Not another Review!!

Not another review! What makes this different? Well, for starters, the person(s) reviewing stuff here are people who grew up in a world thats far removed from "the Reviews on Gruyere cheese and Asparagus..." In other words,
1. We love Amul butter - the salted yummy thing better than all the 'sophisticated' imported butter in the world!
2. We love the gooey, drippy sweetness of Indian sweets
3. We have, at some point in our lives, ate spoonfulls of Milkmaid conensed milk - right out of the can
4. We understand food and wine pairing (Courtesy the persistent lecturers in Hotel mgmt college), but would rather have chilled beer or the exotic looking potent cocktail with our spicy chicken tikkas or fish fries
5. Prefer to use words like 'delicate' for silks and 'sharp' for tools... NOT food!
6 Are dying find product which make lives easier for working mothers, wives, girlfriends or considerate (also read that as hen pecked) husbands and boyfriends!

So go on... pour your heart out about stuff you liked or hated!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Customer Service? Huh? What's that?


As a trainer who specializes in customer service skills transfer, I have a skewed sense of criticality when it comes to any kind of service lapse. Traditionally, industries were either the manufacturing industry or the service industry. But today, a fine line divides the expectations that customers have from products and services.

I know, I know .... 'make a good product and the world will beat a path to your door' - but today, this just isn't enough, is it? Especially when every tangible item in the world is sold with a sense of the intangible - take a look at all the tag lines:
  • 'Drive home a relationship' - for a car brand
  • 'Open happiness' - for a cola brand
  • 'Connecting People' - for a mobile company
And many more such tag lines, that focuses on the people aspect of any product. Clearly indicating how important service is, even for a tangible product like a car or a cola.

Let me give you another example. The government operated 'Cottage Emopriums' in Delhi have much more variety in artifacts and craft-based products than most of its privately run counterparts. The pricing too, is quite fair. However, step into one of the Cottage Emporiums, and the almost empty shopping spaces will tell you a different story; right across the street, Fabindia or Anokhi would be brimming with visitors - both Indian and foreigners. The difference is in the service.

I am an ardent vacationer ; G (the better/bitter half) and I love to grab an overnight bag and vanish from the city whenever we can. Of course, after having kids, we plan much more now, keeping in mind their convenience. Also, since both of us are hoteliers, when we plan, we really plan! So invariably, we take turns in calling up the hotel that we have booked, which gives us a fair amount of insight into their service standards.

Very often, the decision to stay in a particular hotel / resort is governed by how well you were treated on the phone. Let me give you the conversation we had with a front office executive recently - verbatim:

G : Hi! I am calling from Delhi, and we have booked a room for next week. Can I get a confirmation on that?
FOA (front office Assistant) : You booked from Delhi? Then they would have given you the confirmation letter.
G : Well, yes, but I want to know which kind of room you would be allotting us.
FOA : Sir (exasperation already in his voice), we only allot rooms one day before the arrival of the guest.
G : Ok, but I have a preference of a river view room, and if I give you a preference so much in advance, can't you make sure that I get it? (most hotels even block by a specific room, if the guest insists)
FOA : No, we only put the preference one day before. You can call us again to tell us your preference one day before you check in.
G (almost grinding his teeth into a fine paste) : But you can note it somewhere and do it yourself one day before right?
FOA : I may not be on the shift, Sir.
G (doing his deep breathing exercises) : Ok... please make a note next to my reservation request in the remarks column - you do have a remarks column right? Where you put the billing instructions? OK... put a remark there, so that anyone who handles my reservation can see it.
FOA : Fine, Sir. Anything else?
G : The website spoke of activities for the family in the evening. What activities do you have?
FOA : Nothing much, Sir. There is the swimming pool.......
G : That's a facility - what's the activity?
FOA: Ummmm.....errr....... I don't know much about that Sir. Some activity might be there.
G: Can I get a pickup from the railway station?
FOA: Yes Sir. We can send a car to pick you up. It will cost you Rs. 3500/-
G : But its sixty kilometers away! Even a flight will cost lesser! And your website said something about market priced cabs......
FOA : Sir, website says a lot of things.................

At this point, G's face had developed a hue that falls in between purple and red in the color palate, so he just put the phone down and continued with his deep breathing exorcises.

A question ...... Would you take the trouble to visit the resort?

(I was almost tempted to write the name of the resort here, but resisted it, since I'd like to draw conclusions after maybe one more phone call - quite against my standard modus operandi, but we really liked the pictures so..........)

Friday, August 10, 2012

The curious case of Dior Poison

Memories, it is said, is what shapes us for the person that we are. I mean, think about it - basically, we are all cells, pretty much similar in constitution - flesh and bones. And as babies, most of us behaved and looked just the same (well, mostly) .... Then, along the way, we picked up memories, shaping us as we went along, adding an ingredient here, or leaving an ingredient there. It is this very same chance incidents that create memories, which in turn, create us.

Phew! That was quite a bit of gyan just to introduce a memory called "Poison" in my life.

It began with a sinister looking, yet beautiful, half full bottle that my mother gave me when I was packing to travel to my first job after college. A purple bottle with a crystal stopper I had seen her guard like it was the crown jewels!

the enigma, the rebel, the forbidden fruit
Ofcourse I was familiar with the smell it left on her. It was an exquisite fragrance, with a mysterious, questioning, sometimes cynical "Dare you" attitude. That's how I will always remember the EDT (Eau de toilette) called Dior Poison.

Before I go any further, just a little on the fragrance terminology. I would cover more fragrances in the future, and this can be a base reference to understand perfume types and notes.

There can be many strange names on perfume bottles. These depict the strength of the essential oils in the perfume, and subsequently, the cost.
  • Parfum / Perfume Extract has the highest strength ( can go up to 40%)
  • Eau de Parfum (EDP)  (10-20%)
  • Eau de Toilette (EDT): (5-15%)
  • Eau de Cologne (EDC): (approx. 5%)
  • Perfume mist (body mist too) : (approx. 3%) usually non-alcoholic solvent
  • Aftershave: (1-3%)
Fragrances, especially when various essential oils are mixed together have various notes that come together to form the perfume experience:
  • Top notes : These are the scents that are perceived immediately upon application of a perfume, which quickly evaporate to the initial impression of a perfume. Usually, scents of this note are fresh, citrus, sharp etc.
  • Middle notes : This note comes into play after the top note has evaporated quickly and forms the "heart" or main body of a perfume. The middle notes are usually more mellow and "rounded." Scents from this note class appear anywhere from two minutes to one hour after the application of a perfume.
  • Base notes: This is what remains or 'lingers' in a perfume. Also the part that interacts with the person's own skin and sweat to form a 'signature' for that person. This is why some scents suit some people and they don't suit some others. The base and middle notes together are the main theme of a perfume. Base notes bring depth and solidity to a perfume. These notes are typically rich and "deep" and are usually not perceived until 30 minutes after the application of the perfume
 Now back to the enigma called Poison. This perfume, called 'the forbidden fruit' (and shaped just like an alluring, inviting, serpent's fruit) was touted as a rebel when it came out in 1985 - and it received every bit of the limelight a perfume of that stature should. And as with any celebrity, this perfume had no middle path. No greys - only blacks or whites. You either fell in love with it, or loathed it with all your heart. I fell hopelessly in love with it.

The minute you sprayed a whiff, it knocked you down with tuberose, and sweet honey. After you have gulped your fear and dared to sniff again, the perfume has evolved into spicy pepper and cinnamon, with a huge bouquet of roses. Then when you finally sighed, smiled and smelled it deeply yet again, it had grown into a flower garden mixed with musk and sandalwood. (am sighing again - as you can see!)

The perfume leaves a trail - letting people know you are bold. It also carries on for days together - sometimes even a couple of washes do not remove the smell from clothes. The fall side of this is that people with sensitive olfactory organs can have a severe headache due to this rebel of a perfume.

Let me end this review by telling you what my then fiance said to me when I wore it for a party - he told me never to wear "whatever-it-is-that-you-smell-of-today" when I am not with him. I looked at him quizzically, and he said he could eat me up and didn't want to risk that happening when I was not with him.