Monday, October 23, 2006

it’s R A Y A again

It’s raya again. It’s that happy feeling. It’s immersing in the ‘rioh-rendah’, bising bangor’, ‘kacau-gege’. The sweet sound of children screaming, laughing (or is somebody crying?). It’s time when the eight house street is jam-packed with cars; of my family and that of my neighbors. And evenings of smoke laden air courtesy of free mercun and bunga-api.

Two grands, 14 children, 9 menantus and 20 cucus.

Everyone is here. Almost. Only Dibah and Julian and their kids Nabil and Aishah; and Bada and Azmi with their kids Arif, Haikal, and Mariam both coming home on the first day of Raya. And Jo of course, in India, after two weeks of buka puasa at home but forced to return because school break’s over.

Today, the last of the ’buka’, ayah will set the buffet early. Saw that he started the table arrangement at 9 this morning. Everyone must have a seat, the ‘kuca ghia’ included. It will be a big buffet as usual. As it was for years. As it was like forever.

Selamat Hari Raya.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

of marketing art and puasa buffet

I have one bad habit. I don’t like doing business with difficult people. There is one famous chicken rice stall in Batu Burok I don’t go anymore because the owner scolded me, saying ‘rugilah saya’ when I ordered a drink from the next stall and not wanting one from her juice machine.

In business, money change hand when a good or service is delivered. A done deal, face to face some people said. In Islam, when the trade and ‘akad’ performed. In Terengganu and elsewhere in Malaysia too these days, I see the seller saying ‘saya jual’ and the buyer saying ‘saya beli’ on the exchange. In Terengganu, even the Chinese shopkeepers practice this akad thing perhaps out of social norm.

I was in Shanghai recently. Because it was an urgent trip I had made all the arrangement through the internet, even paying everything, hotel and air ticket in advance by credit card. On the confirmation slip, all by e-mail, was stated, ‘no refund if changes to the itinerary made in less than 48 hours’ clearly. I was to stay for five days. Maybe I should note that the agent introduced by a friend was a Singapore based agent, specializing in business trips to China, handling business tour from Europe and Middle East mostly. So mostly they deal with Mat Sallehs and Pak Arab. A nice touch was that a Shanghai based agent handled everything, all the e-mails with even her hand phone number just in case you need it. Also stated, ‘if you are busy but still want to see Shanghai, we can arrange a day tour at USD 46 per pax.’ I had no idea how the Baroni Wanyuan Hotel would look like but it turn out to be a nice, sleek new hotel and the junior suite cheaper than KL Hilton’s deluxe room.

There, I had an urgent call for a meeting in Kuala Terengganu and I had to cut short my trip by two days. It was less than 48 hours away. Because I was busy and not having my laptop I had to use the business center at the hotel second floor. In the evening I e-mailed my itinerary change and went back to my room at the ninth floor. Already there was a message on the phone. It was well pass working hour but this one Miss Zoe, had responded and in less than fifteen minutes. What efficiency.

So it was when I get back to Kuala Terengganu, opened my e-mails and found one from Miss Zoe. Enclosed was a refund slips for the unused stay. I was pleasantly surprised. I had changed the itinerary in less than the stipulated time and not expected a refund. After all it was a contract and payment transacted. The explanation was sweet. ‘We would like you to use our service again, Sir. Would you come to Shanghai for the Formula One? We can make the all the arrangement.’

That in a nutshell is a class service. Compare it to this one I had just had .

I had booked for a 7 plus one child pax for buka puasa buffet at Hotel UiTM. When we got there the dining hall was hardly filled, some tables empty and some tables reserved but without the patron. On my group only six adults and a child turned up. I guess it was normal in Klang Valley, getting stuck in the traffic jam and missing the fasting break altogether. It was an okay dinner. Nothing particularly interesting but for the child singer and the often off-key elder singer singing some classic keroncongs on the stage. The interesting part came at paying time.

‘Encik, you must pay for all the eight pax’ said the girl at the counter. ‘But only seven came’ I protested. ‘You should have informed us when you arrived’ she insisted. ‘You didn’t mention that when I made the reservation’ I continued, trying my luck. ‘Sorrylah encik, saya cuma ikut arahan je’ (I am only following orders). She said looking down trying to avoid any eye contact. ‘ ‘Okay I’ll pay,’ I said, ‘but I want you to know that it’s not good for your business.’ So I paid and walked out.

I told myself, I am not coming back.

She, the girl at the counter in this case I think was just a student, being trained on the ropes of serving, etiquette, customer handling etc. I hope that they were not there training only to ‘serve’, clearing dirty dishes or collecting tabs, but the impression I get in that short minute was that. The students training for the front line should be trained on customer handling with other objectives, like making a customer happy even if it means getting out of the norms sometimes, marketing or encouraging customer to return, by saying things like, ‘I’m sorry about this but I hope I’ll see you dining here again’ or an eye contact or at least a smile. Perhaps they had been in this situation often they were retreating as a reaction. Macang k’ura (like a tortoise – retreating its head into its shell), a Terengganuan would say. Situation out of incomplete procedural control and total blur on how to make future sales. What is losing a RM39 for a pax if it could be translated in future business? What about training them to smile and say sorry? It doesn’t cost a cent and it certainly wasn’t meant as an apology. I am certain all marketing books talk about this point now. But then again they don’t read. Do they? The lecturers, not the students I mean.

Perhaps coincidently, there was a story about a three year old girl that successfully bid for a ‘Barbie’ car on the the E-bay for something like USD64000. Imagine the parents panicking. On E-bay rules are rules. After all rules are the only thing that can ensure fairness in a borderless world. But what was touching was the response of the seller when he knew of the mistakes. He said okay and placed the car back on the bid. He may have lost the sale he could have very well enforced and legally too, but he simply take it with a shrug and maybe a smile. In exchange for the understanding was a worldwide free publicity. It’s worth millions.

As a person, I will be talking about these experiences to others. It would be free marketing for the former and a bad publicity to the later. I am making the comparison because I see in the business world, even the one conducted in internet, devoid of real contact (no eye contact, no smiles exchanged), money making rules are being set aside by another better rules, market, market and market. They are refunding money that was contractually their right in exchange for future business. They are also (if you look it from another angle) turning marketing into an art. Some money making rules are placed to be conveniently set aside to make one looks good, for customers to feel appreciated and their delight transformed into future business. Saying things like ‘we normally charge you for this but since this is your first time with us / you are our important customer / the boss not here and I’m in charge /you’re very nice, I’ll waive the charge’ will go a long way.

In Hotel UiTM, they are yet to teach this, but I hope they will do so soon.

Sincere apology to Hotel UiTM for mentioning name. I wouldn’t do so if it wasn’t my alma mater and I’d like it’s graduate to be better. Oh, and a good discount sometimes.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

wisdom of a cab driver

Allah bertanya, ‘ Berapa lamakah lamanya kamu tinggal di bumi?’ Mereka menjawab: ‘Kami tinggal (di bumi) sehari atau setengah hari, maka tanyakanlah kepada orang-orang yang menghitung.’ Allah berfirman: ‘Kamu tidak tinggal (di bumi) melainkan sebentar sahaja, kalau kamu mengetahui.’
[Al-Mu’minun 18:112-114]

Some gem of wisdom can be found in some unlikely place. This one from a cab driver on a ride from KL Sentral to Wisma Sejarah yesterday September 26.

I thought I was unfortunate, I had wanted a quiet ride after a long slow bus ride from LCT, but was greeted by an angry man instead. Angry as in talking out loud, venting his frustration at almost everything under the sun, like why the election ballot must be marked with an x (which to him means wrong or no) and not with right or yes, his frustration at Hishamuddin (maybe he thought I was a teacher or some education officer because I asked to be sent to the National Library), his funny belief that oscar and horse-car (kereta kuda) was the same English word, at JKR originally meaning Jagaan Kuda Raja before the British changing it to Jabatan Kerja Raya, at money (at a one ringgit note he was waving) for having value just because it has a dead king’s picture on it, etc.

But this conversation was a gem.

‘Kita ni masa lahir, orang azan kat telinga kita. Betul?’ (When we were born, an azan is proclaimed at our ear. Right?)


‘Bila kita mati orang sembahyangkan. Betul?’ (When we die, people pray on us. Right?)

‘Uh…. Uuhhh.’

‘Nampak tak pendeknya umur kita?. Nampak? Dari masa azan sampai sembahyang je umur kita ni.’ (See how short this life is? See? Our life is no longer than the time between azan and prayer.)

Then the above verse of the Quran I came across this morning, kind of put it in a just perspective.