Monday, November 3, 2008

The Point is Missing

In the course of acclimatization to the new work-world, which seemed to have till now few opportunities of applying what we had slogged over in b-school, I sometimes felt that my new work life was full of plain good old troubleshooting.

At this stage, I was assigned clients for Account Planning/ Client Servicing, which is the function I was handling within my firm. A lot of it involved receiving and making telephone calls to clients, and ancillary organizations like ad agencies, outdoor media specialists, media agencies, direct marketing companies, PR firms and Event management companies.

Most calls were mundane; fairly routine in nature. However some ended up being a little unusual. Far from the hallowed semi-intellectual, insightful discussions I'd imagined myself participating in.

Particularly so when they were in full hearing of my by now inevitable audience. The same pair who witnessed my embarrassing personal call a few days ago, had walked into LL's cabin where I had to take the call as per our ever helpful Executive Assistant's suggestion. This maneuver was necessary as our workstation was so noisy that it easily sounded like peak lunch hour at an Udipi restaurant.

On this day, Mr. Sen, the General Manager-Marketing, of one of the largest industrial houses of India dealing in commodities had called up. India, still largely 70:30 urban-rural, this was one of my largest-sized clients in terms of revenue.

Mr. Sen was a somewhat elderly gentleman, and spoke with a lisp, in a pronounced Assamese accent, which took some getting used to. Every conversation with him usually left me with a surreal feeling, and this time was no different as I was still rusty at interpreting his accent. I liked him though, as he was always polite and spoke with respect, which was a distinct pleasure in the new circles I found myself moving in, primarily consisting of disgruntled and tough as nails sales managers.

“Ah shit… ", he drawled, "thank you for sending the meeting report on time." No, he wasn't being profane. That's how he pronounced my name, Ashita.

He continued, "However, as I went through it, I realized that the whole point is missing.

Now, the last meeting was pretty much as per the agenda framed earlier and to my mind had gone well, with each point being discussed, debated upon and a consensus reached quite satisfactorily.

Consequently, getting this feedback from the client really shocked me. He was questioning the way I had planned it all.

"The whole point's missing?” I blankly repeated. This was a person who usually never had a negative word, or always phrased things diplomatically. Plus, this was an account where I was involved right from the pitch stage and had the joy of having them sign up with us. I had left no stone unturned and had created new standards of servicing for them. Each interaction was a new discovery into the world of commerce, the diversity of each geographical zone and I was thrilled with mini-new epiphanies every now and then.

A new account for us, this was the crucial stage where the company could easily decide to cut their losses and move on (from us) if they were dissatisfied with anything. Also, their move would influence a lot of future, Potential clients. (Refer to the Glossary section for definitions).

Having an audience at the wrong moment, that too, the same one, was yet another instance of the aforementioned Murphy in my life. Why no one was around to witness it when I received a professional compliment, I could never understand. Yet, the first whiff of negativity from the client and hark - there you had a ready pair of interested ears perking up.

“Yes”, replied Mr. Sen with what seemed like ghoulish insistence on the subject.

Deciding to defend my reputation and put up a fight, I firmly responded with, “Mr. Sen, we went as per the pre-decided agenda, covering a few additional matters as well and we made great progress on several key issues”. As you can see, I’d by now got the hang of saying a lot without actually saying anything, if you know what I mean.

Mr. Sen responded very nicely to this and affirmed that yes, everything was covered, however the point, as he could see, was missing.

Despite the negative feedback, I felt a tingle of pleasant surprise. Till now, he had seemed a man of simple thinking, very easy-going, almost bucolic. While talking with him, one always felt that he wasn't quite all there. Discovering this philosophical depth to his mind was intriguing.

Pondering on his comment, I had to agree. There were times when I'd wondered at the futility of what we did for the brands we handled as it seldom translated into the utopian objectives we had for it. Of course, I say this in confidence. You'd never catch me admitting this to a client. What I mean is, I could make a research analysis interpretation on the product attributes with consumers sound positive or negative by interpreting it's findings accordingly. Devious LL was an expert at this. My conscience was still alive and kicking so I'd managed to avoid manipulating results thus far. Spiderman really had it all figured out. With great power came great responsibility. You'd have a hard time convincing LL of though. He would agree and yet manage to convince you that manipulating research results was being responsible. More on this some other time, though.

Anyway, getting back to the call, I decided to go with the flow, consequences be damned.

“You know, Mr. Sen, its true. This needed to be said. Am so glad someone did. I do think about it very often. Am relatively new at this and still trying to make sense of the corporate world, but working for someone who makes a hundred thousand a day while I make under a thousand and for clients who very often are purely into profiteering makes me wonder what the point of it all is. We get stuck with our own selfish money-making agendas and it’s not fulfilling…”.

“Yes, yes… so you’ll send me the point?” said Mr. Sen who was clearly not paying attention.

“What???”. I wondered why Grammar was such a neglected subject.

Thinking feverishly about what he could mean, I gestured to my team-member who’d entered a minute ago, to bring me a copy of the alleged report of the meeting, from notes I had taken. Since I was now Manager, I had people reporting to me. In effect, the only difference was it meant that they keyed in the report, not me. And I could delegate the more boring tasks to them.

My hopes of breaking into new insightful territories with Mr. Sen were all too good to be true. He clearly wasn't commenting on the futility of most of what we did. I thought about Mr. Sen and our past conversations. And suddenly got it.

I heard the door open and spotted my boss about to walk in. He was partly wedged into the room as his opening the door meant that my team-mate was half squashed behind the door and the cabin wall. No other sight made my mind race as much. If LL smelled a complaint, it meant a blot on my as yet unblemished record. Not to mention my reputation to be salvaged in front of my interested audience.

I suddenly felt a burst of goodwill towards Mr. Sen. Must be the endorphins from the adrenalin rush, a reaction to the stress I always felt on seeing LL. In a way, I was happy. With Mr. Sen, what you saw was what you got. I'd rather have a client who was easily satisfied. Knowing LL was keenly listening, I continued.

“Mr. Sen, before I respond, let me state how much of a pleasure it is to work with you and your team. Let me assure you that there’s no 'point missing'. Yes, the automatic paragraph numbering in the MS-Word typed report has jumped from 14. to 16. Am planning to write to Bill Gates on this matter. Why the numbering goes haywire in a saved document, whenever a print command is given to the printer shall always remain a mystery to me. Meanwhile, I’m sorry for the inconvenience, and Seema will re-send the report with the correct numbering in serial order.”

As I paused to draw in breath, Mr. Sen slowly said, “So, the point is not missing?”

“No, Mr. Sen.”

I sent an obligatory frown to Seema to indicate the least she could do was check the bullet point numbering on what was sent out. In case you are smarter than the average reader and use an operating system different from Microsoft, then read this explanation. He had meant “a” point was missing. A numbering point like this:-

1.Phase I of Product launch to be on Dassera*

2.Media rollout on 1st Dec

4.Phase II commences 15th Jan

Notice how 2 skips to 4. I swear it happens. For anyone who's suffered this, and wants to gripe, do get in touch. Will be happy to offer words of wisdom and the solution. 

*Auspicious day of launch as per the Hindu calendar. All clients were deeply terrified of earning the ire of Gods by launching at an inauspicious time. All us Group heads had a mandatory calendar of religious dates taped to our desktops.

“Are you sure?”, repeated Mr. Sen.

Clearly he needed time to get used to the new state of affairs.

“Yes, Mr. Sen. Everything discussed and every decision taken has been included fully in the report. How did you find the report otherwise?” I quickly added.

“Oh, excellent, excellent as always” replied Mr. Sen, very gratifyingly, and clearly enough for LL to hear. "They are always helpful. So all points are there, eh?”

I reflected on how one never learned things like this, how to interpret and use keen psychology, deep perceptual insights, to understand what the client actually meant.

After due reassurance I bid adieu and turned to LL.

I felt naughty and bold. It was time to say it. Especially, with the right number of witnesses present. I looked straight at my nemesis.

“Don’t you think I deserve a raise, LL?". 

I saw my faithful audience nod.


Beta said...

Nice one, yet again.

Annoymously said...

Glad to hear it :)

Hiren Gajria said...

Well said woman. Im intersting to hear from you regarding this incident. My next blog is on branding. Watch out for that, maybe tonight.

Annoymously said...


Waiting for it.