The User Feedback Survey

The folks sent across a survey form to be filled up. The one pattern I noticed was that the questions asked for comparative analysis ie. “best amongst”, “easiest amongst” and so forth. This has an amusing downside – if an user hasn’t actually ended up using competitor sites they may be tempted to give it a shot. And, additionally, it somewhat dilutes the brand/unique-ness of Flipkart as a business site.

A random selection from the survey questions are as follows:

  • At it is the easiest to search for products, compared to other online shopping sites
  • offers the widest range of payment options, when compared to other online shopping sites.
  • provides the best delivery AND after sales customer service, among all online shopping sites

with the options for responses ranging from “Disagree Strongly” to “Strongly Agree”.

The same survey could perhaps be re-designed to ask the users the following questions with a numerical rating (1 to 5) or, even the existing rating

  • You find it easy to use the search engine on the site to receive accurate and relevant product results
  • You find it easy to Order and Checkout using the options provided for payment
  • You will recommend the site to others based on delivery and after sales customer service performance

Was my hack the most optimal ? Surely not. But it does avoid the comparative behavior while trying to self promote.

Will it happen ? I don’t know. I sure wish it does.

I thought over this a bit. I think that the only thing I’d like to see in the Cricket World Cup 2011 finals (or, make that two things) is Virendar Sehwag going after the bowling in a way that only he can define,refine and execute (I believe that they call him the Nawab and sometimes the Butcher of Najafgarh) and Sachin Tendulkar piling on the runs with grace at the other end. I think it will remind me of that innings Sachin and Sourav shared on the way to what was (or, is it still ?) the highest run partnership at that batting position.

Will it happen ? I don’t know. I sure wish it does.

Am I being selfish in distilling a game of 22+ players into a spectacle for two ? I guess not. Cricket has assumed the grandiose nature of a battle of gladiators. These two are the best in the game.

Thank you for calling Airtel. Your call is very important to us.

Sometimes I wonder if the companies and brands really understand what it means when they don’t seem to listen and just keep repeating the same thing over and over again. A recent example could be my interaction with these folks. Someone is surely not reading the content and just responding for politeness’s sake.

An even recent example would be the conversation with the Airtel Digital TV folks I had yesterday. All I needed was to check up why it was taking more than 4 days to add a channel to my package inspite of using approved text messages and, while I was at it, I needed to add two more channels. It took me a sum total of 25 minutes with 15 of them “on hold” listening to either “your call is very important to us” or, the funky hold music. The problem that I see is that if you are telling for 10 minutes that “your call is very important to us” and yet not putting a human on the other end, then you have an issue with how important the call is. And, repeating that mantra time and time again without actually demonstrating to the customer (remember this is a phone – the customer has no way of knowing whether you’ve just put him/her on hold and decided to trim your moustache/file your nails) that there are events happening is a bad way of handling calls.

Providing the customer with an option to disconnect the call with an option for a charged call back might actually be something that is preferable than being on hold watching paint dry.

The Apu Trilogy

Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay is one of those authors whose works will stand the test of time. And that is not only for Bengali literature, but for world literature as a whole. There is this elfin and charming quaintness to his writing – an ability to observe and yet not criticize – an eye for detail where the daily routine bustles past, that makes his works so appealing. Ever so often I end up reading Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Chaander Pahar.

I was reading Andrew Robinson’s The Apu Trilogy : Satyajit Ray and the Making of an Epic since yesterday. If you have read Ray’s own jottings about the movie or, Robinson’s earlier works on it you’d find nothing truly new in the book. The insights and the stories have been written a lot of times, the anecdotes are more or less now in the domain of cinematic lore. However, that wasn’t what was tugging me to read through the book. I think it was Bibhutibhushan who was the force.

I read Pather Panchali when I was way too young to even understand the layered sensitivity and human emotions. And then followed it up with Aparajito. I still recall sitting in some stunned daze one evening when during an adda (if you are from erstwhile Calcutta you’d be familiar with the sort where a mixed group of folks sit together and chatter away about everything, this isn’t the famous ‘adda’ that draws the intellectuals, but more a group whiling time at a local club) someone said that Aparajito was also known as ‘The Unvanquished’. All at once there was, for me, an interesting revelation about the drama in the book. And way later when I watched the trilogy, the one thing that I recall very clearly was Apu’s toothy grin when he sets out with Kajal on his shoulders. For years and years Soumitra Chatterjee redeemed himself in every quirky movie of his that I watched because he was Apu. An Apu who indeed plumbed the depths of rootlessness and emerged unvanquished in every way to seek out a newer, better future with his son.

Ray’s interpretation of the novels have its flaws. Some have celebrated the flaws as ‘his interpretation’ of the text and sometimes provided rationale about the choices made. Irrespective of all of that, the thing that works the best for me is perhaps that Apu (whosoever plays the character) never loses his innate curiosity and goodness.

Done with

I’ve been using for a while now. They been good. Easy to search and add books, received and picked up on time (nearly always) etc. However, I am kind of done with them. And, I just asked them to cancel my existing membership and figure out if a pro-rated refund on the renewal is possible.

My account was due for renewal sometime around 19Jan2011. I used their online payment gateway to renew it a week before it expired. Sometime in the middle of February I received a call from them urging me to renew my membership. Upon being forwarded the email with the renewal details a somewhat lame, if acceptable excuse came forward (“the system wasn’t showing this transaction” – ever wonder why it is always ‘the system’ ?). But what takes the cake is that yesterday I had a fairly belligerent chap call me up claiming to be an agent of the site and demanding that I either show him a proper receipt of payment of renewal charges or, pay cash. He wasn’t interested in the print out of the email which had the renewal charge processing notification. Well, since I wasn’t keen on doing that, I told him to check up with the site itself and then revert. I receive another call today urging me to pay cash.

In my book this is ridiculous way of treating customers. I’m done with these folks.

Using a Nexus S.

I’ve been using a Nexus S since end January 2011. In no particular order here are some observations.

  • Contrary to expectations the battery life is around 2-3 days for my usage pattern (infrequent WiFi, nearly no bluetooth and no GPS etc)
  • The screen is a smudge magnet that is beyond description. The tiniest bit of smudge material creates a layer of unsightly swipes
  • The screen area is good for the Kindle App. With the black background white text setting I can actually read books pretty nicely and that is a high usage pattern.
  • The display is good and pretty rich if a color rich wallpaper is used.
  • The only video I have is Eben Moglen’s FOSDEM 2011 keynote and it plays pretty well (I had converted it anyway, read more here)
  • Angry Birds, Paper Toss and Alchemy work well 🙂 (as much I installed them for illicit entertainment)
  • Touchdown works. Yay !
  • The YouTube player is sometimes iffy on high resolution videos
  • The TED app makes it easy to listen to a well curated talk list
  • The actual physical phone hardware lends itself to a good grip once you can get over the lightness of it all
  • The hot spot thing works nicely too. Didn’t have more than two devices to try it out with though.The phone tends to heat up slightly.
  • The stock browser is a bit of a bore and so I ended up installing and using Opera Mini (although I also installed Opera Mobile)
  • The stock Android 2.3 UI is a bit of a vanilla one. In fact I quite liked the tweaks in the UI provided by LG (albeit on 2.2) with the pull down bar allowing one to quickly connect to a GPRS or, move into a Silent mode etc. In fact I am looking for suggestions on alternative launchers.
  • The phone doesn’t have too many external buttons (there’s a power on/off and the volume switch) and that is a bit of a gotcha. When it comes to having to unlock each time to do stuff.
  • I haven’t had the call drop issue yet.
  • Haven’t used the phone to record a video and the rear camera works pretty decently (haven’t used the flash on it). The front camera, as expected is heavily grainy

Where’s the app ?

When you go out with friends to a restaurant and then want to split the bill a mayhem ensues. Generally there’s always a majority who don’t have the exact or, near-exact denomination in notes. And so the “you remember to pay me later” etc followed up by generally fussiness about how much is owed by whom etc happens.

So, where’s the app that allows me to add the ‘handles’ of the friend along with the final amount and then everyone gets notified to transfer the money electronically to a specified bank account. In other words, I pay the bill, add the folks who intend to split it up (and thus ensuring even-steven split) and each of them get a notification to “pay me”. That is connected to a fund receipt system and hence this inglorious cash exchange at the end of the meal is taken care of.

Where’s the app ?

Transactional grief.

Around 13 days back I chanced upon the Blue Frog music store and decided to purchase some albums. While attempting to check-out and pay by a Visa card the payment gateway (CC Avenue) threw an odd error of Error Code: 94 Error Description: Amount Invalid. Just for the heck of it I changed browsers (Chromium -> Google Chrome -> Firefox -> Opera on a stock Fedora 14 installation) and saw the same result.

I wrote in to the contact address, which is the sales@ address/alias.

I was advised to try a Mastercard as “Mastercard sometimes works better than Visa cards” (exact quote). Tried that. Same result. Tried, just for kicks, the same browser hoop – same result. And thereafter informed the contact about being unable to complete the transaction. All this continued for around a week or so by the time I had more or less decided to give up.

The point of this post is that how often do online retailers/shops lose customers because their payment gateways end up causing transaction grief ? And, how prepared are they to be able to provide alternative means of payment ? In this case I was offered the option of an electronic transfer to enable the transaction completion. However, an electronic transfer wouldn’t provide me with a system generated receipt. Which is the natural end result of a check-out during a purchase.

So, how do the retailers deal with these situations ?


On greed of a different sort

The problem with greed is that it is inevitably linked to downfall. Greed or, the sin of excess is one of the seven deadly sins. And it is probably the easiest to fall for.

Self control is an exhaustible resource. And, there are times during my training walk+runs that this is completely evident. The urge to just give up and return home is such a sweetly dangling temptation that one can actually probably feel the neurons acting in concert asking the muscles to work that way. So, the only way to counter the temptation is to invoke greed – a sinful need to do better. Over a small period of time my walk+runs have notched up from 1.5 km to 5 km. I consider a tremendous improvement especially because I can actually feel the difference. The problem is that I become greedy. In spite of a pretty much decently chalked out schedule, I decided that I’ll push for half a kilometer more at the same pace. This morning.

Guess what ?

My legs are such a sheer mass of pain today that I’d rather go home, tuck in and let them be. Gordon Gekko was right – greed clarifies.