Monday, 31 January 2011

Why fear customer conversation? Benihana, please listen up.

This has been a week full of mixed emotions with Liverpool on the verge of losing Fernando Torres, Egypt fighting for a revolution and the blogger / Twitter community standing united behind a Kuwaiti blogger, TWOFOURTYEIGHTAM, in his fight against Benihana.

For many of you, you may be wondering where did Benihana and a Kuwaiti blogger enter the picture from?  Basically, one half of the blogging team, Mark, had made a visit to Behihana in Kuwait when it opened there recently and did a food review on it.  For the many nice comments he had, there were a few aspects that weren't to his satisfaction which he wrote about on his blog.  In short, Benihana responded by issuing a lawsuit against TWOFOURTYEIGHTAM and the bloggers are now being sued.  (More details of this can be seen on Alexander McNabb's blog here).

This really makes you wonder why as a brand, franchise or retailer, would you sue someone for voicing their opinion? With my day job being in managing a retail business, I know that the most critical part of my job is to ensure as an organization we remain a part of the customer conversation.  This conversation takes place on the shop floor, in our marketing, our PR and also in our social media activities.  For us to be engaged in a true conversation, it requires two people to be involved, a customer and us.  Dictatorial rants are old school and won't gain you any respect.  A conversation is essentially a dialogue that must happen if you want to retain a customer.  The days of expecting customer loyalty are history.  No one is loyal today.  If you want a customer to remain with you, you need to engage in customer conversation.

Customer conversation happens at different times, whether it be pre-sales, during the selling process or post-sales when returns or service issues may arise.  

One thing I've learned though, no matter how good a job you're doing, there is someone doing it better and there is someone you're inevitably going to upset along the way.  This is where being a part of the customer conversation is essential, as you need to listen, improve and move on.  There will be times where you fail to meet a customer's expectations.  Take the positives out of it, acknowledge it, work improve on it and in return, you will be appreciated for taking the initiative.

No one expects us to be perfect but they expect us to treat each other with respect.  In the case of Benihana, this has clearly not been the case and the bottom line is Benihana has probably lost an entire segment of customers who might've otherwise visited their establishment had they listened, acknowledged, improved and moved on with wanting to do a better job.

Unfortunately for Benihana, there are not many ways to make up for what they've done but even now, at the very least, they should own up and admit that they've over-reacted and maybe hope they can redeem themselves by engaging themselves more with the community that exists on social media.  As the saying goes, the customer is king, so please Benihana, start listening to your customers.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

What does an Internet blackout achieve?

The events of the last couple of days in Egypt have certainly kept us glued to our seats as what looks set to be a revolution in the making unfolds before us.  What direction it'll take, how it will happen and who will take charge next are still questions we don't know the answers to but just as we saw the Iron Curtain collapse two decades ago, the same could happen in and around the Middle East.

In this day and age when most of us have taken our mobile phones and Internet connections for granted, we saw Egypt turn back the clock this week by blocking off services systematically.  While there has been outrage over this decision from most people outside the country (and I'm sure within the country as well), it makes you wonder what the government thought they'd achieve?

When a crisis like this unfolds, what is needed most is communication.  When clear and open channels for discussion can exist, then there can be hope that a resolution is reached by dialogue.  When communication channels are blocked, it leads to more frustration and a disconnect between the opposing sides.  Any attempt to block off or avoid communication is seen as a sign of weakness of the regime.

Despite all of this, the Egyptians moved on with their protests yesterday, the world heard their story and the attempted blackout achieved little.  There was a means of communication before the Internet took rise and we all equipped ourselves with Blackberry's or iPhone's.  The past few days have shown this and despite the social media channels being flooded with chatter about what's happening in Egypt, it has been the resilience of the Egyptians to find any means necessary to get their message out.  By blocking television signals, mobile phone signals and Internet connections, it only created more reason to be out on the streets protesting.

As the situation unfolds, we'll wait and see what shape things take but what is for sure, the Egyptians have shown the world that despite the best attempts of the government to cut off access to the rest of the world, they will be heard.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Watch out: Your Starbucks coffee is making you fat!

It's been rather amusing of late to see all the news about Starbucks that's been circulating.  Being the best known coffee shop chain out there, Starbucks is always used an example whether they like it or not but really, the news coming out of guys in Seattle has only been setting themselves up for more egg on their face.

Firstly, Starbucks announcing their new logo where they're dropping the name "Starbucks Coffee" has been received adversely overall because Starbucks has become synonymous with coffee worldwide.  You could understand if just the "coffee" was dropped as Starbucks looks to diversify into other beverage and food categories.  However just having their siren / mermaid means that this logo will most likely not be allowed in countries like Saudi Arabia.

Starbucks new Siren only logo

However, to take the cake, Starbucks this week announced the launch of their "Trenta" sized coffee (more details on Trenta here).  Trenta, is a 31-oz or approximately 900ml cup of coffee.  According to stories making their rounds on the Internet right now, a cup that size is slightly larger than the size of the average human's stomach.  If that doesn't make you run to the loo, I don't know what will...

Doesn't this make you think of King Kong - does size really matter?

What got me thinking more though was how many calories would the average Trenta cup have.  Again, just browsing through the Internet, I came across a website that actually shows how many calories existing Starbucks coffees have.  Based on this, I calculated the calories that a Trenta-sized cup would have and the results were shocking:

  • Cappuccino with low fat milk - 271 calories
  • Cappuccino with full fat milk - 349 calories 
  • Latte with skim fat milk - 266 calories
  • Latte with full fat milk - 455 calories 
  • Hot Chocolate with skim milk and no whipped cream - 503 calories
  • Hot Chocolate with full fat milk and no whipped cream - 676 calories
  • White Hot Chocolate with full fat milk and no whipped cream - 895 calories
  • Caramel Macchiato with low fat milk - 436 calories
  • Caramel  Macchiato with full fat milk - 484 calories
  • Caramel Frappuccino  - 678 calories
  • Coffee Frappuccino - 431 calories
If you're like me, your jaw must be dropping right now to know that there are people who are willing to consume close to a quarter of their day's caloric intake or more on a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  Chances are, once you know, you probably won't want to try the Trente cup if and when it comes to our part of the world, but spread the word to those you care about, because no one should be drinking this much coffee without realizing the consequences.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Is King Kenny enough to make the difference at Anfield?

As a Liverpool fan, this has indeed been one of the most uplifting weeks in a long time with news that Liverpool legend, Kenny Dalglish was back as Liverpool manager till the end of the season.

While King Kenny's return is a welcome relief given the calamity that was Rafael Benitez last season and the ineffectiveness of Roy Hodgson to make things happen thus far this season, you have to wonder if Liverpool are setting themselves up for disappointment again.

Kenny Daglish was an inspiration as a player, captain and manager in his heyday.  In the time that he stopped managing Liverpool, they've seen the likes of Roy Evans, Graeme Souness, Gerrard Houllier, Rafael Benitez and Roy Hodgson installed as Liverpool manager.  Each one has gone to fail miserably after leaving Liverpool's managerial post and it makes you wonder if the position of Liverpool manager is somehow cursed since teams like Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal started winning the Premier League.

When Dalglish had last managed Liverpool, the number of foreign players in the English game was minimal, long-ball football was British football and the focus to do well in the FA Cup and league was paramount (as English teams were banned for Europe for several years in the 1980's).  Today priorities seem to have changed, the style of football has changed, the money in football has changed, the patience to drive out results no longer exists and the team spirit that once existed has changed.

Six months is too short a period for a manager to make his mark on the team but this is what Kenny Dalglish has got at the moment as the owner's have made it very clear that they will consider other managerial options this summer.  What can Dalglish aim to achieve then in six months?  The focus in my opinion would have to be to get the confidence back in his players.  At the moment, they're out their on the field but they're lost.  The fear they put into their opposition is waning away and every game for Liverpool has to be like a Cup Final between now and the end of the season.  They need to go in with a determination to win.  The body language needs to instill the spirit of champions.  What do champions feel like?  King Kenny knows this all too well and this could perhaps be his biggest contribution on the team.

He's brought in Steve Clarke who's an experienced veteran of the game as first team coach.  That is fine for managing the team tactically but Kenny Dalglish if he is to leave his mark, has to bring back that killer instinct that was once within Liverpool.  Torres needs to have that fire back in his eyes, Gerrard needs to take control of the centre of the park and the defence needs to start looking rock solid again.  Assembling great players doesn't make a team.  Having the confidence to work as a unit makes a great team.  Roy Hodgson showed us how this was possible at Fulham last year and that could perhaps what his greatest failing could've been.  Liverpool is not Fulham and maybe his techniques for turning Fulham into a unit weren't what was going to work at Liverpool.

Let's hope Liverpool live to tell another tale under Kenny Dalglish.  In the meantime, remember Liverpool fans, You'll Never Walk Alone.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Inspiration, Obesity and Making a Difference

I've been inspired!

How?  Why?  What?

Being a weekend, a time that I normally enjoy spending with my kids, I came across a video presentation by Jamie Oliver that he gave during the TED conference in 2010 (Click Here for Video).  This man is as old as me and has been working hit butt off to make a difference.

In his 20 minute presentation, Oliver spoke of a topic that seems to hit everyone's heart strings and that is the health of our kids, our family, our community and ourselves.  At the heart of it was the effects of obesity.  Obesity is nothing new but it was shocking to see how naive some people were.

To sit and watch a video of how much junk food an American family was stuffing themselves with every week because they didn't cook at home or to see how much sugar is in the chocolate milk our kids drink, shows how we can take responsibility for the situation.

As difficult and complicated as we make it seem, the answer is simple.  It comes down to basic education.  The more we educate ourselves, our kids, our families and our communities, the quicker they will realize how things can improve.

I can see and feel the change happening already.  What Oliver rightly points out in his presentation is that there has been a couple of generations where the value on diet and exercise was diminished and a lot of the illnesses we see today started persisting.  Coincidentally, about ten days ago, while day-dreaming, I sort of realized the same thing as well.  Our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents probably didn't realize the harm the food they were eating was doing to them or that the lack of exercise they had was inviting all the health problems they ended up suffering.  Being of Indian origin, I know I've seen more share of fried foods, oil and spices to see how bad the Indian diet can be.  I've also seen the culture of the afternoon siesta after a heavy meal that is and used to be much more prevalent in the Gulf.

In my generation though, I've seen most of us have mid-way through this period, learned and realized we need to change our lifestyle.  More of us have in the last decade or so started improving our dietary habits and started going to the gym or doing yoga, etc.  We can't change what we may have done in the last 20-30  years or so to our bodies but at least going forward we can ensure we look after it better.

The generation that follows us will and should be better informed than us.  The right diet should be a part of their upbringing.  Getting enough exercise should be part of their regime.  Educating themselves and those around them will come more naturally to them.  All this can happen and will happen provided we do our bit now to set them right.

In the presentation that Jamie Oliver gave, it is shocking to see how many kids in an elementary school didn't even recognize vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, etc.   I know my older daughter knows her fruits and vegetables quite well from all her trips to the supermarket with me.  She's been learning about the benefits of these fruits and vegetables at home and in school.  I can only hope she stays concious and aware of this for all her life.

Education ain't difficult.  It is small steps to moving to the right path that can take you a long way.  I am by no means fit but I am fitter than I used to be.  If being fitter means I've added a couple of years onto my life expectancy or reduced partially my chances of getting a health condition, then I'm that much better off.  The same should be what we teach those who we care for.  It is intimidating to step into a gym if you are obese.  I know it.  I've gone through it.  However, you realize, once you start, there isn't any laughing or snickering behind your back.  We're all in it together and rather those who see you, appreciate the fact that you've started and you're trying.

There is no other sense of motivation other than self-motivation that can make you change yourself.  Don't force change onto people, let them realize what they're doing and the biggest satisfaction you can get is when you see them driving a change in themselves.

I know this post has seen a lot of me rambling on but if you're passionate about something, you tend to do that.

Take care, be good and make a difference!