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.

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