CRM, Heroism and 26/11 in India

CRM, Heroism and 26/11 in India

Summary: I imagine you're wondering what one has to do with the other since they're terms not associated with one another. Let me tell you a story:Back in late January of this year, I went to Mumbai to keynote and teach at a conference on Loyalty and Advocacy in India sponsored by the Bharati Vidyapeeth's Institute of Management Studies and Research (BVIMSR).


I imagine you're wondering what one has to do with the other since they're terms not associated with one another. Let me tell you a story:

Back in late January of this year, I went to Mumbai to keynote and teach at a conference on Loyalty and Advocacy in India sponsored by the Bharati Vidyapeeth's Institute of Management Studies and Research (BVIMSR). BVIMSR is an extraordinary organization, who's Director, Dr. Dattajirao Y. Patil, told me has ties to every major university in India and has set up hundreds of rural schools.  They, like many Indians I met at this conference in an extraordinary trip to India, were very concerned with CSR - corporate social responsibility - so concerned that the acronym was as natural to them as CRM was to me.

You know, the reason that I didn't cover this at the time I was there was that I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't get my arms around it.  I just didn't know what to write - it was just too big and so much different than I could have possibly expected.

I had only seen a slice of India. It was about two months after 26/11 which is what they called the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008 and that was not only still fresh in the psyche of the population but the military were everywhere and armed to the teeth from the airport to the city.  Yet, these amazing citizens had just picked up and kept going within a couple of days after the attacks - despite the fact it had killed nearly 200 of their citizens.   I was staying at the Taj Land's End - the "other Taj" - the one that hadn't been attacked. Yet, in stark contrast to this beautiful five star hotel, which is one of the few five stars I've stayed at that deserves the name, across the street, visible from my window, was the Palace Hotel which had been blown up in a terrorist attack in 1992 or 1993 and was never repaired.

While only a slice of India, which is, needless to say a lot bigger than Mumbai - and this was a sliver of Mumbai's 18,000,000 on seven Islands - I was profoundly affected by the resilience of the people I met and the keen interest in doing "the right thing" and their deep interest in CRM too - which was incredibly enthusiastic - at least when it came to the 300 or so people at the event.

There was SO much more than that, but I'm not going to cover it because it still overwhelms me a bit. All I know is that I want to go back and do more there.

I'll do a report on the CRM market in India sometime in the near future. Suffice to say that Oracle, SAP and a little more surprisingly the Campus Management-owned Talisma are strong forces there.

Back to the story:

One of the hotels that was attacked during the horror of 26/11 was the Oberoi in Mumbai.  Several customers were killed in the assault, but if it weren't for the incredibly quick thinking and the CRM training of the folks at their customer contact center it could have been considerably worse.

I had a conversation with Ravish Swarup, the SVP of the Oberoi Contact Center and was incredibly impressed at how the Oberoi handled that horrific situation.

According to Mr. Swarup, during the crisis, the call center opened up their lines to the rooms of the customers.  They were able to reach a good number of the hotel guests and keep them posted on what was happening and what to do. In one case, where it looked like the guest was going to bolt the room due to what seemed to be a panic attack, they were able to talk the guest into staying in the room, most likely saving that guest's life.

Mr. Swarup told me that this was because of the culture of the company and their CRM training. First, they understood without any hesitation that their first obligation was to maintain contact with their guests. Second, they were responsible for guiding their guests and keeping them fully informed so that they had the information they needed to remain calm and think throughout the crisis. They also understood that time constraints were irrelevant. They were even able to help keep a semblance of activity up, risking  their own lives to make sure the guests had what they needed to get through this.

What happened after the attack was also incredible - and a direct reflection of how one thinks in a customer-centric environment. It wasn't a big thing but it could have been.

As with most hotels, the Oberoi sends out a request to each of the customers that asks what they thought of their stay.  You can imagine what would have happened if they had sent that out after the terrorist attack on the hotel.  Luckily, they were thinking and caught it.  Instead, they've spent time contacting guests who stayed at the hotel during the crisis and have been crafting packages and special arrangements if they should decide to come back.

As a result of this heroism they, and their counterparts at the Taj won a special National Tourism Board award called the Atithi Devo Bhava - Pride of India Award in February for exemplary bravery.  Entirely deserving.

This is an amazing story - and one that you don't often associate in any way with CRM. In this case it was and it actually makes me glad this kind of thinking was put to a use that likely saved some lives.  The staff and management at the Oberoi are true heroes.

Mr. Swarup asked me to stay at the Oberoi next time I come to Mumbai. I'll do so happily.

Topics: Government US, Enterprise Software, Government, Software

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  • Customer is not king

    ... He is God.

    And thats what "Atithi Devo Bhava" means - "Guest is God".

    Touching story indeed Paul! Imagine the emotions it must have evoked & how it must have overwhelmed a nation with such a huge population to make it constitute a new category under the National Tourism Awards scheme!

    I cannot even begin to imagine the horror of the guests who were trapped nor the spite it might have evoked in them had the management not caught the mailer asking them to make a visit again!

    It is indeed the concept of the very Indian philosophy of Atithi Devo Bhava, practiced in every household, that made the hotel staff & management to place the guests before themselves.

    And consider the great dedication that made the hotels rebuilt well within a month after the huge damage!
    • India, The Customer, and A Cause


      Great story, and scorp - a great response. I have had the privilege and opportunity to spend some time in India for business, pleasure, and humanitarian reasons.

      To validate Scorp's point, I have never ever been treated as kindly and royally as there. It is a tribute to their culture and people, and a true model for CRM. (Thanks for tying the two together).

      After traveling to more than 40 countries on our shrinking planet, India surprisingly tops the list of my favorites.

      Paul, as you mention, though, alongside the Oberoi's and Taj's of Mumbai, are spots of desperation and despair.

      For those interested, I had the opportunity to be a founding board member of an organization called the International Princess Project, that helps to advocate, restore, and empower women who have suffered tremendously. We have had the greatest impact in and around Mumbai to date.