Making The Customer Right!

I am not a sales person, but I’ve figured out what helps me build my business. Sharing some thoughts using a famous management mantra.

An important experience that I’ve gained ever since I started Monks In Happiness is, creating customer experiences and managing their expectations. Both are important elements of the age-old saying that “the customer is always right.” The first I heard of the saying was during my MBA. I didn’t agree with it as much then, as I don’t agree with it now. Literally at least. 

I believe that a customer needs to be educated so that they gather what their “being right” should feel like.

So what is this “right”? Based on my experiences both as a customer and a service provider, I feel “being right” is that feeling of fulfilment, of having received more than what one expected. Of course, expectations in themselves are an ecosystem of their own and need rationalisation for the “right” to be a good fit. Years back, all of 26 years old, wanting to purchase a car for me, I had a first-hand experience of becoming right. In those days, the internet wasn’t as offering as it is now and pre-buying research involved footwork. So I travelled from one showroom to another, till it became a trudge, manually collecting brochures and writing comparisons in a notebook. That entire Saturday is marked in memory as I met one salesperson after the other. They bragged about their cars and rattled off features. I would have a few questions and as soon as I went from the 4th to the 5th question, they would seemingly lose interest and start quizzing me on my abilities to make the purchase – how much did I earn, did I plan to take an EMI etc. I realised I spoke more than them and it was almost like I wanted to know more than what they wanted to tell me.   Each meeting was turning out to be a half baked experience and by the time I walked into the final meeting of the day, my enthusiasm had dampened. In that final meeting, the salesperson started by asking me what my requirements were, what other models I had seen and what my budget was. As I blurted out my ill-used knowledge, he cut me off and said, “Sir, all cars are good, it depends what your requirements are.” For the next 5 to 7 minutes he enlisted the strong facts about his competition and then came to talk about his own product. Eventually, I bought the car from him. 

The experience has stuck with me. It made me realise that sometimes more than the product it is the salesperson who is the experience. 

So over the years, I’ve consistently found merit in educating the customer to a position of them being right. If an interaction with a business leaves you enriched with the experience that the entity has thought about you, worked for you via their knowledge and processes and delivery mechanisms, you become right. Primarily about your choice to have engaged them.  

Circa present day, I operate in an ecosystem where creativity is the product. A portrait, a video presentation, a book of pictures, all need to be unique, sometimes rare, as well. Add to it, the complexity of my own artistic ambition of what can I do with the client. I used to find it tough to manage conversations where the customer would ask for something that I wasn’t sure of. I would nod in agreement, making my life hell and spoiling the customer’s final experience with my services. Till one day in the middle of a customer interaction which was turning irritating, I detailed my process and clarified what all could be done, if I were to do it. I told them of our background and history, our creative sensibilities, our process, people and what the spending of the revenue we earned would look like. I also spoke to them about our expectations from the client – the level of collaboration and input we needed to make something memorable for them.  I partly expected to lose the assignment; to my surprise, I didn’t, in fact, the relationship we created has sewed in multiple projects now. A few days later, in a second conversation with another customer, I modelled my conversation on an educational pitch and the colours started flying. Ever since I have tried to bring in this part of me that educates the customer in each interaction where it is needed and I always see trust building up consistently. 

I do want to lengthen this note to mention another experience I had as a customer recently. I started using a new age investing platform and was stuck at a certain point while making an investment. I called customer care and realised that the good human I connected with was a mature person, knowledgeable and experienced in managing stocks. Though my queries were of a very basic nature, the manner in which my queries were resolved gave me a sense that I was using a professional, learning-based and secure platform. I felt “right” about my decision to use the platform for investments.   

Relationships that we create in business interactions are achievements because some of them spill into our personal life. The experience of walking customers to a position where they become right works well here. It has, for me. Customers need to be told what they are buying, and whether they are buying from the right place. They need to be informed of the limits of the product or service and how the money they will part with, be used in the creation of the experience that they are about to get. Make it simple, educate them and help them succeed. The customer then trusts and invests in you. 

Then the customer is always right. 

The views mentioned in the article are personal. 

AudioVisual Project – Wonderful Memories

I battled the COVID-19 virus in April 2020 and was confined to my room for a period of two months. Company in my isolation was in the form of a box of watercolor paints, a brush, and memory.

Butter Lamps

Golden light streamed in from the sole window on the 2nd floor of the monastery. The window was huge, parted in the middle in a framework of six square panes, each having its own share of dust and spots. The light created a soft yellow and red hue in the room, with the shadows as dark as the color black in a moonless night. In the center 10 butter lamps burned brightly emanating a humble glow. 

She’d seen him looking at her since the time that she stepped out of the bus. She had noticed his blue eyes and boyish face go rose when she abruptly made eye contact with him when perhaps he was least expecting it. In a split second, his gaze turned away from her, all flush with awareness; of the fact that her beautiful dark eyes were following him. Blood inside him turned cold and gave him a nervous twitch. He stood uncomfortably on his two feet for a moment or two before the guide called him out. 

The group listened attentively to the guide. He was speaking about the legends, of mythical birds and animals, of saints who flew and subjugated demons at will. He tried imagining the tiger that flew carrying Padmasambhava from Tibet to the cave. He visualized the fight between the demon and Padmasambhava and the swish swash of swords, the blades of which were on fire. He was broken out of his reverie when he heard footsteps moving out. The guide finished his discourse and lead the group out in a politely chaotic exit. Everyone jostled a bit as they moved beside him. He stayed back a minute; he wanted time to look at the lamps for that little longer. As the last pair of feet were leaving the room he seemed to notice a slight movement in the dark. He stood just a bit longer to make sense of it. The next two seconds were spent in a vacuum of expectation. Just as he was about to make that first movement to exit, she emerged from the shadows. 

The window streamed golden light on her face. He could swear that he saw the lamps in her eyes. His eyes widened by their own choice and as if all life had frozen, nothing seemed to move. She looked at him standing still, unable to move, unable to run, unable to look away. A couple of seconds passed and life had spent an eternity. 

Something told her what had to be done. She moved close to him and took his hands in hers. She turned her face up towards his face and realized that he was tall. She stretched herself, and in a moment, found herself on her toes, still falling short. She pulled his hands down with her hands to get whatever elevation was required. 

Her lips touched his lower lip, her eyes saw his eyes close slowly in disbelief, but ever so keen. They opened again to look deep into hers and he swore he could see the butter lamps in the middle of the black iris. They took in each other’s warmth and perfume.  

The soft bells of the prayer wheel kept singing in a distance. The window streamed golden light. The butter lamps burnt brightly.      

Riding Solo A Legend – A Tribute To Gaurav Jani

Gaurav Jani, who passed way in May 2020, filled the void in my value system that must define the meaning of passion, a never-ending restlessness for immortality.

It’s funny what friends can tell you. In 2009, Birendra Nahata told me about Gaurav Jani who travelled solo on his motorbike who he called “Loner” all the way from New Delhi to the Changthan valley in Ladakh. Biren handed me a DVD of the film aptly titled “Riding Solo to Top Of The World” and told me to watch it as soon as I could. Which I Did. 11 years later this morning, I chanced upon the poster of Gaurav’s film again on Radhesh Kaushik’s instagram story. Fond memories erupted and I started watching the film again on Youtube, when as a matter of habit, I scrolled down to the comments section. I was numbed when I read that Gaurav passed away in May this year.

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We look for role models in life and tend to find them in our parents, grandparents, writers, artists, actors, athletes and in a rare case in politicians as well. But almost all the time, there is this one person who fills a void in the list – the void that must define the meaning of passion. This is where Gaurav Jani fits the bill for me. I never met him, infact I dont know anything about him and yet his entire act – right from mounting his luggage on to the bike in the first frame to the last frame where he rides away from our gaze is a lesson in how experiences can be life altering, not only for the one who endures it, but even for those who get to sense them irrespective of the source. For the faithfuls of the film like me, the visuals stay in memory not only in their primordial form, but also as a moment of motivation, to think that there was another person who faced an event in life and overcame it with their inherent qualities and acquired capabilities. There is resultant exhilaration, that pushes the self to realise a passion so preciously stoked in the deepest corners of our being.

For me Riding Solo is the epitome of travel documentaries. It transcends the confines of being called a documentary film. And deep down somewhere I want it to be like that. There should never be another like this one. The first two minutes of the movie hooked me to the entire running duration of almost 96 minutes. And over the years it has hooked many who’ve got the chance to see this classic. The film is a philosophy, an act of discovery of the self as Gaurav travels to the deepest corners of the Changthan valley in Ladakh. Places like Hemis and PangGongSo which are destinations for travellers like me, for him, are just milestones en route his great one man ride. 

I share with you this original soundtrack which was the mark of Riding Solo. The credits o this are entire to Mr. Ved Nair. It has played itself in my head numerous times as and when I travelled and was my phone ring tone for the longest time. I hope Gaurav whistled it as he made his final journey. 

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I find it important to mention the fact that the film won the award for The Best Non Feature Film at the 53rd National Film Awards.   

Ruskin

May 19th marks the 86th birthday of Ruskin Bond. He is often described as India’s most loved author even as he has been writing fiction and non fiction for over 60 years. Ruskin Bond’s repertoire as a writer glorifies the art of writing – by his own admission in a televised interview he described himself as a writer inspired by his own life. Bond has written short stories, novels, novellas, essays, travelogues etc that have been published and republished and the reader has so often re read these over and over.

A few years back, Ruskin Bond published his autobiography called Lone Fox Dancing. As usual for all Ruskin fans, the book is a delight and was lapped up to know more about this ever so loveable man nestled in the hills of Mussoorie. I picked the book as a fan, and as i progressed reading about Ruskin and his life, I began to marvel at the man himself.

Today on his birthday, I am thinking about Ruskin as a child. At the age of 8, his parents separated and Ruskin started to live with his father in Delhi. Ruskin described this as a time of solitude – time when he was left to his own devices except weekends when his father would spend time with him. Reading about his time with his father, I thought of my time with my father; though the relationship that we respectively had with our fathers was perhaps very different. I assume he had a more informal relationship with his. At the age of 11, when Ruskin was in boarding school his father passed away. He was told by his principal. And ever since he built his life on his own. He moved to other boarding schools and took to reading & then writing his first short story at 16. A couple of years later his first book, A Room On The Roof was published and awarded the John Rhys Award for Writers under 30.

I assume that there isn’t a day when Ruskin doesn’t think of his father. There is not a day when I don’t think of mine. How can one not. For fathers often are that one mark of a person that a child wants to be. It’s a brooding aspiration – to be the silent wall, who stands behind like a rock & never sheds a tear. The father is the vision, he is supposed to set sights firmly on the future and guide the child with firm hands on their shoulders. Ruskin’s father did that perhaps, when he told Ruskin to read as many books as he could, took him to bazaars and cinemas. I imagine that he used to tell Ruskin that he would be alone for the weekdays when his father went to the office and that Ruskin should take care of himself as he was a big boy! And Ruskin would have believed him. And once back home, he would have asked Ruskin how his day went and what did he read that day. Later at dinner, he perhaps told Ruskin how his own day went. And at bed time, he would tuck Ruskin in and tell another quick one story from the day, till little Ruskin went off to sleep. Aubrey would then, stand out in the verandah of the big Atul Grove bungalow and perhaps smoke a pipe; or a cigar thinking about his day in actuality, about Edith and his time with her, about the Royal AirForce and WW2 before his thoughts came to rest to little Ruskin sleeping peacefully tucked in. I am sure in his last moments, Aubrey thought of Ruskin and how his life would be once he was gone. Perhaps he took confidence that the boy would do well, for he was shaping into a fine independent boy. A short prayer, if not to the Gods, then to the human spirit must have passed his lips.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake has an episode where Ashoke walks a child Gogol to the end of the wharf. Once they reach the point from where they cannot go further, Ashoke realises that he has forgotten his camera in the car and now they cannot take a photograph. He tells Gogol that now this moment in life would have to remembered as a place from where there was no where else left to go.

Ruskin must have had his moment with his father. And I guess so do all of us.

Happy Birthday Ruskin Bond. Wish you live long.

A Photograph

B5E071DF-9F01-4F5A-9A46-24E36C7C8385Is an immediate memory of an event that has been immortalised by a calculation. The calculation is mental, physical, chemical – all in precision – timely and sometimes imperfect. In the times of chemicals and emulsions that we perhaps now call Alternative,  the calculation was a laborious process; in the digital camera it stands watered down to the mental plus and minus of the frame, the lighting and what can be added or deleted in the post process.

I find the photograph to be a first mile. It is an easy access to a vault of facts, is tangible a and can serve a multitude of purposes – it creates opportunity to document, to discuss, to debate, celebrate or record keeping. The tangibility furthers itself with a print of a moment that one can always touch though the print is fast being replaced or rather has been replaced by the memory bank of the modern day smart phone. But as much as the phone claims to be closer to tangibility, I feel it does not come as close as a print kept inside a book, a journal or a diary.

Ive heard conflicting views about whether a photograph should have text attached with it always. The debate in itself is contextual – it is the prerogative of the photographer to elucidate the photograph with some text. This debate now extends further to the kind of cameras being used, post processing, the photography as a digital art form (modification of the raw file; addition deletion of elements within the same). The photographic ecosystem has evolved itself; more so mutated itself – moving beyond the realm of right and wrong.

Will continue.

 

 

 

 

The Quarantine Roll

In the 20th year of the 2000th century occurred a great illness that forced the world inside their homes. Offices were shut, shops closed, streets emptied as Nations and their governments went about locking their citizens inside their (citizens) homes in a bid to save their lives. Billion’s were hospitalised and by the time it all ended million’s had lost their lives.

More than a billion photos were shot and shared across the world. Instagram and Zoom lunged to become the tools of talking and people actually found time to stick to one conversation for more than 7 minutes; because that was the only way they could hear themselves talk. Phone cameras proved their Godliness as photographers created bibles of phone photography. FaceTime found itself shooting fashion portraits. Everyone wanted to be live and kicking.

I too joined the bandwagon. And worked with my collective recapping our journeys as photographers. We re-saw each other’s work, our own work and rediscovered ourselves in more ways than one. Suddenly in 2020 mortality was awfully clear and a timeline had to be decided in which work had to be done. One day I realised how over the years I had built a small but significant body of work which could be dissected and discussed. Another day I learnt how to retrieve the film leader from a canister using double sided tape. I put 35mm film into my 120 mm camera and shot with a happy heart.

One day I thought my time is limited.

2020 promised to change my life forever. It was a jailbreak.

 

Ghalib

बल-ए-सर आ गिरो अबशार-ए-ग़ालिब में,

बहुत रहे सूखे सूखे अब तक

In recent times, there has been none who has touched me like Ghalib. The credit of deepening a cordial relationship to intimacy goes to someone who I admire much. What started as a song that was shared in the most unusual of all platforms, is now an every night conversation with this great poet brought to life by four other masters of their craft – Gulzar, the Late Jagjit Singh (peace be upon his soul), Naseeruddin Shah & finally Tanvi Azmi who were part of its televised version. You can find it on Youtube.

Ghalib lived a life long enough to see some major social and political turns in his lifetime. The mutiny of 1857; the subsequent strengthening of the British empire,, the thinning of bonds between Hindus & Muslims and the last days of the Mughal empire. Personally his life can be described as tragic, losing all his children before they turned 15 months, living a life in penury, struggles of supporting an extended family. But the brilliance never dimmed.

The more I read, see and listen to Ghalib, I draw parallels between him and the Divine Madman Of Bhutan – Drukpa Kunley. Both these fine persons, went about spreading their verse in the most unorthodox manners. However this had no impact on their fame; in fact they only got popular as time went by. There is another important coincidence –  between Ghalib and VanGogh. Both wrote letters; VanGogh to his brother Leo and Ghalib to himself. Both had so much to say. Ghalib, perhaps was lonelier, maybe he felt short of people who could understand his take.  Maybe they did’t take kindly to his excesses. However the letters from these two are now revered texts.

बलसर आ गिरो अबशारग़ालिब में,

बहुत रहे सूखे सूखे अब तक

 

 

 

 

My Ten Most Important Pictures On Instagram

I’m on the cusp of 700 followers on Instagram. Knowing the nature of social media just a bit, I feel its better to write this note out sooner than later. I wanted to do something similar when I hit 600 followers; I wrote the note and slept off planning to post it the next morning. When I woke up, the followers were down to 598.

I started on Instagram in 2013. That time phones were more for talking and the cameras hadn’t evolved into the selling feature. Filters were basic, I remember my favourite being Amaro. I don’t use it any more.

Thinking deeply, the journey with Instagram has been an elusive affair – one that excites for a moment and gradually wanes into a shadow only to emerge again at a turn of life. I’ve created hordes of images and put them up only to see them disappear unless I scroll down to see them again. As filters improved along with my limited photographic abilities, I found myself doing images that were a shade(s) better than the earlier years. What’s remained constant is the number of likes I get – a mean figure of 18 – 22. But in a figure of speaking even Gods need followers.

I use this post to remember 10 of my favourite posts on Instagram and the stories behind them –

10. Transgenders In Celebration

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The photograph that got me featured on Instagram. A lovely moment & a wonderful story to go with it.

9. Zauk’s Delhi

Samsara

Delhi is where I grew up. It was my teacher in the formative years. But as life went by, I started to detest the conditions I lived in. I moved to Pune and was seduced by its limitedness. Until a few months back, when I visited Delhi again and lived as a traveller. That is when Delhi revealed it to me. On my flight back, I reminisced about the sights that I’d seen, the foods I ate and people I met.

8. Balamwa

Samsara

At a concert almost a year back, Pt Sanjay Garud sang an awesome rendition of the iconic thumri – Balamwa. I was recording video just before he started singing. As soon as he sang his first song, I switched off the video and started doing photos. A few moments later I realised how grave an error had been committed. Thankfully I have an audio of the same. I go back to it from time to time. The audio recording is here.

7. At 38

Samsara

While I like being photographed, there haven’t been many occasions when I have actually been. And as time landed me on the wrong side of 30, I became conscious of my ever thinning hair. Then I read that once someone crosses 36, he seems to be less mindful of the worries of the world.

6. Taken By The Hand

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Jaisalmer made me meet Deepa. She took me by the hand and made her way into my heart – forever. You can read about Deepa’s story here.

5. Important Things Are Said Softly

Samsara

During my trip to Nepal after the devastating earthquake, I came across this moment on the street which instantly took me to my childhood. I went to college in Bangalore and after that for work moved to Delhi and Chandigarh and then to Pune. As I moved forward, I made new links but forgot old ones. I am not in touch with any of my childhood friends and with very limited friends from college.

4. Manto

Samsara

I started reading Manto a couple of years back. I was taken aback. His stories shocked me. And they moved me. The raw language laying bare emotions at their naked best. Kingdom’s end struck me like a avalanche.

3. Mumma 

Samsara

Mumma has been my hero for ever and ever. And the one thing I’ve always seen her doing is change the bedsheets and pillow covers. She did it in times of happiness, sorrow, easy and tough. But this visual came at what perhaps was a turning point in her life – when her grandson came home after his birth.

2. Salaried for Life

Samsara

I met this family of 5 at the protests of 2013 in New Delhi. The family comprised the parents, two sons with special abilities and the daughter who was perfectly “normal”. The father offered to pay half of his daughter’s salary to anyone who could help her get a government job so the family could afford a life.

1. The Human Condition

Samsara

Shot while making Ecosystem, this image stands out in my memory as the most gripping visual of a human emotion. I don’t know what transpired in their lives at that moment but this moment was just so raw. The couple stood at the same spot for an hour or so. Her hands were around him and he dwindled between comfort and discomfort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost In Wilderness

 

Delhi Summer -2

In a world full of images and inane words that describe them, I have been trying hard to find my space. In the last 3 years there have been countless times when I have been overwhelmed by the speed at which images are produced in this new world. I have been overwhelmed by the kind of images that have been produced by the people on view. Normal folks have become legends and then almost inexplicably have nose dived into a noise full of rubbish. Sounds are cacophony and colours are a riot that assault my senses. I hardly see any intelligence in work anymore and bodies are laid bare in the garb of intellect. Sounds are shrieks as one tries to over do another in an attempt to make the point.

But that’s my rant.

My reality though is this wilderness where I am lost. No one bothers me too much in this or rather should I say that I do not get bothered by anyone or anything any more. Growing up one realises that as days go by one must accept the world around them as it is. Life becomes smoother if not simpler and makes more sense. Like I go through my daily, people around me do the same, they have their laughs, pains and so do I. A world of transactions seems to be fitting in just too well.

I am tempted to write in detail about the last two years. 2008 had come as a decisive year and I have for so long imagined that there wont be a more impactful year in my life. I cannot say that I was proven wrong but I realised that there have been moments in the last 4 years that shaped up today and in the last 2 that have created this moment of writing. 2014 was a watershed – in just over 12 months I faced extreme mental and physical hardship and one day found my self working in Pune. The roller coaster continued and suddenly in 2016 I found myself quitting the corporate world and jumping into the art world formally.

Once again in life lay in front this amazing chance of challenge. There was and is a lot to be learnt and done. And in the last year and half I have done more than what I could have imagined. I get more and more comfortable and confident about my work and am pushing the limits. If life endures me this journey will only enrich.

You know, all the problems in life come with a purpose. Bigger the purpose, bigger the problem. Because the problem prepares you for the purpose. The purposes of our lives.

I am happily lost in the wilderness.

 

 

 

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