September 04, 2007

Following up good PR - by Sanjay Anandaram

Last week I had two very different experiences while visiting two well known global companies. Experiences that made an impact on me and experiences that every startup company can learn from.

I arrived at the fist company a little before my 10am appointment and walked into the reception area. There was pandemonium there with a large number of visitors huddled around the reception desk. The long desk in turn was “manned” by about 6 or 7 smartly dressed men and women and had 3-4 computers on it. I mentioned the name of the person I’d come to visit to one of these persons and I received a blank stare. I repeated the name and was asked if I had the extension number of the person. I did not. I repeated the name again as well as the designation of the person. Finally, the name and a mobile number was located. The mobile number turned out to be an old one. The staff were running around without any clue as to who my host was. The cell phone number I had for the person didn’t work either. I was then asked to go to another reception area. Same result and I was asked to return to the earlier reception area. Getting impatient, I walked out of the building and into another building where I was told the relevant department, that this person headed I had come to see, was based. There was no one at the reception area. I walked into the lift and went up to the 4th floor (I asked some employees where this department was based). I was met by a guard on this floor who asked me to return to the reception area I’d come from which I promptly did. It was now 10.35am. A vehicle pulled up at the building just as I was about to leave and the person I was supposed to meet jumped out. The cell phone battery had run out, traffic, how rapid growth had put enormous pressure on the administration and the system…..….I finally had to fill in a form, get my photo taken, have the ID card pinned to my shirt before I walked into the same building I was escorted out of by a guard. I was annoyed and irritated and angry. This in a company that F500 companies lean on for management and IT systems know-how!

Later on the same day, I visited another company. There was just one security guard behind the desk. The desk had a flat screen monitor displaying the company logo with a keyboard to enter my and my company name. My name and company name were then printed out on rectangular sheet of paper with a sticky peel-off back cover. While waiting, I noticed a screen on a wall in the reception area that had a list of phrases and words scrolling on it. I asked the security guard what those were and he smiled and said that those were some of the phrases and words that the world was searching for on this company’s system! I stuck the printed ID paper tag on my shirt and was let inside the building inside 5 minutes. Completing my meeting, I noticed a football made entirely of these paper name tags taken off earlier visitors lying on the reception desk. I too stuck my tag to the football on my way out with a smile.

The importance of creating the right impression doesn’t just end with fancy copy and glitzy media work. In fact, creating the right impression is a matter of company culture. The humble security guard (no smart jacket for him) knew more about the company he was working for than the team of smartly dressed men and women behind the desk. There, activity was confused with output and efficiency. The importance of creating the right impression on employees, customers, partners, vendors and others cannot be over-emphasised and it always starts and shows up in “moments of truth” when the company meets its stakeholders. Every entrepreneur and startup therefore needs to inculcate the importance of creating the right culture right from the get-go.

Remember the old saying, you rarely get a second chance to make a first impression?

What do you think?

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings close to two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.