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(Updated Jul 11, 2008 10:58 PM)
Earlier this year we decided to explore potential partnership opportunities with some of India's major Internet players including Google.
Saif Hasan, our Director of Communications Extraordinaire, was assigned the task of initiating contact with these companies. Things started to move forward with several within a matter of days. “What’s the status with Google?” I asked. Saif scratched his head and said "Trying to locate a contact there."
A few weeks later and we were ready to ink partnership agreement with seveal of these companies including one which has an exclamation mark in its name. At every juncture I would inquire: “What’s the status with Google?” Saif’s frustrating response reminded me of Birbal’s khichri: "Still trying to locate a contact there, Sir."
When two full months had passed and Saif was still trying to locate the right person at Google, I decided to take the matter into my own hands. Saif revealed that the contact numbers on Google’s website were wrong. When he did uncover a number, receptionists who answered had no clue as to who was in charge of what. The irony that the company that catalogs the World’s Information was clueless about its own body parts was not lost on me.
With a little hesitation I decided I would call Shailesh Rao, head of Google India. I had met Shailesh at an event a few months prior. In addition to exploring the partnership, I thought I would also bring to his attention the chaos any caller into Google India office faces. I doubt it is intended to be that way. It was entirely possible that the big chiefs were so busy solving the big problems that no one bothered to attend to the “simple and obvious” issues.
I started with Google India’s Mumbai office and asked to be connected to Mr. Shailesh Rao. The gentleman who answered spoke only Hindi (kaun mangta hai aap ko?). Sadly, I do not know the Hindi terms for a lot of business departments such as Business Development so I struggled. He ordered me to call Google Hyderabad office. I informed him that the Hyderabad office numbers are wrong on their website. After several frustrating attempts with the Mumbai office, I was finally able to obtain the (correct!) numbers to the Hyderabad office.
That’s when things got really frustrating.
On my eighth attempt a human voice answered the phone. Greeting me with a hurried “hello”, she put me on an indefinite hold. When she did finally return I had finished several lengthy tasks and consumed several cups of tea. I politely asked her to connect me to “Mr. Shailesh Rao, Managing Director, Google India”. “Wait, wait, wait, that’s too fast” her tone implied. “Can you repeat the name?” I did…four more times. Then she informed me she had what amounted to good news-bad news for me.
Running a search that took a lot longer than Google’s Search Engine would ever take, she found the name Shailesh Rao in her directory. That was the good news. The bad news was: “ Now, which Shailesh Rao do you want?” Obviously, there’s more than one person with the same name. I was tired. Very tired. Which Shailesh Rao? “The Big Boss, the Sensei, the Sultan, the Chief, the Don” I wanted to scream out. “Head of Google India” I managed to say. "Please call the Gurgaon India office ," she said and gave me their "Gurgaon number." Except, the number had a Delhi area code!
To make a long, tiring story short, I finally reached Google’s Gurgaon office. The phone was answered by a security guard. Look, is there a trend I am missing? Did the phone receptionist and security guard roles merge while I was busy doing other things? If so, will someone attend to cross-training security guards to have the skills of answering calls? Obviously, security guards spend time in the gym building muscles, not polishing their greeting skills.
Anyway, since Shailesh (the right Shailesh) was busy, I spoke with his executive assistant Aditi Dhingra. She was kind and patient as she heard me out.
I get very nervous when I have such experiences. Chaos of this variety is RARELY benign. It is often the signature of bigger problems inside. I am shocked that a company like Google which has executed flawlessly on some of technology's most difficult problems is struggling with such basic issues here in India. Yes, I am daring to criticize Google's Interface today - not the Web interface, the more critical interface it has with us here in India. Wrong phone numbers published on their website? Missing/untrained receptionists? Stone age employee directories? Yeh kya ho raha hai???
A highly successful CEO and a mentor once told me: “Your company’s phone number is like the front of your house. Pay attention to details because people will judge you by their experience at your doorsteps.” I hope Shailesh Rao gets the same message – no, not THAT Shailesh Rao, the other one, the one.
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