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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Social Media as a Tool for Change

It would not be incorrect to say that we live in the age of social media, the effects of which can be seen very prominently in the world around us. Social media tools such as Micro blogging site Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have become a part of every day life and they have entirely changed the way millions  of us interact and engage with the wider world around us. Facebook in particular has been a real game changer with over a billion years world wide. Social media has provided an extremely effective medium of marketing and public relations for businesses both big and small as it allows them to participate in two feedback with their desired audiences. The real power of social media however lies in its ability to allow its users to not only communicate with multiple users, but also share, create and broadcast content with wider audiences and achieve mass penetration.

The youth in particular has been a major driving force that has fueled and accelerated the growth of social media around the world due to their willingness to adopt and embrace innovation and technology. Let's not forget that behind these major social media sites were young entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerburg who founded Facebook while he was an undergraduate student at Harvard University. This growth has been further fueled by the advent of the smart phone that allows access and connectivity to social media platforms for its users on the go. Alongside social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, blogging sites such as Word Press and Blogger have provided many with a platform through which they can share their ideas, thoughts and opinions in writing. Blogs are also a very potent tool if used properly in any social media or internet based campaign.

Over the past few years, millions of us have witnessed first hand the power of social media and the role that it has played in shaping global events. When disaster struck Japan last year in the form of the Tsunami, images of the extent of the disaster were broadcast over social media bringing to the attention of the world the extent of the devastation that had hit Northern Japan. These past few years have also witnessed revolutions all across the Middle East and North Africa which has brought about political and social change. Twitter and Facebook allowed countless users and activists within the region to spread the word and get the message across through mass circulation. As a result of which it became possible to mobilize tens of thousands of supporters of democratic and political reforms. Through YouTube activists in the region were able to broadcast videos of the on going revolution as it happened and attract support of the international community as the governments made every possible to suppress the demonstrators.

The potential that social media has to offer has even been experienced in a country like Pakistan, where it has been at the fore front of political rallies, for voicing outrage against government policy or injustice, social activism and for campaigning by pressure groups. In the winter of 2011-12 cricketer turned politician Imran Khan and his political party, the Tehreek-e-Insaaf organized massive political rallies in the cities of Lahore and Karachi, with an attendance estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Prior to the rallies in these two mega cities, members of Tehreek-e-Insaaf as well as its youth wing were very active active through social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter in communicating the party message to the masses especially the youth and mobilizing them. As it turned out, the social media campaign worked and the rallies proved to be a huge success. Many analysts argue that the success of these rallies could have a significant impact on the upcoming elections later in the year. The rally was also broadcast via social media to a global audience over the internet. Following Imran Khan and the PTI's lead, many other politicians and their political parties have jumped onto the social media bang wagon and begun working on an effective customized social media campaign.

When tragedy strikes, social media proves that that it is more than just a tool for social communication and can play a vital role in generating mass public attention and awareness towards a cause, even if the cause involves fighting for justice. This past December, a young media sciences student from a local university was gunned down in cold blood in Karachi by members of a very influential and politically connected family. Friends and family members of the victim took up their fight for justice on social media. It was because of social media, that they were able to get a large number of people not just within Karachi but through out Pakistan to join their cause and mobilize through organized peaceful protests across the nation. The volume of activity offline and online through social media managed to capture the attention of television channels, as well as law enforcement agencies that took actions to ensure the criminals were brought to justice and this casualty did not become just another random statistic. This has inspired many others to seek out justice through the effective use of social media.

Social media in a country like Pakistan has also created a generation of citizen journalists and activists, who are able to record and report breaking news as it happens . This also lead to the growth in the number of young people pursuing careers in media and journalism. For example when civil unrest engulfs the city of Karachi, social media proves itself to be an effective tool of communication for people to inform one another about alerts, developments and important facts such as which routes to use and which to avoid and supporting such alerts photographs and videos. Countless offline campaigns started and gathered support through social media, whether they have been campaigns to fight for minority rights, or for the passing of certain legislation on provincial or federal levels. Policy makers realize the ability of social media in shaping and influencing public opinion and are now mindful of the relevant developing trends. With all the potential that social media has to offer, it is highly likely that in the days and months to come we will witness growth in the use of social media in Pakistan as a tool for activism. Time will tell whether social media is a fad of sorts or the start of many great things to come. 

Customer Service or Not, Some Don't Care


Very recently on a flight back from Lahore, I had the opportunity to interact with a seasoned entrepreneur. During that conversation, we did have a chat on business and the rules of the game, especially as far as service is concerned. The conversation ended with his golden advise that business is not just about making money but it also about building good relationships with all your stakeholders. The advise of the entrepreneur may not be something unique, it is something that every one who has ever attended business school can relate to, however what is really disappointing is a significant absence of efforts for relationship building in the service and hospitality sector in Pakistan, what makes it worse is that we as stakeholders (customers or recipients) have little or no expectations with regards to receiving efforts from the other for building and developing relationships. A lot of us have the everything goes, we are fine with what get attitude. I am at times suspicious if it stems deeply from our culture or national surroundings where so many of us face disappointments on a day to day basis in everyday life to the point, we have no expectations of any kind. Be it expectations with respect to a promising future in this country, or excellent customer service at a restaurant.

 My reference here is particularly targeted to the hospitality industry in Pakistan, more specifically cafes and restaurants but also includes establishments such as theater and cinema. As a paying customer especially at high end or upper tier establishments, we are entitled to getting not just the product or service that we are paying, but we are also entitled to customer service that extends beyond a transactional exchange between two or more parties. Transactional exchange implies that only simplistic exchange of sorts is taking place between two or more individuals, in reality any exchange that happens between any one involves more than just a transaction. It is becoming a far too common a sight here in Pakistan, especially in the nation's largest city where those in the hospitality industry are unable to take any customer criticism or feedback that might be even borderline negative, even though it is the right of the customer to be able to communicate . I am not even going to try and be diplomatic here, I am going to go all out and even name some of the establishments that have demnstrated such shameful and disgusting behavior towards myself as well as other customers, on occasions out of pure arrogance or complete inability to handle criticism. A lot of fault lies with us the 'customers' as well, we hold little or no expectations with good customer service, we blindly accept whatever is given to us, this sort of feeds arrogance to owners of such establishment, who develop a complex where they think that by even purely existing they are doing their customers and maybe humanity a huge favor.

I start with Espresso, which is a Karachi based Coffee house chain which opened its flagship store in Karachi's stylish Zamzama district close to a decade ago. They adopted a policy which was not unique to the hospitality or service as a whole, rather very unique to the restaurant industry as a whole, such a policy and how ludicrous it is one will not find anywhere outside of Pakistan.This policy has the cover disguise name of 'families only'. Most of us know what the definition of a family is, and an establishment of its nature is not a family restaurant, their policy to be specific is that men without being accompanied by women can not enter their premises after 7 pm in the evening. I initially showed some passive respect to their policy and decided to visit the cafe at an earlier time slot. So my personal feud with them began that day I visited their Shabaz establishment at around 530 pm, I do not need to give an explanation as to why I did not go elsewhere after I was made to wait. Having been there with friends since 530, we did not get a table till almost close to 7 pm. Just as we were about to sit down, the waiter comes to us and tells us to only get Coffee or get a Take Away since its 'Ladies logg kay anay ka time' (Time for ladies to come in). My first reaction after WTF was, all I see are ladies logg all around me, how is it that is now Ladies logg ka time? After being forced to leave instead of being accommodated after waiting so long, I decided on a future visit to one of their other branches I would leave behind my comments in a comment card. People get this in your head, the comment card is there for a purpose, if cafes and restaurants cant handle criticism they should get rid of it.

After purchasing my coffee at their other outlet, I described my experience in their comment and highlighted how they should be accommodating instead of making efforts to be rude to their customers. The waiter immediately gave my comment card to the manager, who immediately came up to me and told me to go have coffee somewhere else if I have a problem with their service. Now everyone reading this, I just want you all to take a few minutes or even a few seconds out of your time and think is it okay to say such a thing to a paying customer. Would you like that if some one attacked you verbally for writing something on their comment card? I will not deny I gave them a bit of a hard time on social media in the months that followed, I made an open public mockery out of their policy and even managed to get public support in opposition to their discriminatory admissions policy. I think what really sent their nerves wrecking was not just me as a unsatisfied customer, my arguments against their policy were influencing public opinion. In the end they did ban me from their Facebook page, I wouldn't say it reflects badly on me, rather it reflects badly on them, and  if Karma is to believed in, what goes around, comes around.

The next establishment that I would like to bring attention to is also in the hospitality is the Chinese Restaurant by the name of Ginsoy also located in Khayaban e Shabaz in DHA Karachi. I do not know who gave the owner Hasan Baweja this ridiculous idea of trying to exploit the customer and pull out extra cash from the customer's pockets under the disguise of customer service charges. The policy that they were practicing was a mandatory 10% service added on top of the final bill of the customer. Last I checked providing a service was part of a restaurant, they might as well tell the customer to go to the kitchen and fetch their own food. I will share a little insight, when I protested on Facebook against their policy, I immediately started getting personalised messages sent to my inbox by Hasan Baweja of trying to slander his establishment, demonize him and ruin his business. He also accused me of calling him a thief. He has admitted in his correspondence to me, that the mandatory service charges introduced are for the purpose of staff motivation and all the proceeds from that goes to the hard working staff. Last time I checked staff motivation and retention was the management's head ache, not that off the customer. For protesting this unfair customer exploitation, not only did I find myself banned from their Facebook page, but was also on the receiving end of harassment and false accusations directed towards me by their own Hasan Baweja. My personal message to Hasan Baweja, boss you have a lot to learn when it comes to customer service and snobbery is inexcusable, just because heavy spenders at your restaurant turn a blind eye to how their treated does not mean you keep doing it. Poor customer service at Ginsoy isn't just my own personal experience, I have often on visits seen that people have been made to wait ridiculous long periods for their food, even after the long wait, the food is not properly cooked.. For that the staff instead of apologizing makes excuses that we do not have Gas, we Can't do anything. Think for a few seconds, is such behavior excusable? It's not like their service is anything  to write home about, firstly the amount of effort required to eat there is a major turn off which includes booking a table at times a week in advance, secondly they take forever to bring the mains, and even then there is no guarantee it is fully cooked, and all they have to say for themselves is 'Gas Nahin Arahee hai' instead of apologizing to the customer.

I have many more experiences to share, but for the time being I am going to conclude this blog, since I have already gone into too much detail. In the near future I hope to shed some light on poor customer treatment in other sectors of hospitality. I am however going to conclude by saying  that we as paying customers should get rid of this whatever goes mentality and should have nothing but high expectations out of customer service that we receive, even if it is a one off bad day unless we complain how will the establishment learn from their mistake. It is our right, they as establishments are not doing us a favor by existing, rather we by giving them our custom, these establishments should treat all their customers, big, small, loyal or critical as important stakeholders. And finally I am not trying to generalize here, one will find establishments in Karachi that take paying customers very seriously and make efforts to make their customers feel significant, that is exactly the kind of treatment that restaurants and cafes in Karachi should extend to their customers. Paying customers should be made to feel like their the most important people in the world for them. This just proves that it can be done, excellent customer service in Pakistan is possible, and the ones that value their customers will go a long way towards success.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

For the Love of Burger

FatBurger FatBurger FatBurger. That's right people, you read correctly, FatBurger is the name of the California based chain that recently opened up in our very own beloved city by the sea. A great personal achievement is that after a very long time Karachi beat Lahore to it when it came to the first Pakistani store of a foreign franchise. In the last many many years now, most foreign franchises have preferred Lahore and opened up in the northern city, owing either to the relatively better security situation in the city or because of Lahore's reputation as being the food capital of Pakistan. Without a doubt the city of Lahore is a food lovers paradise but our city of 20 million by the sea does not deserve to  be ignored like this. The last time we had something grace our city first from foreign shores was KFC in the mid to late 90's with its first store near NIPA in Karachi's Gulshan e Iqbal area. McDonald's the world's largest chain graced Lahore before it come to our shoes, as did Gloria Jeans the famous Australian coffee chain, as did Cinnabon famous for its brilliantly awesome cinnamon baked goodies and of course Hardee's which opened up in Lahore a good 2 years before it made its debut in Karachi. 

It was a welcome bit of Good news that Lahore is FatBurger's next destination and they graced our city and its army of food lovers first. As the name describes it, FatBurger is all about the Burger, and the burger follows its brand name quite literally, the burger is big and fat. FatBurger opened its doors to the people of Karachi on Saturday the 5th of Jan 2013 at the Dolmen City mall in the Clifton area. I managed to convince a friend of mine that we should be there for the opening day, after all those big FatBurger bill boards all across Karachi did make a strong case for it and the burger had to be tried. I actually thought the joint had opened earlier and made a trip in vain an exact week before the actual opening to get my hands on a FatBurger.

We managed to get there on opening night at a very good time, just some bit after 8 pm, the Que was not massive, hence we did not expect to be standing in the Que very long but alas it was a good 2 hour wait in that line before I reached the counter and I could place my order for the FatBurger. Even though  my legs were sore, I would say it was kinda worth the wait, it was a unique burger experience and something I would like to go back for, even if the amount of calories in that big FatBurger could kill me. I went all out on experimentation and ordered the XXXL FatBurger, which featured three layers of beef patty well grilled patties if I might add. On top of that I asked them to give me all the add on's, yes that's right, all the add ons, so my add ons featured Beef Chilli, Beef Bacon, Egg, Extra Cheese and Jalepeno's. You gotta love that, that makes for a killer burger. With that many layers it was quite a challenge opening my mouth big enough to eat the burger, it did not take long to finish it though, a mere 10 minutes I would say considering all the time spent waiting for the food, well over 2 hours. Definitely something I am going back and definitely for the super Chilli Cheese Fries, and also for the curiosity about the taste bud sensation prospects of other menu offerings. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The power of Social Media

We live in an age of social media. All around us the buzz is all about social media and its impact on our world. It would not be wrong to label ourselves the social media generation with hundreds of millions of users worldwide for social media platforms and tools such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr Pinterest and Google plus. Though social media is not something that debuted in the last year or so, it has been around for over a decade. Even though Orkut back in the day was somewhat of a pioneer in Social Media, it wasn't until the advent of Twitter, YouTube (now owned by Google) and Facebook that the social media revolution really kicked off. Facebook has been the biggest player and the real game changer in the equation, from its humble beginnings in the Harvard dorm room of its founder Mark Zuckerburg, it has gone on to become not just the largest used social media site, but also one of the most visited websites of all time with over a billion users worldwide. These social media sites are effective tools for organizations, businesses, and professionals especially those in media.
Social media tools like Facebook provide an extremely cost effective means to reach out and engage with large audiences which are increasingly connected to the world around them through social media. Such is the importance of social media particularly as a marketing and public relations tool that courses in social media marketing are being made part of the degree at business schools around the world with proactive encouragement given to students for making use of social media tools in their projects. At the same time many other tertiary institutes are making provisions for workshops that are catered for bringing veteran professionals up to speed. Workshops are a useful way of bringing veteran graduates and employees up to par with changes in trends. At the same time workshops also provide insight on how best to optimize the use of social in order to achieve organizational goals and objectives. Through workshops focus can also be directed towards developing customized social media solutions as opposed to the use of standardized approaches.
Since social media provides its users with a platform through which to engage their audiences in a two way communication, it allows the generation of audience feedback and input which at times is obtained instantly. As a result of this social media is an excellent tool for managing customer service.  For example a PC manufacturer such as Dell and ASUS use their Twitter account to provide their customers with updates with respect to product releases or upcoming offers, on the other hand Facebook is used to assist customers by providing them with solutions to problems or questions that customers might have. On the other hand software manufacturers such as Microsoft are able to use the social media tool YouTube to provide Microsoft users with video tutorials on how to install, update and use their software package offerings. Such use of social media can also be found in the hospitality industry in Pakistan, where many restaurants and cafes are using Facebook to announce promotions, display images of the menu items, listen to customer complaints and take dinner reservations.
Among professionals that have benefited the most through the use of social media include Marketing and Public Relations professionals, educators as well as journalists along with others in the industry such as entertainers. For marketers it provides them with an effective tool to market their brands and engage with their ever so connected audiences. The use of social media for marketing activities also enables the opportunity to conduct mobile marketing as the number of internet enabled smart phones increases with access to these tools in the form of smartphone apps.
Broadcasters have also benefited a great deal with the use of social media and the success of many major television and news programmes may not have been possible in the absence of social media. Social media has played a significant role in the marketing, promotion as well as the replay broadcast of television dramas and sitcoms that have become an important part of modern day popular culture. A group among media professionals that one can argue has benefited a great deal from social media are journalists since social media provides a quick and effective platform to share or release a news story as it breaks and are able to achieve mass penetration Many major events and news stories including uprisings, revolutions and natural disasters were brought to the attention of the public through the use of social media.
Social media as a tool has also benefited students and the academic community a great deal as well.  Firstly as we have already mentioned it allows two way communications, it provides an efficient way for exchange between staff and students in the form of updates, alerts and course specific messages. It also permits live staff-student discussions. Through Facebook students can also share study material and discuss ideas with one another, while YouTube can be used for the purposes of relevant course specific video tutorials which can be replayed. It is due to this very social media revolution that many universities now proactively encourage their students to use social media  with respect to their course work and projects.