rural Arkansas) which was refreshingly different from his usual legal thrillers. Tally Spruill, the teenaged girl from the Spruill family who have been classified as "hill people" who come down to the plains to look for work with farmers harvesting cotton. She stood out from the rest of her family in that she was civilized, well mannered and was fond of Luke Chandler, the 9-10 year old protagonist of the book. Even though she belonged to a wandering poor family, she carried herself with a lot of poise and inner confidence. Dressed in the most simple of clothes, she still manager to retain an aura of beauty around her. She managed to win Luke's heart in the bargain; that she broke it when she ran off with the Mexican worked Cowboy is another matter altogether.

Captain Haddock (Tintin series; Author: Herge) - My most loved characters ever; the Captain provides so much colour to the Tintin series that you can see a marked difference in the Tintin episodes before The Crab With The Golden Claws (Captain Haddock first made an appreance in this one) and the ones later. He creates a complete laugh riot with whatever he does. I remember actually rolling on the floor hooting with uncontrollable laughter at his antics. In fact, I'd still do the same. He manages to get himself into some sort of trouble in every episode but at the same time he is a loyal and ever-dependable friend to the young boy-reporter. Along with Snowy the dog, he has become an icon in the world of comic series!

Tom Sawyer (Adventures of Tom Sawyer; Author: Mark Twain) - This was a cult character in my childhood. I must have read this book umpteen number of times without ever getting bored. Following Tom and his other friends as they went about their adventurous lives; getting extremely frightened when Tom witnessed a murder is something I can never forget.

Long John Silver (Treasure Island; Author: Robert L. Stevenson) - This earlier quartermaster on Captain Flint's ship and later on leader of the mutineers on board the "Hispaniola" was a real engima. Could not really fathom his psyche totally, he seemed totally evil and friendly all at the same time. He brought a lot of colour into an anyway very colourful book.

Ari Ben Canaan (Exodus; Author: Leon Uris) - Anyone who has read this book would not fail to be impressed by Ari Ben Canaan who forms one of the central characters in this really inspiring and touching book about the conception of Israel and of the the struggles borne by them in keeping out intruders from her hostile neighbours. Tall, rugged, mentally and physically strong, Ari projects the image of an intelligent, ruthless but sensitive freedon fighter, one who would do anything for the land he loves. His dedication to the cause of Israel is absolute without any parallels!

As Shruthi said, this was one of the most enjoyable tags I have ever had the chance to write. The only point being that there are many other characters I'd have loved to include. I will not tag anyone in particular. Have already mentioned at the start of this post that any book lover would really love to do this one. So just pick this up and go for it!

Attitude...To Carry or Not To Carry

There are many people who say attitude is everything - that it is the one differentiator between a successful and unsuccessful person. While this is very good to hear and even say, how many of us have actually seen it in action? Or maybe seen the difference for ourselves? Maybe we have had the chance to observe it but for the most it gets submerged in the walk of life.
Today I read a forwarded email which set me thinking - it gave me a fresh perspective on how attitude can do the trick in the most impossible situations. It is definitely worth sharing here so here goes:
"An old widower in his eighties lived alone in his cottage in a small town. A meagre pension being his only source of money, he lived a frugal life. His only son was in prison for committing some crime.
The cottage had a small plot of land attached to it in which the old man's wife used to grow the best potatoes in town when she was alive. The old man wished to continue the tradition in the memory of his loving wife as also to supplement his income. But he himself was not capable enough to do the digging of soil that was essential to plant the seedlings. One evening, he wrote a gloomy letter to his son in prison.
Dear Son,
Hope you are well. I think of you everyday. As you know I loved your mother very much. I want to grow potatoes in our land just as she used to as I know She would not like this land she loved to be wasted. But it is no longer possible for me to dig the soil the way it is supposed to be done. I know that if you were with me, you would have done this bit for me. But since you are not here, all I can do is sit and wish for the impossible. Hope I see you before I die.
Your loving Father.
The son read this letter in prison and dashed off an immediate reply.
Do not think of doing ANY DIGGING on our land. That was where I'd buried the RIFLES I'd stolen!
This abrupt letter was intercepted by the authorities before it reached his father and then sent on. The poor confused old man woke the next morning to see a big host of policemen marking off his land and ravaging his land with drillers and other machines. They overran the whole plot before evening but could not find a single rifle. The harassed father wrote his son asking him to explain this charade and the son again sent a reply.
Dear Father,
Am sorry I can't be there to dig the land for you. Our friends from the right side of the law have done us a great help. The land has now been dug up well enough for you to plant as many seedlings as you want. This was the only way I could think of helping you out from inside this prison! Look after yourself.
Your loving son."
While this was just a fictional and simplistic "feel-good" story, it suddenly hit me how important this word "attitude" is. Even when stuck in a seemingly impossible situation, if one has the right attitude, it is possible to get on top of it. Ways and means miraculously (well, not really!) emerge and provide, if not a perfect solution, some solution to the problem.
In organizations today, we usually find 2 kinds of people:
1. The gloomy faced pessimist - this person has the capability (sic) to being down any idea being proposed; to find reasons why most things CANNOT be done and if anything is actually being done, to find small niggling errors or faults in the solution.
2. The proverbial sun like optimist - this is someone who refuses to understand the meaning of "impossible"; one who can see the positive in every situation; who can work out a solution for the most twisted conundrums; one who infuses brightness and enthusiasm into every room he / she enters or forum he / she is part of.
What is the basic difference between both these kinds of people? Yes thats right, ATTITUDE!
While there is no sure fire method to get the correct attitude going for you, I believe it is ultimately within every individual to choose the right frame of mind with which to face the world. To conclude, all I can say is let yourself not be bogged down by anything in life; just run with the conviction that you want to and will get over it.