Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Club Mahindra - Pudhucherry

"Find something that you love to do and then get someone to pay you for it," they said, "and you won't have to work for a single day in your life." 

You've heard this said before. Many times. And every now and then, you might have also come across one or two people who behaved like this. In spite of the long hours and cranky customers. One thing is certain, you really can't fake it for long. Because most customers will immediately distinguish between the 'good-riddance' smile that an air-hostess might flash you at the exit of an aircraft and a genuine smile. For the latter to happen, one has to be genuinely happy! And we met several happy people who were terrific at what they did. In our world, getting one such hire would be a challenge. Getting a team like this, is nothing short of a miracle!

Ajith, Siva, Pradeep, Imran, Priyanka and the rest of the team, you folks rock!

It was our second visit to Pondicherry. And this time, it was to Club Mahindra. Most of the road to the destination was good, save for about 20 kms in between that was really bad. It made even the SUV we were driving, to groan in pain. The roads however, were forgotten once we hit Pondicherry.

Club Mahindra, Pondicherry is a few kilometers in the interior and access is via narrow roads. But there were Club Mahindra sign boards at all turns which made it seem that all roads lead to the sea! We were given a traditional welcome and then shown the campus. Every Friday sees the women staff dressed in white saris and the men in sparkling white mundus and shirts. The resort sits on 24 acres that is right next to the beach. You can hear the roar of the sea as it hits the banks. It's also a beach with sand, not the rocky beach that Pondy is famous for. The walk to our room was through narrow winding walkways. Our baggage arrived later from the reception, in an Omni.
Time for Mahindra to switch to their own electric vehicles!

We were shown our rooms and briefed about the basic controls. After ensuring we were comfortable, and that we don't lock ourselves outside the room by mistake, Shakthi, our host dropped the first bomb...

"Wifi works only in the lobby" he said. This evidently was to get people to come back to the lobby from their rooms and participate in the many activities they had planned! Seemed to work for me. But from conversations we overheard, it could also be the reason why most people would open the score card by giving Oyo Rooms 1 and Club Mahindra 0.5 :)

We went back to the lobby, because that's where all the action seemed to be happening. This is one resort that will ensure that you are not just whiling away your time, but are occupied, doing something engaging and useful. It's time well spent. And it's usually something happy! At 12 noon on most days, some of the staff teach guests how to dance. This is a scene you'll thoroughly enjoy, even if you have two left feet. Now remember their apparel. And now imagine the dance. What a lively bunch of happy people! And my golly, were they dancers! Don't take my word for it. Watch how happiness spreads -

This video was actually shot on the next day. But on day one, they were dressed in traditional apparel. And there were no accidents. Or wardrobe malfunctions ;) All this without missing a single beat!


This place is an awesome place for children. Any place with/near water usually is. However,  swimming or venturing into the sea is risky as the sea on this side is not calm. Add strong currents and a pretty steep bank, and it's a recipe for disaster. So your best bet when it comes to water, is the L shaped swimming pool. It's just 4 feet, which means it is safe for most children. One part also has a kiddie pool for infants. Those who do not know swimming can have their feet firmly planted on the ground, inside the water.

Now, if you don't want to get into the water, you can try water zorbing. It's a good exercise to check your sense of balance or to fall head over heels and still enjoy the fall at the same time!

Even if you are not a water baby, they have an entire team focused on children. Lots of activities from various kinds of painting and handiwork. And trust me, your children will not have enough of it! There are plenty of other team activities. Some free, some paid. The staff always make it a point to try and engage with children and are quick to distract a particularly cranky child so the parents can take a break. And they did a kick-ass job at it. Without actually kicking any ass. There are lots of indoor and outdoor games for small and big kids (parents)! Children can also be kept engaged by signing up for magic shows, riddles, games and of course - food!


The spread for the buffet in each meal is pretty exhaustive. There's more than something in it for everyone. And if that's not enough, there's also a live counter. You are bound to put on more than a few grams in weight. You can try to walk off your guilt on the beach during dawn or dusk.
But some sins aren't forgiven so easily!


Find out if you can be a cosmonaut.

Or if you have a Formula One gene

Or simply enjoy the flora.

And fauna.

 Or just push a few trees apart!

And then watch the splendid sunset (after missing the sunrise because you slept like a lazy bum)!

The adults don't have to feel left out.There are various 'big people activities' including cookery, outdoor games, tug of war, riddles, paper craft, treasure hunts and other fun stuff.

Tail piece
Take a walk along any beach. One or two kilometers. You'll come to a colony of fishermen. The earlier in the morning, higher your chances of an 'encounter'. While there are people who won't accept anything offered using a left hand (because it is for the 'other' use!), we also have people who take a squat in the same sea that feeds them! Even if the government wasn't building toilets, one would wonder, why don't they use their brains? Would they crap on the same plate that they eat from? Modi needs to start building those toilets in fishermen colonies on the beach! Or maybe Mahindra just got itself a new CSR project : ) And for the right-hand-is-holier debate, remember that you are forcing between 10 to 30 percent of the population (the lefties) to shake hands with you using the their other-use-hand!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Purple Club

It has been a best seller. It consistently stands head, shoulders and torso in sales above its closest rival in the D1 segment. More than 130,000 units have be sold in the last 4 years. It's born on a 700 acre facility that has a 12km perimeter. The monocoque frame is put together in a press that is just one of three of it's kind in India. The frame itself is put together using more than 5000 spot welds. The tolerance allowed for deviation of the frame is just 1.5 millimeters. A single unit takes 2.5 days to make from scratch. And the stats go on...

Grand Welcome

We are talking about birthplace of the XUV 5OO - Chakan! About 45 owners were invited to visit the plant as part of the purple club initiative.

The entrance to the plant
When they said customer is king, Mahindra pulled out all stops to ensure we felt like kings. Complete with a welcome party that included traditional trumpets! 

To the point of mild embarrassment : )

The welcome party

Proud owners had driven from Bangalore, Belgaum, Mumbai, Hyderabad and of course, Pune. After the initial greetings at the entrance, we were fattened with delicious Poha and sandwiches for breakfast. 

It was then time for theory classes : ) But not before all our phones were 'confiscated'. Mahindra has a strict no camera policy inside the plant. (They were quite serious about it as everyone were frisked before entering the assembly area). 

We were welcomed by Anand (not Mahindra!) who is responsible for the Purple Club initiative. We were quickly taken  through successive presentations about M&M the company, areas of operation, various locations they operate out of, markets they serve, stats about the Chakan plant, employee information, social initiatives, etc. We also watched a couple of videos and were introduced to the W-207, the latest version of  the XUV5OO from the Mahindra stable. Lots of different and interesting stats were reeled out. Chakan is the latest and most modern plant for Mahindra and Mahindra vehicles. There are about 3000 employees working at this plant with the average age of employee hovering around 24.

It was really nice to listen to the many green initiatives on this plant. There are over 10,000 trees planted in the campus. The plant also has implemented rain water harvesting, solar dishes and heat recovery systems. The plant is also a zero discharge plant which means all the water that is consumed is treated, and recycled. About 70 acres of the plant is dedicated to 5 suppliers. This ensures that there is almost zero inventory and a certain part of the supply chain is extremely short and much more predictable/controllable.

The Press Shop

The first hanger we visited had a huge machine that gulped down metal sheets, cut, formed and pressed them into different kind of body panels. There was the roof, the doors, the bonnet, and all other metal panels that were being hammered out at 12 parts per minute. As the giant arms lifted them onto the press, the huge jaws clamped them into shape. The movements seemed incredibly fast for such a huge machine. Once the pressing operation is over, the arms then quickly lift the panel and place them on a conveyor that then brings the part outside for inspection. It was all over in 5 seconds, before anyone knew what was happening. Operators along the conveyor inspected each panel as it came out. Nearby, we could see that there were different fixtures for different panels and they were stacked one on top of the other like a tall multi-storey building. Huge overhead cranes are used for changing each fixture, when it's time for a different panel.

The Welding Shop

The assembly line brought the various panels together and at each stage, several spot welds were done, all entirely by huge robotic arms. As the line progressed, the panels that were added to the car also increased. The final inspection of the welded body is done manually.

The body in white, as they call it, is then taken to the paint shop. Or does it become the body in white at the paint shop? Not really sure. The paint shop wasn't on the schedule, so we went directly to the assembly shop. As we boarded a bus to be taken to the assembly shop, we could see large conveyors moving overhead, carrying the shell of the car from one hanger to another. It's interesting to note that there is no change made to the W207 (latest version of the XUV 5OO) frame. It's the same one that was used in the W201 (Original one with whiskers). All the changes are external. Another interesting fact is the steel used for export cars is different from the steel used for the OE market. And that's true for most components. In fact, I know of another company that had different suppliers, processes and assembly lines (that were air conditioned) for export products.

The Assembly Shop

The conveyors brought the painted shell of the car from the painting hanger into the assembly area. There were huge lifts that were fed by the conveyor. This conveyor fed another conveyor that took the shell to different assembly stations, along the assembly line. From the engine, the transmission, the windshields, dashboard, airbags, insulation, the seats, tires, each sub assembly had a station. The assembly stations are configured to handle any design or version in any order. So a W6 LHD (Left Hand Drive) could be assembled by the same team just after they put together a W10 AWD RHD. It's not done as a batch. It's interesting to note that when the car is ready, the quality team act like the real customer. Unless the acting customer is satisfied, the car does not pass inspection.

On the assembly floor we were introduced to the 'man behind the XUV'. He took a few questions from us. And bowled a few bouncers too : ) There's a lot of discontent (using a mild word here) with the suspension of the W 201. And those who have driven the W 207 could feel the huge difference in the way it jumps in and out of potholes. Not many of us were happy with his analogy of comparing the IPhone 3 to the Iphone 6. What ever happened to backward compatibility? As someone jovially said, we are not expecting the suspension of the W 207. Would it be possible to give us maybe a  W 205? Even at a price?

Then there was one owner who had driven down from Bangalore and had issues with gear changes and complained about a loss of power. All the issues that we brought up,  seemed like they were new ones and he had never heard of these before. In spite of being an XUV owner himself. And driving a car that has clocked 40K plus on the odo. The suspension issue for example, seemed to become more tolerable after a retorque of the nuts, for those who did it. It would have been great for someone competent to drive the vehicle in question and at least see what the real issue was. I'd have done that if it was a product that I was involved in making. All we really wanted someone to say was "Yes, this is my product, let me help you". There was another owner who said he drives back to Bangalore from Hyderabad just to service the car! And it's not because there are no service centers in Hyderabad.

Some of the lucky owners

Hungry Kya?

Lunch was arranged at the Marriott which was located close by. (Remember the green supply chain :) The convoy to the hotel was quite a sight to see.

XUV Convoy
Waiting for the bomb check :)

Marriott lobby

At the pool

Purple Club

Buy an XUV and you automatically become a member of the purple club. However, many users aren't sure what this 'purple' thing is all about. This was evident when owners were approached to say something on camera about the car, the company, purple club, etc. While many spoke about the other questions, questions on the purple club mostly drew a blank.

Some customers think it's something that they get once a year, when Mahindra remembers people who put their trust in them. Others think it is the dedicated relationship manager. But most owners will tell you that RMs are not very different from service advisers. And then there is the free pick up and drop that is offered. But that's offered by many manufacturers. Moreover, many owners I've interacted with, don't use it. They prefer to deliver the car themselves and watch the job being done. Because lots of information is lost in translation. The purple club is a huge opportunity waiting to be tapped. There's so much that you can do when it comes to creating wonderful experiences. To remember the brand, to appreciate the company, to build a relationship, and ensure that the next car we buy, will also be a Mahindra!

Mahindra spends so much in trying to convince people to believe in the company, in the car. What they should try instead, is to focus half the attention on the already convinced.

The List

A list of issues that was painstakingly consolidated by the group was handed over to the Brand Manager of the XUV. He said he would get it to the attention of the right folks. I hope he does. 

Ratan Tata thought about a Nano when he saw a family of four getting drenched in the rain while the family was traveling on a two wheeler. Someone at Mahindra just needs to visit a fuel pump when a Scorpio/XUV customer is trying to carry out the TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) relearning procedure in the car. The system needs to know where all 5 tires are located. Only then can it accurately tell you which tire has how much pressure. And this is done by releasing air in a sequence from each tire. So logically, how many tires do you need to 'teach'? 4 right? Because it's understood that the remaining tire is the spare one! But no, while there are folks honking behind you for their turn to top up air, you have to lower your spare, fill it to about 45 PSI and then start releasing air from all 5 tires, one after the other in the prescribed sequence. And if even one tire does not get registered, the entire procedure will have to be redone. And someone could get murdered. This is feedback I've been giving for over 6 years now, from the Scorpio days. Everyone I've talked to say that learning 4 is better. And in all these years, no one was able to explain why all 5 tires needed learning.

The lights on the car are turned on when you unlock the car in a dark place. Now, this happens even during the day when there is sufficient light. Since the respective sensor feels that it is dark, it automatically switches on the headlights even when there is no need to. Give us a way to switch off these auto features. I appreciate your features. In fact, we are spoiled by them. But I as a customer must have the final say. Same goes to the auto fresh air mode getting engaged when the AC is switched off. If I wanted fresh air, you've provided me a button. Allow me to make that decision.

VMS has been introduced on the new XUV and there's a software update being tested out on older cars that enables this new feature. This is an incredibly useful feature. I'm not always looking at visual cues on the dashboard. And it really brings the vehicle to life. Look, he speaks! Many service advisers/relationship managers haven't heard of this update. You've implemented poke-yoke on the shop floor. Many times over. Think up a similar system where it's not just service advisers that get this information, but all customers (based on some kind of opt-in). Customers are not just aware of any software updates, but could maybe also do it themselves using a wizard and a USB drive. Look at how much such self service options will relieve the always full service centers. The key is to make it fail safe. And with all the Poke-Yoke implementations at the plant, you have probably mastered this. In case of an issue allow a roll back. Just in case.

Another issue that was highlighted is how the alloys get damaged every time they visit the spare compartment. There is a high point in the shell, that rubs against a part of the alloy and leaves a mark. Every wheel that has been rotated and has landed as the spare, has a scar to show. A video was created and shared with some folks in Mahindra. But the only news we got is that the spare is no longer an alloy!

The maps are miserable. Map my India has come up with an improved version... But no one seemed to know if an upgrade was planned or not.

Somewhere, there is a gap. What's the best way to deal with it? Writing to Anand Mahindra or Pavan Goenka isn't the solution. They are extremely responsive. But the question is, why should that be the only way of getting someone to listen? Why can't the folks lower in the pecking order show the same passion and response BEFORE we reach out to the top? Shouldn't there be a process for such feedback to get back to the design team? What's the best way to get to the people who want to listen?

Because the list we submitted has a bunch more.

I'd love to see some of the dashboard systems applied at the service centers. Your manufacturing processes are so sophisticated. But the service centers are still very primitive. Wrong tools used. Lots of time wasted. Hardly anything is streamlined. And the customer ends up paying for all these inefficiencies. Customers should have a consistent experience, irrespective of the service center they visit. The process to troubleshoot, identity issues/solutions and share knowledge with other service centers is nowhere near where we see it at the manufacturing plant. If a station stops working, all hell breaks loose in the plant. Maybe there is an opportunity to apply some of the technology at the service center too. Don't lose the already convinced. The service center should be as welcoming as the manufacturing experience we had. It is nowhere close. Brand Mahindra seems to stop at the gates of the plant. Once a car is sold, your only contact with the customer is through these service centers and the people working there. They build or break all the experiences you've created. Take a guess on which of the two is really happening.

Customers like to feel valued, much after they have invested in your product. One way of making this happen is to engage with those who can add value. Your customers come with varied expertise, in various areas. Consult with them. It's free! I'm sure you already do it, but get your customers to review your ideas, new products, when they are on the drawing board/ready for launch. You will be in a better position to make decisions with the data you've gathered. One aspect of your purple club could be around this. Make your existing customers feel special. It doesn't cost you anything if information about new launches was shared first with your existing customers, even if it's only a day earlier, and then with the rest of the world. Think about it.


The feedback form was only about the experiences that day. Many of the questions brought a smile to my face. The questions seemed to assume that no one would give them the best rating. The thing about feedback is that you have to try very hard to get the user to say exactly what the user want's to say. Not what you want to hear. Look for both kind of feedback, the good and the bad. It was an opportunity to take feedback about the car too.

The icing

I've always drooled over the coffee table book that M&M had made for the Scorpio. But I couldn't get my hands on it. So imagine my delight when I saw the coffee book for the XUV 5OO! And to top it all, there was a scale model of the car as well, in the goodies bag!

Had the goodies been given first, the feedback collected might also have been better.
Here is what really lit up our eyes.

All the secrecy in the plant made me wonder if it was really needed. Your competition already knows what's in your pipeline. The competition always knows. What if they copy? When I was younger, telephone pals was a big thing. Someone had come up with an innovative way to make friends using a telephone answering service. So if you were out of town, you could give clients a particular number and they could leave voice messages for you. You could call in and check these messages from any place. The same system was used to make friends. You could leave a message and people who were looking for friends would call up and listen to you. If they liked what they heard, they'd leave a reply and hopefully a number :)
My messages were unique and very engaging. (How did I know? I became friends with one of the folks working at the office and she told me this - The first thing that the owner of the company did on a Monday morning was listen to my message because I changed the message on weekends)! One day, I noticed that someone else looking to make friends, had copied my message - word for word. I was very disappointed initially. But then I was comforted with the thought that they just had one of my ideas. And that they could only copy what I said. But I had a lot more from where that came from! They had a copy of the golden egg. While I had the goose that laid them!
So don't worry about other manufacturers copying you. You too have a lot more from where 'that' came from.

So the next time, we want something better than what the Tatas did : )

Photo credits: Sanjay Phodkar, Anil Kumar.