AlwaysWoW! For a Great Great WoW in Life

Thoughts from me about things that are cool, that are WoW, that blow me away. Observations about businesses and people from a wide variety of life. Daily encounters - and thoughts outside the box, inside the box and without any box. New thinking, and challenging old thinking. Passionate about life, about respect, and about integrity.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Back to work, finally

This was a nice, nice break, actually.

First, there was my longer Hari Raya break that lasted about 1.5 weeks. Than, two days of work, followed by three days of travelling on a cruise with my company. Okay, the latter was a lot of work, and meetings and discussions and all that, but still, it was away from the office.

As I mentioned earlier, I got a bit sick when I came back, but really, it was more exhaustion than sickness. I mean, we had a Karaoke session on the ship until past 3.00 AM in the morning with a lot of beers and even more songs. And when I start to sing, no one can stop me. Hehe. With only 4 hours of sleep and another round of meetings on Friday morning followed by a long trip home via Johor - naturally, any body is tired and so was mine. Subsequently, I fall asleep early on Saturday evening at my sister-in-laws place. I think it was about 8.00 PM. Didn't have diner, and only woke up to drive back to our condominium. Brought my kid to bed - which was tough, because he was awake and I am still tired, but I managed with being a bit pushy - watched Jay Leno - and went back to bed to have another long round of sleep.

Today is thus my first day back at work and hey- have I been famous. So many e-mails to respond to, so many things to write. I am not quite sure yet, if I am in the mood to push hard and work hard, well, I did already. Need to clean up that inbox. What I cannot stand is the mess on my table. I am sitting in a cubicle, all of us do, and there is not enough space to accommodate so much paper on the table and all the reports and so. So one of these days, have to clean up, seriously, to get my table clean for about one week, before it starts piling up again. This is called the circle of life, isn't it?

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Line management on a cruise

It is always annoying to wait in line somewhere for something. In fact, it seems, that half of our life is spend waiting for something in line. Waiting for the taxi, waiting in cinemas to start with the movie, waiting in the line of McDonalds or KFC, waiting in line in departments that your number is being called and so on - you will know plenty of more stories.

Hardly anything in this is fun - mostly, it is dreadful. I am constantly thinking of how companies could create a better customer experience when they would just be able to manage waiting lines better. In fact, this is one reason why Starbucks in the US became so successful. They transformed the "waiting in line for your coffee" into an experience. It is not that bad to wait in line at Starbucks anymore.

I mentioned already in one of my recent entries about conferences how much better a conference organiser could connect to the audience while they have to wait for a speaker to turn up. Or for the room to fill. Ever since that conference I was thinking about it. I looked at the lines that formed at FitnessFirst, when one of their training sessions start and people cue up to get "the permission to participate".

I had a great experience in Singapore. My firm organised a tour with Star Cruises for our offsite meeting. Yeah - I was on a cruise, my first - but than, while I had swim trunks with me, and slippers and shorts, I didn't wear any of those since we were busy trashing out ideas for the firm to go forward.

Disembarking from the ship could have been a nightmare. It was a nightmare entering the ship with about 1,000 or more people trying to get into it. Now, at the departure, there were four gates which were manned that did a last check on the passenger, if everything is in order before disembarking. The room where we were waiting is a theater.

Three long columns with rows and rows of seats to be filled up. People could have sat down anywhere but it didn't happen. People could have get restless, since the wait was long. The ship had to anchor first and safely, before disembarking could begin. All of this took more than 30 minutes.

What did Star Cruise do? They had an entertainer organising the sitting and the conversation with the audience during the wait. No, not somebody who swings ropes but somebody called Ricky who just talked to the audience, and entertained or involved them.

It was simple but efficient - he went through all the countries and asked the audience if there was anyone there from that country. He changed this sometimes, when he didn't remember any country - like for "O", he couldn't recall any name in the beginning. So he said "Osaka ---- country in Japan". Smiled to the 3 or 4 Japanese in the audience. He talked about Russia and that he loves their tennis star ... (I don't know the name). He said that he likes it because her skirt is so high during the tournaments and he can see lots of her legs. Cheap jokes, brought well.

He even managed to get us off the boat well. He just kept talking, while he organised the way the rows along the columns were let down to the exit.

It is difficult to describe all of this in detail. But it was clear that he knew what he was doing. He was spontaneous - some of the jokes will be repeated every time, but some where new, since the situation changed - this was clear.

But here was a company that was able to connect with the customer in a situation that could be bad or dreadful. This was a company that works on operational efficiency, in the usual business sense. This means their employees are able to board, serve and entertain 1,000 passengers in an extremely efficient way - you didn't see the operations in the background, but things were done and there was no reason to complain. And they were able to entertain customers, when required, in critical situations, in addition to connecting with them. This was a great experience and gives me hope that the experience economy can be a reality in Asia.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Crossing over to Malaysia and now I am sick

I came back from Singapore yesterday - we had to take a coach from Copithorn Hotel in Singapore to cross through the border to Malaysia and take to flight from Johor Airport. This was decided by my company due to financial considerations.

The problem is that I have two passports - well, only one, of course. But the old one contains my work permit for Malaysia, and the new one contains a remark that there is a work permit in the other passport. Normally, I never have problems when I travel from and to KLIA, but I am always expecting trouble when I am entering Malaysia from Johor, or Perlis.

Now, it happened. The officer at immigration called his supervisor, and she gave me a two weeks visa. I discussed with her but she was pretty stern! Now I need to transfer my work permit from the old to the new passport. I am not sure if I like to go to immigration - the overall perception in Malaysia about the department is not high enough. I hope I don't have problems or long delays. It is such a waste of time, to sit in a department and wait. I rather work - hey - that is what I am paid for.

I felt yesterday already that I would get sick - just have the feeling in my bones. My body aches and I am just not in a good mood. Normally a sign that I get sick and what I normally do is to go to bed very early with Vitamin C in my blood and some Panadol. It also happens when I am totally overworked and my body screams for a rest that I was not willing to give earlier. But this time, it really is a flu - a lot of my friends and colleagues are coming down with it and I know that it is a nasty bug.

What I am angry is that I cannot go and finally meet my blogger "buddy" Jordan, who has got an open house today.

More stories about Singapore to follow.

Friday, November 26, 2004

We will always have problems

That is great, isn't it? How will you as a company attract customers, if someone tells them even before they get in contact with you, that you as a company have problems?

Either I am incredible tired and misunderstand the whole story or Prime Minister John Howard did just that - he told the public that Telstra, the leading telecommunications company in Australia which is slated for privatisation:

"I don't think you will ever eliminate all problems with service delivery by Telstra whether it is owned 50 per cent by the government or owned 100 per cent by the public. No company will be 100 per cent perfect."

Agree - no company will be 100% perfect. Markets move and change is constant - when you are trying to make yourself perfect, you are probably out of the market and innovated away by faster and more agile competitors - failure is also a constant.

But hey - what message do you give your customers already? "Sorry, okay - we know we are bad, but please, give us your business anyway?"

May be I don't understand but as far as I understand business, this is not the way a winner is winning.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Bankrupting my kid

I am not sure if this is a nice headline, but well, over the last couple of days, I played a lot of games with my kid.

Some card games, even Black Jack - without money involved, of course. But it helps him to learn to add up numbers - and this quickly, so this has some value, of course.

I also taught him another card game, which is similar to UNO, but with the "normal" cards. Everybody gets about 7 cards from the pile. If you place a "7", the next player has to take two cards. If he or she puts another "7", he wouldn't have to take two cards, but the next player would have to take two and so on.

If you put an "eight", the next player skips a round. With a "9", the sequence is reversed. Put a "J" and you can wish the next card calour and hope that the color is still there if it is your enxt turn. If you have one card left you ahve to shout "Mau", and if you forget it, you ahve to take a card as penalty (when one other player sees it). If you finish all the cards, you are Mau Mau. Sorry - it is a German card game.

Than, we played "The Game of Life". My kid won quite frequently. He bought "Monopoly" with his Raya money and well, it helps him to understand money and to calculate. Robert Kiyosaki is calling. We want to teach him another lesson.

I wonder if my parents were thinking the same when I was a kid. That they were trying to teach me something everytime we played. Or is it just that we do this today, since the general societal pressure is also coming onto us? Not sure, and also not sure, if this is always nice. Why not playing something for the sake of playing and don't have a "hidden" agenda behind it?

I bankrupt my kid on Sunday. Well, I helped him and his niece quite a lot, but than, he got into debt, came out again and than took one of the cards where he has to go back three steps. Before that, he avoided my streets, but now, with this card, he was thrown back - onto my hotel. The results? He cried - I don't want to be bankrupt - but I have no money anymore.

Parents - hm? Don't know. I hope he still has fun playing it, and I didn't cause permanent damage to his behaviour - that from now on, he is risk averse.


Singapore on Wednesday

My company is planning an offsite meeting and that means that I have to go to Singapore from tomorrow onwards. I won't be able to blog on Thursday and Friday (only late, Friday night, may be), so well, a short relief from my addiction to blog.

However, if someone is of you bloggers from Malaysia is in Singapore or if one of the Singaporean readers from Singapore would like to meet me over coffee in the afternoon, I would be honoured. Honestly.

Send me an e-mail if interested.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Lufthansa in Germany - Standing out from the crowd

Lufthansa is trying to stand out from the crowd, just like others that go against the trend.

The European market, just like any other market, is flooded with low-cost airliners and frequently, established airliners try to cope by lowering their own cost structure and prices. Often, they fail. It is difficult to change your business model from something like a high-flyer to suddenly a lowcost carrier. A different mindset, a different culture, different values. It is nothing that you can achieve over night, most companies will never be able to.

You cannot teach employees to smile. There is a story about Southwest Airlines and the request for passengers to keep their seatbelt fastened when seated. Most airliners just announce the recommendation via their intercom - the story goes that one Southwest Airline Stewardess approached a passenger who sat on his chair with an unfastened seatbelt with the words: "Ooops, your seatbelt is broken into two pieces." Not funny? Well, may be, but different. Or to have stewards sing on board or when pilots tell jokes. A company that does this consistently will attract a certain followership - not the Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, but those, who can cope with it.

Lufthansa is going against the trend - they are upgrading their service. "It believes that well-heeled people will pay for a chauffeur to park their cars, valets to carry suitcases, for a massage and dinner followed by a cigar in luxurious surroundings before boarding," is written in the article. Or:"This week it unveiled a spanking new luxury terminal for first-class passengers, which resembles more a five-star hotel than a soulless functional airport. From Dec. 1, top-paying customers can sit down to a cordon-bleu dinner, choose between 50 of the world's best whiskies at the bar, smoke a cigar in a special lounge or simply freshen up in marble bathrooms before boarding their flight.
There are no crowds, no queuing and no jostling, just 1,800 square meters (19,000 square feet) of luxury amenities at the disposal of about 350 passengers a day."

It might just work, you know. It won't attract me - I simply won't be able to afford it, and my employer will also say no to it, but others might go for it. Yeah, the Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, may be.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Stupid employees

I went to an open house last Friday and overheard a conversation between a marketing communications person working in a hotel and person who has some dealings with this hotel on behalf of his company. Lets call the Communications Person A and the other one B.

Apparently some employees in the hotel messed up something earlier and the two talked about it. A apologised profoundly, more than once, which is okay. She said that she is very sorry about this. The part that I didn't like at all was when she said that it was the fault of her stupid employees who didn't behave correctly. In front of a customer!! She mentioned stupid a couple of times.

It is my opinion that mess ups are normal, and a way of life. Hey - we all mess up - and if we won't fail, life would be boring. Failure is development. We have to accept it. Gosh, if we get scolded or punished every time we do something wrong, we would be discouraged to do anything new. Look at babies - they try and try and try - they fail constantly. If we scold them, they would keep crawling on the floor. They wouldn't dare to get up and may be, we would never have walked on two legs. The first person to walk on two legs would have been killed by his or her tribe - don't do it, you cannot walk on two legs, never do that again - bam bam bam - dead!!

Babies are happy when you encourage them. The most happiest "creatures" on earth, so to say. Nothing beats the smile of a kid that has accomplished something.

Someone in this hotel hired the employees, can it be that those "Stupid Employees" were hired by the same department, the same person may be that hired you as well? What makes you better than?

She said that those employees had already been replaced, but this doesn't make it better. May be an "accident by recruitment". Still. I don't like when people complain about others. Imagine, I complain to some person called 1 about someone else called 2. How trustworthy am I? Isn't it possible that I complain to the other person 2 about you, number 1, as well, once I meet him or her? What kind of climate do I create? I climate of mistrust, of biching, so to speak.

Don't get tangled up in my thoughts, but I think it is really really bad and not integer, neither from the person nor does it speak well about the hotel - which is not very known anyway - could this be a result?

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Direct marketing - one more

Okay - may be this is a boring entry, or may be it will give input to other entries - I don't know, but well, this blog is also a collection of stories for me.

I flipped through a magazine called BusinessToday yesterday and found this article about this one company. Apparently, they first collect data for 12 months, than mine those data for their clients following the Pareto principle that states that 20% of what effects 80% of your results. In this case 20% of the customers result in 80% of the revenues (they wrote 20-25%). A common principle, successfully used in the business world.

What I didn't like too much was the way the CEO addressed the consumers in their campaign:

"After analysing the data further we blast these potentials with direct marketing and cross selling efforts."
Those who follow my blog know that I believe words can make a difference in a company and instill the ambition amongst employees to go beyond what is required.
And with regard to this, I am not sure if I want to be blasted with direct marketing efforts. Honestly, I hope that they haven't found me in their database. And I rather prefer to be cross-sold by great experiences such as those that I frequently have with my Teh Tarik guy.


Peanuts and television ads

Okay - I mentioned it various times before that I like to be up North with my in-laws. What is amazing is the number of hours in the day that the television in playing. Frequently, the TV is playing Malaysian channels, but oftentimes, we flip to other channels for a short while and back again.

But who is actually watching television? During the daytime, frequently the "youngsters" only - they watch Cartoon or Disney Channel, while in the evening, the adults gather around it to watch movies on local channels, or sometimes HBO or other movie channels.

However, if there are visitor (and there are a lot), the TV is switched to a local station in the daytime as well, but we sit at the table a bit further away to talk. Some sit on the sofas around the TV to still watch TV, or talk to other people that also sit on the sofa.

During Hari Raya, a lot of times, we played those stations that broadcasted Hari Raya music. Sorry for the detailed description of how the house looks like.

What I wanted to say is that the sheer amount of advertisement played on local TV stations is amazing - and the number of interruptions that we have to endure. It really is no fun.

I think in a 90 minute movie, there are about 30 minutes of commercial breaks. I don't watch local stations too often, and haven't realised this in such a detail. I watch movie channels, which don't have advertisements. Other channels that I usually watch are Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, or BBC, CNBC or CNN - they have commercial breaks but not that many.

Those interruptions in the local channels are really upsetting. The book that I brought along to read contains a nice, but somehow ironical exercise to show the uselessness of advertisements. It says the following:

"Sit down and watch an hour and a half of commercial television with a small bag of peanuts. Take as the basic premise that any good piece of communication has to be at least relevant and distinctive. Count the number the number of ads that fulfill this single basic premise and mark each one with a peanut on the arm of your chair. Eat the other peanuts - It might be depressing but at least you don't go hungry."

I think I would have ate tons of peanuts while I was in Perlis. It is of course a matter of defining distinctive or relevant, and each viewer has a different definition. But there was hardly any ad that would have been distinctive and relevant to me - try it yourself!

But hey - I liked the Petronas ad - and I liked the passage when the guy at the piano turned around and said that it is not necessary that everytime someone needs to die in Petronas ads. But while it is entertaining and distinctive, it is not relevant.

A Harvard Business Review article, back in 2002, wrote the following:

"Copernicus (a research company) researched 340 commercials shown in prime time and identified a differentiating brand message--that is, a clear positioning--in only 7% of those ads."

And yeah, this is how I feel - sorry about this commercial thinking of mine, but what has to be said has been said. Lol.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Against the trend - look at this monster burger

There is this huge debate ongoing in the US about health and obesity and the relation between companies such as McDonalds and Wendy or Burger King or just too much food.

There are plenty of statistics around to show that Americans are obese. Fastfood joints go for health after coming increasingly under attack. They reduce the sizes of their burgers, and offer salads. Basically, they are screaming that they are not that bad and that they want to be seen as healthy. But, again, they will look the same in the end and there is no way, a consumer is changing the mind of how they see the companies.

One company is standing up against the trend and thus, stands out from the crowd: It is Hardees Restaurant - they now offer a Monster Thickburger with 1,420 calories and 107 gram of fat. Totally unhealthy - but they claim it is not a burger "for tree-huggers but one for young, hungry guys who want a really big, delicious, juicy, decadent burger. I hope our competitors keep promoting those healthy products, and we will keep promoting our big, juicy delicious burgers."

One can say what he/ she wants - they surely stand out from the crowd - I am not saying that this is good, but that it is a way to stand out from the crowd - you got to see the picture of the burger.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Going home tomorrow

Okay - my holiday is nearly over. Tomorrow afternoon, we will embark on the journey back to Kuala Lumpur. I hope that traffic will be easy, but guess, it is. I am also looking forward to seeing those watch towers that I missed the first time around when we came here before Hari Raya.

I actually just realised today that I was hardly out, besides at those days when we went to visit other houses.

Normally, I like to sit in front of the house, on the porch and just enjoy the sun and the garden. This time I was hardly there. I sat inside, read my books, talked to others, watched television, slept, ate, played pillow battles or cards with my kid or didn't do anything much.

It was just too hot to go out. Just sitting outside for a while caused sweating. Too hot, way too hot.


The greatest eater on Earth

Argh - I don't think I want to do this for a living. A 26 year old Japanese (who is slender, weighting 60 kilos), vowed to eat 69 hamburgers in eight minutes - no mentioning if it is Ramli Burger, Bic Mac, Cheeseburger or Chicken Burger.

He is the undefeated champion in hot-dog eating competitions as well and plans the "line-extension into burger competitions" (my editions). Other eating records: he holds "records for eating cow brains -- eight kilos (17.7 pounds) in 15 minutes -- and traditional Japanese rice balls at nine kilos (20 pounds) in half an hour."

And, what's more, he is doing this fulltime - and took home US$10,000 in a recent competition.

Well, I surely can think of better ways to earn a living. That's not a WoW for me.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Atlantis discovered?

Jess's blog made me aware of it. But close to Cybrus? So boring, actually. I always thought it is in the middle of the Atlantic, far away.

What would this mean to me? Is this a WoW? Well, it could be since it opens up the space for a lot of new discoveries and learning and all.

But, it would also mean the end of imagination, and riddles and an end to another dream from the childhood - who didn't start to dream about Atlantas when you heard it first in your life? Anyone here knows the song by Donovan - Atlantis? Beautiful. It is a very, very old song, but it is great and tells the story of Atlantis and its great discoveries, and when the priests of Atlantis learnt that their island is doomed, they send all their ships away to tell the world about their disaster. Nice song.

But, may be, now, new imaginative stories begin to take form?

Sunday, November 14, 2004

So much food

I am going to the gym to lose food. Running on the treadmill, sweating along. Trying to get better, hoping, to keep my body in shape and fit. Always thinking about future health and how some exercise keeps one young. I do this in Fitness First although I am not too excited about them.

I am trying to reduce the amount of food I eat over lunch or diner. There is just so much food and if I would always eat what I get, I would be doubling my size. I am waking up the stairs in the office building - just two floors - to stay healthy. I listen to the new advertisement about Sehat that is played in the radio every morning, and I don't like it too much but what to do - they play it while I drive and I like to listen to station (do you know which advertisement I mean? - nevermind, if not).

Food is the unifying connection between all Malaysians . There is Indian culture, Malay culture, Chinese culture and some real healthy mix of all in between. What ties them all together is the love for food. Go to any stall, and you find a healthy mixture of all ethnic groups frequenting (as long as it is halal, of course).

There are plenty of festivals in Malaysia - I only know of one country where they have more festivals and that is Sri Lanka. I read that a governmental officer could have about 180 days off in a year - they even have a holiday declared when their team wins in Cricket. But I love what Malaysia has to offer in terms of holidays - Islamic holidays, Chinese and Indian ones, and those that apply to all groups - like the Independence Day Celebrations.

Hari Raya (similar to Chinese New Year, I think), means visiting other houses and families. Relatives and close friends. Today is Hari Raya and now, that it is 7.30 PM, I am stuffed. I am absolutely, incredibly staffed. I cannot eat anymore. While it is nice (most of the time) to visit people's house and meet new people, you are always invited to eat. Malay food like Ketupat, Nasi Himpit, the famous Laksa, Hari Raya Cookies, Chocolade Cakes and so on. In each house. I think we visited may be ten, but I lost track. And that is just the first day of Hari Raya. I had the strange feeling that every time, we entered the car, it sank a bit deeper down. We all ate and ate and ate.

So here I go. I lost 3.5 kilos over the last couple of weeks and months. But I don't dare to get onto any scale in the near future.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Selamat Hari Raya and Maaf Zahir dan Batin

My apologies to all of those that I have offended with my writing.

Tomorrow is Hari Raya, and I can smell the food in the kitchen - Perlis Laksa. I fall in love with my mum-in-law's Laksa the first time I tasted it. It is fantastic, and still one of the best in the country (my very personal opinion, since no one is able to contradict it). But be aware the Laksa in Little Penang in Megamall is a great competitor, hehe.

I will keep writing and writing and writing until the next Hari Raya. And those of you, who read what I write, and like or dislike what I write, please feel free to submit feedback. Even criticise - I appreciate constructive criticism but accept everythingand will see everything as feedback.

Have fun over the next couple of days - celebrate and simply make it a WoW, okay?

For those outside Malaysia:
(Hari Raya is celebrating the end of the fasting month or Ramadan in Malaysia (or elsewhere where Muslims live. Maaf Zahir and Batin is asking for forgiveness)

Please correct me if I am wrong, okay?


Citibank - they don't want to have my business

It is really interesting. One time, I am seen as a rich Mat Salleh who will definitely not purchase something in some Second Hand Bookshop.

Than, again, I am the Mat Salleh, who is not worthwhile to make business with. I went to Citibank recently to refinance my mortgage. I have a housing loan with HSBC and while I like HSBC and their treatment (serious!), their interest is just too high, especially now, when Bank Lending Rates (BLR) are so low.

So off I went with all the papers required and applied for a refinancing loan with Citibank. There shouldn't be a problem, was my thinking. I have a job and earn regular income, I have my employment pass, I am in Malaysia for a very long time, am married to a Malaysian - so show the roots that are required.

But than, I was waiting and waiting for the call of the credit assistant. It didn't come and well, so I called, and was told that my application has been rejected. Citibank in Malaysia and Singapore doesn't allow refinancing of loans for foreigners - is it because I could run away? Where is the risk, do I ask? If I really run away they would have the access to the condominium! Gosh, the moment I have a mortgage on my condominium, it basically belongs to the bank!

What a joke is that? But at least, the Citibank assistant provided me with a contact in Standard Chartered Bank. Talk about loyalty and service.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

A story about Yo-Yo

There is a cartoon on TV - it must be either on Disney Channel or Cartoon Channel, but it must have something to do with Yo-Yo. You know, those little rollers that run up and down on a string. They are around for ages and were probably dead for a long time. I played with one when I was a kid. Simple games - up and down, and may be we were able to do a loop.

Now they are in again and they are way advanced over what I knew before. In every corner of Malaysia (dare I say so), kids are playing Yo-Yo and not only kids - adults as well.

There are "normal or basic" Yo-Yos, "intermediate", "advanced" and "brilliant". There might be more categories. Each group allows more tricks with the Yo-Yo, but as more advanced the Yo-Yo, as higher the price. There is "Walk The Dog", "Escalator", "Rock The Baby", "Skipper" and more. My kid recently bought a second one, after he spoilt his first and I saw that there are even videos explaining the different ways of how to "work a Yo-Yo". My kid is pretty good at it, while I just manage to do the tricks that I could already do with the old, old Yo-Yos.

Will it be lasting? Not sure. It might be a one-day fly, just like "Heelies" were three month back - or how was this written again? Healy or what? My kid was crazy about those as well.

The introduction of those products and how they take-off and come down again might be the result of the drive for instant gratification of consumers. Companies need now to constantly innovate, re-imagine their products, reinvent their companies, launch more products that appeal to consumers. The window for companies to reap of profits becomes smaller. They need to prototype, and launch, sometimes without major testing (okay, I don't mean medical or pharmaceutical products). Your market might be taken away by your competitor when you do the normal cycle of product launches, which involves endless planning and market research and advertising campaigns and marketing plans.

Fail forward fast might just be what is required. Microsoft might be a company that might play the game best - there are a lot of unsatisfied users of Microsoft products out there, which is a reason for the rise of Linux. But one thing for sure - Microsoft launches a product and while the company fails the first time around - remember the first handheld with Windows CE and how loooong it took to load on the first PDA and when nobody thought they would be a serious competition for Palm - but they keep coming back and back and back, until the system works. They constantly fail but constantly improve. Not necessarily with inspiring products, but this is not what I am talking about (don't tell Bill Gates). And even Microsoft doesn't get it often - think about the talking paper clip called Clippy and how it annoys MS users.

Is there anything to this posting -probably not much? I just want to show that products come and go faster and faster and that continuous success is no longer possible.


Traffic jams but I slept well

I just received an SMS from a friend who is on her way to Penang. Stop and go traffic - half way through to Penang only, and already three hours on the road.

I had a long, long sleep and this is relaxing. Went to bed past 1 AM in the morning, and only got up past 9.00 AM. You know what this means, but well, I am relaxed, reading online news, and I am happy that I am here already and don't stuck in the traffic.

No real program ahead. This is always the case when I am in Perlis. I bring books and read a lot, talk to my relatives, watch a lot TV, sit in the garden and may be get some tan (or turn red).

It is quiet here - and this becomes too quiet in about 7 days, when it is time to go back to Kuala Lumpur.

Once again: Happy Deepavali

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The first afternoon in the Kampung

I like to be in Perlis. It is a nice place and quiet. Time to hang out with some nice people. However, I always always always regret that I am so @#%@$ tight up in my normal life back in Kuala Lumpur that I don't have the time (take the time?) to really learn Bahasa Malaysia or Melayu (the national language).

Okay - I can understand what goes on - besides the time I get everything wrong, and I misunderstand totally to the great fun of everybody. And, what's more, Perlis Bahasa really sounds like Thai to me, as if I could speak Thai. It just sounds like it. But I wrote about learning Bahasa before and yeah, I will, once again, promise to me that I will learn it next year. I really will - big promise.

The first afternoon was easy - we went to my brother-in-law's house, and I simply fall asleep. Slept solid for two hours. Was really necessary. Account it to the exhaustion from the last couple of weeks in the office, and the long ride back here.

Than, watching Shark's Tale. I liked the movie, but somehow, it is weaker than Nemo or so. Don't know, may be I was still sleepy. Okay, it is about being different and being accepted by friends and family. About accepting who you are. At least that is my interpretation.

Playing with the little ones was also fun. Some chasing, some tickling, and the famous JoJo, what is so common all around us currently. So yeah, I have fun. Even with the few firecrackers that burst outside, in view of the celebration coming.


Reached Kampung

We just arrived in Perlis, after a five hour (and a bit) drive. And see, what I am doing? Posting - cannot believe it, but I brought the computer along.

We drove off at 7.30 AM in the morning - ninety minutes after our planned departure. That is normal - we also plan to leave earlier than we manage.

There were no traffic jams, none of the promised watch towers that look out for traffic offenders. But there were none - well, only two cars raced by - speeding like mad. Headlights on, and flashing about 500 meters away from my car already. They zoomed by and I already drove the required 110 km.

There were no speed controls either, despite a mail that circulated around in Kuala Lumpur, stating the locations of the speed controls. My wife was sitting in the car, studying the print-out, stated that she wouldn't know any of the locations outside of Kuala Lumpur. Promptly, she fall asleep.

So I taught my kid about speed and kilometers - one kilometer is 1,000 meters (just in case, some of you want to know), and how long we would need to reach. He kept asking, since he looked forward to his little friends in Kampung Perlis.

Okay - and the visiting is getting started. I have to log off now, to visit my brother-in-law. Happy working in Kuala Lumpur, and Happy Deepavali

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Popular Bookstore and its computer system

Remember, last week, I wrote the story about Amcorp Mall and my search for a book in Popular Bookstore.

After not finding the book in the bookshelves, I went to one of the sales assistants for, well, assistance.

I could recall the name of the author and the title of his second book, called The Pirate Inside, which I currently read. However, I wanted to have his first book and couldn't recall that title at that time (Its called Eating the Big Fish).

Now, Popular's computer system didn't throw up any title by the author, so I asked her if she could find the first book, when I would give her the title of the second book. It is not possible, she responded.

Apparently, their database makes it possible to find books by an author, and by specific titles. However, if the different books are placed at different locations in the store, it is not possible for the store assistant to find the book. My question is, why not? I mean, a cross reference should be possible, right? I am not a total expert or would not even call me knowledgeable about computer database (besides MS Access), but what I do know is that they lost a sale! Is this just this Popular bookstore, or is this happening in different locations as well?


More bookshelves at home

It was time.

We bought so many books and they were all over the place in our house. It started to look messy and the cozy feeling of being surrounding by books slowly left - the problems and challenges a news junkie feels.

So my wife and I went on a shopping binge over the last two weeks. All in all, we bought four big bookshelves from Carrefour. Okay, I know, I wrote earlier that I don't like Carrefour, because I think and still believe that Carrefour doesn't trust their customers. And I still stand to the point and "sneak into their entrance" with my plasic bags since I don't want to make the fuss. I still wait for the time the catch me and ask me to seal my bags - which I would refuse, as mentioned. My wife is also worried about the moment, because she knows I am prepared. I won't let it out at the guards, but would ask for management straight away.

They are selling pretty good bookshelves for about RM 125 - we bought four of them. Can you believe it? Those are big ones, and while we started off buying two first, we quickly decided to buy two more. The first set was occupied way too quickly with files and books.

Anyway, my study at home feels great. Packed with bookshelves, the computer in the middle and a sofa to hang out on. I will buy a small table, because I take notes when I read and currently, it is too uncomfortable. But I will run into the next problem soon, if we keep buying at the rate we do. It is not necessarily that I read all the books, but it is also the feeling of collecting them. May be I am a book collector.

Monday, November 08, 2004

The scary part of benchmarking

There is an interview in the Bangkok Post (registration via BugMeNot) with Indraneel Roy, Southeast Asia managing director for Hewitt Associates.

In this interview he states the following:

"Every piece of research tells us that the era we are living in is all about execution. For instance, over the past several months, we have been engaged by a number of banks. Four countries, four banks. They all have the same strategy. But the difference between winners and losers is execution."

I absolutely agree with him that execution is what separates the winners from the losers.

The scary part is the line that strategies look similar - or are the same. Strategies shouldn't look similar, even if the company is in different countries. But they look more and more similar not only between the banks mentioned here, but across many, many organisations. And why?

Because many companies look at each other and say, "hey - you do this very well, let me just copy this. And this. And this one as well."

What happens next is that companies look the same, feel the same, have the same people, and the same products - basically look the same. No inventiveness anymore, and don't talk to me about innovativeness.

Benchmarking is important, no doubt about this, but it needs to take into consideration so much more - culture, uniqueness of the organisation and companies need to develop their own differentiation, their own strategies, their own face, so to speak.

So please - it would be great to step back and say - let's be different. And just stop benchmarking the usual way for a while.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Balik kampung and standing out from the crowd

On Wednesday, we will balik kampung (for those non-Malay speaker, this means return home, or going home). It is the annual trip back to Perlis for Hari Raya (for those outside Malaysia - it means the celebration at the end of the Islamic fasting month or Ramadan). I promised my father-in-law that, wherever we are (we = my wife, I and my kid), we will return to Perlis for Hari Raya.

I am always sticking out there, the white man or Mat Salleh. Kids look at me - when I am in the garden, playing with my kid and others, and they happen to bicycle along the road and see me, they turn around and look, look, look. I am always worried that they might accidentally end up in the drain or in the middle of the on-coming traffic, due to their lack of concentration and curiosity.

Hari Raya is kind of fun. I say kind of, because, again, I am the only white guy around. Everybody knows me and my name, but since there are so many, many visitors, I have the feeling there are hundreds of them and I might not be wrong in this assumption. I tend to forget their names. Especially, since I see many of them only once in a year. Kind of embarrassing, actually.

I also feel strange to go to the mosque. I mean, I am the only white guy, and we - my in-laws and I - tend to sit in the front row. Exposed to everybody. And may be it is me and my uncertainty and perception, but I have the feeling, that everybody looks at me. Positively, of course, and full of curiosity.

I like Perlis. It is fun to be away from the hectic in Kuala Lumpur. Where we are staying is a bit away from Kangar as well. It is the time, where I can relax - besides during Hari Raya, when it is absolutely chaotic. A lot of sleep, reading, and spending time with my kid - when he has time for me, that is. I bring my computer this time so I can satisfy my addiction to blogging.

So well, two more days to go and than I am off. Off work, and finally, some holiday. No more tired looking. Anyone of you bloggers in Perlis as well?


Hairstyles for men

I went to my hairdresser today, something, I have delayed for a couple of weeks now. Okay, but since I cut my hair quite short, when I cut it, it still isn't too long, so actually quite okay.

Its been a long time since I waited for a longer time for my turn, and, looking at me in the mirror - gosh, I look so tired, and in need of the upcoming holidays - I realised that I haven't changed my hairstyle for a long time.

Anyone who has read the book "Why Men Lie and Women Cry" by Allan and Barbara Pease will probably remember their statement somewhere in the book that men don't change their hairstyle anymore, once they reach a certain age - couldn't find the right page in my book, so I don't know the age given anymore. According to the Pease's men keep the same hairstyle until the end of time, so to speak.

Okay, I am wearing pretty short hair since about five or six years, and once the hair start to crop up over my ears, I get the itchy feeling that I need a haircut. When I was younger I had long hair, coloured parts of my hair in blue or black, sometimes orange. Those were the times in Germany, when I was younger, it was in, it was funky and I was in the mids of everything.

Now, in the so-called corporate world in Asia, it is more difficult to change my hairstyle - but may be I am wrong. I had a great mentor when I worked in a market research agency in Indonesia, who always had an orange hair strain, despite being about 50 at that time. Its his personal style. He still has it.

Women have it easier, I believe. They can straighten their hair, colour it, keep it long, shorten it, have a perm or whatever. Even when they get older. Okay not all do, and my mum in Germany also has the same hairstyle since I can think of it. The only thing that changes is the perm before festivals, like Christmas or so.

Male movie actors also change their hairstyle - compare Tom Cruise's hairstyle in "The Last Samurai" with "Mission Impossible" - okay, they might do it for their movies, but this is their corporate world.

Comparing their professional life with mine, I wonder what would happen if the corporate clients of the company I am working with would see me in a different hairstyle. But then, male actors also earn a lot more money than I do, and are differently branded, so can demand that people understand their style. And they also change according to the needs of an upcoming assignment.

I remember hairdresser "shops" in Africa - I travelled and worked a bit in West Africa. A lot of times, African hairdressers put something like a billboard advertising their haircut services on the roadside, in front of their shop. On the billboard, you see different styles possible for haircuts. You see the "police style", the "punk style", the "fashionable style" and so on - I don't get it all, and the only real one that I remember is the "police style". The rest I just made up for illustrative purposes. But it is fun to remember - I have the respective photos in Germany, otherwise I would upload it.

But I digress!

I may have to live with the hairstyle that I do have now. Sometimes wear the hair shorter (when my kid calls me botak man), sometimes a bit longer. Or is there any alternative?

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Putting his best foot forward

BusinessWeek cover story is about "China's Power Brands". The piece I like best is the one that describes Liangzi, a nationwide chain of foot-massage shops.

Its founder, 34-year-old founder Zhu Guofan opened his first store in 1997 when he "noticed the popularity of the local foot masseuses, who worked in rundown shops, and decided to offer an upscale version of the service. After founding his first shop in February, 1997, he was bowled over by its instant popularity."

Today, Zhu has 430 shops - two-thirds his own, with the rest franchised.

Do you know what is the greatest piece at the story? He doesn't advertise, and despite this made it to the best known new brand in China. His secret to success? Word of Mouth, according to Zhu who says:

"We have almost never used television or newspaper advertising -- it hasn't been necessary. The way we build our brand is through word of mouth. Satisfied customers tell their friends."

He build his company around the apparent need of his customers or clients - and they came. Isn't it a great story?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Some cases of company centric thinking

Okay - these are cases from Australia, but at least it shows us here Malaysia that we are not alone with our challenges to get a better treatment as a customer.

How often is it that a company has lots of statements in the Annual Report, or on their webpage cherishing the customer, praising their customer focus and even posting raving reviews of customers (which might not always be true - how often do you call up those companies to trace back someone who provided this feedback?) Companies simply don't realise how troublesome this is for consumers - their product is spoiled, they need a replacement - subsequently, they need to invest time or they have to live with inconvenience. This in turn might require them to take leave or come to work later, or spend weekends on things that hasn't been caused by them. It is tough for consumers to "proof" that they are innocent (guilty until proven innocent), that they behaved correctly and that the company product simply went haywire.

This happens - companies cannot believe or accept that their product breaks down shortly after purchase or during warranty periods. They make it difficult for consumers to get replacements, while it is easier for companies to organise service and replace what has been broken. It is easy for companies, actually. Employees in companies are also customers - they should be able to see the world through a consumer's eye. It is more difficult to see the world from the perspective of a company.

I specifically like the first story with the overheated computer and when the company replied that the lady must have left "left (the laptop) it in a car, in the sun, in a cupboard, near the oven or near a heater'."

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Is this a buzz? Carwash in Thailand

The Nation (Thailand) writes:

"As Singapore’s Performance Motors (Thailand) tries to gain a bigger foothold in Thailand’s BMW market, it is starting a new free car-wash campaign. Starting this week, anybody who drives a BMW, no matter which of Bangkok’s five dealers they bought their luxury car from, can get their car washed for free on Sundays. The company hopes the campaign will build better relationships with existing and potential customers and bring it more business in the future. It is the first of many events the company is planning to attract would-be BMW buyers in Bangkok’s competitive car market."

It is certain to attract attention. A person working for the company is saying that they borrowed the free car wash idea from a Southern California Mercedes Benz dealer. He said the company sold 600 new cars a month thanks to the campaign.

So yeah, why not - it is different, it is attractive, it doesn't exclude those who bought their car elsewhere, what is important, and it is something worth talking about. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

KFC - Number Three

Okay - in the beginning of this week, I posted about an experience with KFC in Megamall. I wasn't really happy that I couldn't change the menu the slightest bit. For me, that apparently was a lot at that point of time, while the changes seemed little from my perspective, for KFC. I am still of the opinion that customer experience is often handicapped by some stupid corporate policies, however - nothing will change my opinion about this.

The entry, however, received some stronger feedback and critics about my behaviour - basically, I came over as a bit arrogant in my behaviour during the "sales process". This critics is okay to me - critics are feedback that is constructive and it made me think - if you want a first hand write-up, click here.

I allowed myself to send the links to KFC (somehow, I need to get some corporates to read blogs and learn about the power of blogs as well!). They visited the blog and gave me the following response:

"I read with keen interest the comments by CFK NEKCIHC and your keen observation that they were pretty good remarks. Given that I represent KFC, I am so inclined to jump up and say, ‘Yes, its exactly what I would have replied to your dining experience at one of our outlets, albeit a less than pleasant one’. Having said that let me firstly apologise for the unpleasantness that you experienced in your visit to our outlet at Megamall, and if I may, take a moment to expound some thoughts further.

The ‘rationale’ for the responses that you got as outlined by CFK is so apt that I couldn’t help but thinking that there are indeed kind souls out there who tend to be forgiving and understanding. But I guess the acceptance stops there. Yes, we know we are a fast food outlet and if we are to cater to everyone’s whims and fancies it will indeed cause long queues. Yes, also to the fact that we tend to train our staff to regiment themselves to delivering service based on strict guidelines because indeed most, if not all our outlets are under a computer linked inventory control systems that require strict variance controls. And yes, it will certainly create headaches for any front counter staff if they are required to try and convert equivalent prices of different items in a set menu, much more when they are not trained to handle such situations.

Notwithstanding, we have over some period now tried to move pass the excuse of ‘Operational efficiencies’, to do exactly what you and many customers have come to expect from big service organization as ourselves. It’s becoming a necessity for many companies and we are not excluded, to differentiate ourselves competitively by delivering more than what’s expected by customers and to an extent within the bounds of reason and flexibility, to listen and respond to the voice of the consumer. As rightly u put it, as a “normal” customer you are not expected to know the orientation of the company and any “less than expected” experience would certainly leave a bad aftertaste and drive a bad perception of the company.

Hence, we admittedly still have some work to do to ensure that the mindset of customer mania is one that is alive, lived, and breathed everyday in our restaurants by all levels of our frontline operations. Being a world-class company is our aspiration and we believe is one that we can achieve, more so when we continuously work to improve ourselves and be maniacal about delivering products and service that WOW the customer.

We appreciate the feedback you had given us. Please accept again my sincerest apology and be assured that your comments and feedback will be one that will be shared with our frontline operations staff so that we may be able to meet the expectations of our discerning consumers."

Interesting, isn't it? There is understanding on their side and they "indicate" training for their staff. A very neutral response. I am not sure how I should take it. Should I react to it at all, beside thanking them? I think, what bothers me is the neutral part of it - it is so "corporate". I don't know. Something is there that doesn't sound quite right and I am not sure what it is. But probably it is just me who reads too much into the lines. However, I am happy they reacted and reacted fast. Not all are doing this. And they inquired further, after they were not able to open the original link that I sent to them via their comment submission form.


Yahoo's antispyware program Part 2

Izuan was so nice to inform me about hickups in Yahoo's antispyware program in the toolbar and send me a link to an article. The article describes that Yahoo doesn't necessarily remove Gator's eWallet and that this might be because of the relationship between Yahoo and Glaria, the "creator of Glator" and that one needs to set the toolbar to "Remove Adware" manually. Not nice!

May be I need more weapons. Thanks Izuan.


My first mobile phone spam

I talked about spam that is going to hit mobile phones, instant messengers (called SPIM) and what will hit VoiP services (called SPIT).

Besides those senseless messages by Maxis that sends its promotional package advertising to me (and I never got back to them), I had the luck to never get any spam in my mobile so far - until now.

Just abut 30 minutes ago, I received an SMS from a company called BL Beauty. What do they announce? Read on:


I am not interested - shall I reply to them? Anybody interested? Lol.

Bt I hope that this won't spread!!


Commercials during the elections

I heard this morning in CNN that there were 12,000 commercials on TV in the last week of campaigning in, I think, Florida.

Voters welcome the end to the longest, most expensive election on record. One voter called Amanda Karel (25) is quoted as saying: "It's the only way to make the ads stop."

I absolutely, totally agree - wow, how many toilet breaks can you take to run away from TV? Or, turn the question around? How many voters got p...... off by all those interruptions? May be it is good, real good, that Malaysia doesn't have this kind of election carousel. While the number of ads on TV appears to increase, well, we are not yet there. Not yet!!

Who actually likes advertisements on TV? The last that I saw that was somewhat memorable was the one by DHL - their truck got stuck in a traffic jam and they raced cross-country (promoting environmental destruction?). Another, apparently local courier service followed thinking, that DHL knows the way best and they ended up on an airport pit of DHL. Something like that. Nicely made, entertaining. But this is really the only one that I can remember. Which one is the best for you??

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Yahoo's toolbar has anti-spyware

That is one of the newest features on the Yahoo toolbar. So I have two toolbars. One is from Google and one is from Yahoo.

I installed Yahoo's because of the anti-spyware addition, and I think it is great. At least I can uninstall other programs (such as Spysweeper) that run on trial period on my computer and where the trial period has expired. I was thinking of subscribing to Spysweeper, because I actually think their program is working great. But now ....

What I don't like at Yahoo is the Software License Agreement that one has to tick in order to be "allowed" to run the software.

It says:
"Yahoo! reserves the right to update and change, from time to time, this Software License and all documents incorporated by reference. You can always find the most recent version of this Software License at Yahoo! may change this Software License by posting a new version without notice to you. Use of the Yahoo! Software after such change constitutes acceptance of such changes. "

How often will I check this weblink? I will only check it (may be), when Yahoo will start to charge something or something else happens. This paragraph puts the onus on me. Of course I am happy if they update the software, for sure. But I am also always suspicious, what happens in the background. Not that I think that something "bad" is happening. I trust Yahoo. But still - it is a large corporation and I am just a little light. Am I too suspicious?


This time next year, let's be laughing together - the most powerful pick-up line

In Japan, a panel has come up with the best pick-up or chat-up line - for guys of course (the New Straits Times (Malaysia) reports today).

It apparently draws on the incredible potency of three powerful word triggers, that work on the subconscious level:

First advantage: The right choice of words:
  • This time next year: Sends the sign that the chatter is interested in more than just a short term fling
  • Together: It suggests that even after a year of dating, the fun is still there
  • Laughing: Softens the whole phrase, implies mutual happiness

The second advantage:

  • The lack of sleaziness in the sentence

Makes me think - all the work that all those guys do in the gym center to build up muscles. All the reading that we do to sound somewhat clever in the eyes of girls and women, all the manners that we try to exhibit in our oh so gentle approaches, all the different dances that guys try to impress girls on the dancing floor, and all the hairgel put into hair to look attractive - what does this count for?

All that it boils down to is some sentence like this (May be it only works in Japan!)? What pickup lines do you or did you use most successfully? Or, to turn it around - how would girls react to pick-up lines, this one or others? In the end, may be it boils down to the right message at the right time to the right "audience" - communication is everything.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Cousin of new species found

Last week, I wrote about the exciting discovery of the new "species" in Indonesia - this was the girl. It was just reported that a male companion has been found. WoW - how great can life be!


Help me, I am in the wrong segment

As mentioned in an earlier entry in my blog, I had lunch in Amcorp Mall last Friday with a new acquaintance and subsequently, I fall victim to “traditional segmental thinking”.

Let me start by saying that I am mostly quite casually dressed at work, but dress up a bit when I have a meeting. However, I wasn’t in the mood to dress up totally, so arrived smart-casual. I say this because it fits into the following story.

After lunch and showing my lunch-partner off, I thought of the Popular bookshop in the mall. I am currently looking for a specific book, cannot find it in MPH, but take a chance to browse in all bookshops for the book.

Regular readers will remember that I love to read. So I thought I take the chance to browse in the bookshop for a couple of minutes. Since I couldn't remember its exact location, I went to information and checked with the girl.

She than sent me to the second floor. Coming up the escalator, I saw another bookshop, called “Pay Less Books”. It is a shop that sells second hand books – I think I saw it mentioned earlier, in some other blog. Interesting shop, really. Some of the books look a bit run down, but who cares.

Now I wonder why the girl at the information didn't mention this bookshop as well and I realise that she might have fallen victim to “traditional segmental thinking”. See, I was dressed quite well, no coat or tie, but a pretty good trouser and a nice shirt.

I am a Mat Salleh - subsequently, she thought I am not, cannot, be interested in a Second Hand Bookshop. She thinks like everybody likes to think: Mat Sallehs are rich, people with coats have money, they want branded, new stuff. It is not her fault, of course not. If she would see me in my normal clothes, with Shorts or Jeans, and T-Shirt, she might have told me about the second hand shop.

Circumstances change, people act differently in different situations. In new marketing speak: they move across segments. That's why "traditional customer segmentation" fails. I am not always the rich guy (will I be, ever?), or the dressed-up guy or the one, who is out for fun. But companies market to me in the sense that they say, okay, he lives in a condominium, is an expat (no, no, no, I don't see myself as an expat!!!!), married with kid, aged, blablabla and so on, so let's create this product, this ad this whatever and he will buy it.

But this is wrong, I think.

People need a specific product at a specific time, and look for something - product or service - that they need at that point of time. May be today, products or services that target specific demographics set themselves up for lower performance, if not even for failure.


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