René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

Archive for the 'Germany' Category

Lufthansa Customer Care – The Rift between West and East

The shifting economic power from west to east is a favourite theme sung by observers of globalization. The most often quoted reasons in favour of the east: demography (young) and growth (high). I would like to add from my own experience another critical one: attitude (great).

I’d like to illustrate this on a small example which happened yesterday during boarding with Lufthansa in Frankfurt. My purpose is both to use this public display as part of a complain which I have filed, but also as an illustration of a broader picture which I see emerging.

When I arrived to my boarding gate B23 for my flight LH 754 from Frankfurt to Bangalore yesterday on February 04th 2011 via direct transfer from Zurich, I requested at the boarding gate an upgrade from Economy to Business Class thanks to my abundance of miles in the Miles & More programme. The German tall guy behind the counter, let’s call him by his initials E.H. said „Yes, if you have miles.“ He went to his computer, went through the menu and replied: „Sorry, it doesn’t work, your ticket class doesn’t allow for an upgrade.“ End of the story – for him. I retorted that I didn’t believe this was accurate, as I had upgraded myself successfully on the TO-sector.

Lufthansa A321 (D-AIR)

I grabbed my mobile phone, called my always super-duper-customer-oriented Lufthansa-agent Vignesh Mohan in Bangalore who has been immaculately serving me in the last 3 years. He immediately picked up and explained to him the problem, he replied that he believed, too, the ticket was upgradable, but he would cross-check in the system and call me back.

Time was running out as I was the last passenger at the gate, the German guy and his female German colleague didn’t bother to even look at not to mention look after me once. Vignesh being Vignesh kept his promise, called me back after 2 minutes from India and confirmed: “The ticket is upgradable.”

What came next is really the point for my anger and the illustration of the different attitudes. I was polite and relaxed, went over to Mr. E.H. with my phone and said kind of: „I have Vignesh on the phone, your Lufthansa colleague from Bangalore, I suggest you both talk to each other in airline-lingo with all your ticket-codes to sort things out.“ He again wouldn’t even look at me, lest try to find any solution. Instead his female colleague stepped up to me and said in a super-annoyed way: “Well, it doesn’t work this way, we would have to call the ticket counter.” – Expectedly my response was: “And why don’t you do it?” She went on with: “Next time be a bit earlier with your upgrade request.” I turned back to E.H. and asked him why he wouldn’t talk to his colleague in India. Brief answer: “I in general don’t talk on a mobile phone.” Wow, that’s a rare mix of impressive and progressive.

Contrast that with Vignesh who was still on my ear and grasped the full sense of urgency of the situation and said: “René, give me a couple of minutes, I’ll sort things out from India.” I don’t know what Vignesh did, but magically after minutes the upgrade went through as smooth as silk. All fine, but I really got annoyed by this pathetic behaviour from the German Lufthansa team and announced that I would complain against him and asked for his name. He wouldn’t even have the balls to tell me, so I had to bent over and read it from his name plate. The grand final of the scene were his good bye-words: “But I just want to let you know that I am not the responsible load manager.” Bingo. This says it all: Zero attitude translates to zero responsibility which translates to zero civilized behaviour.

I do not even want to stretch the terms “customer orientation” too far and I don’t even intend to play my black card being a HON Circle member. This is just not a manner to behave. And being an entrepreneur I am safe to state into Lufthansa’s direction that you simply don’t want anybody like E.H. doing any customer-facing jobs. This was not his one time-failure, it’s an attitude problem and he’ll never get it.

Compare that to Vignesh’s attitude and action, and I am happy to conclude that we need more of the Vigneshs being allowed to play a much stronger role on the global economic stage and replace the E.H.s ideally yesterday. And please nobody tell me that this was – prominent German term – “unsozial”, i.e. not in line with social considerations.

Picture Source: Flickr.com / Andres Rueda

Booming: (Online)-Coupons in the Crisis

Came across this data-rich article on CNN Money which points at an increase of coupon distribution and usage in the United States. Interestingly, the surge is being explained with the economic crisis where savvy consumers are looking for a deal wherever they can get one.

Overall, the volume of aggregated coupon savings amounts to $600 millions more in the first 9 months of 2009 compared to the same period the year before, or in percent, a 30 % up. The merchants from their end seem to have understood luring new customers to their shops by increasing the distribution of such coupons by 41 %. More often than not, the economics of a such a voucher don’t pay off in the first place with zero or even a negative margin. However, if relationship building is done right, the customer lifetime value will allow for profitable amortization.

Not surprising, more and more of the coupon business is moving online, with Redplum being such a major aggregator. The convenience-factor for both the merchant and the customer is as unmatched as in all the other areas the internet has disrupted. In Germany, there are equally services springing up in the coupon space like www.paperball.de/gutscheine. The idea is simply explained: Present an overview of coupons of current vouchers, explain their benefit and guide the customer over to the merchant. Another example for such a service is blogmeier.de with “blog” meaning “blog” also in German language by now, whilst “Meier” being a very popular last name (like “Smith” in English :-)

My impression is that coupons are here to stay and that we will see more of them, especially at the crossroad of mobile, location awareness and your social network.

MännerMitÄhre: Comradeship climbing Germany’s Zugspitze

It’s been 4 days back, but I still have to think every day about our once-in-a-lifetime experience. Rainer, Stephan, Werner and me, four MännerMitÄhre, started out on in Ehrwald at 1,200 meters to climb Germany’s highest mountain: The Zugspitze (2,962 meters). All pictures of the tour here on Werner’s and my Flickr-sets.

From Ehrwald uphill

This tour was a far cry from a spontaneous mood of the day. The idea came up some three months ago during a joint beergarden evening. My feelings towards the project were ambiguous in the beginning as I never claimed to be overly sportive, I’ve never been. By contrast, it is safe to say that the other three comrades are “machines”: ski-tours, triathlons, mountain-biking as regular their pastimes. Hence, the last three months to the very date were for me (not for them) filled with intense preparation: running and whenever possible climbing up some mountain which would stand in the way. The other guys called this my “angst-training” :-)

Climb towards Zugspitze

In the bottom line, the fitness came to be just enough to master this tour which for me has been the most strenuous thing I’ve done since the army almost 20 years back. But it was equally one of the coolest, most rewarding things I have ever done. The physical strain in combination with the effect working one’s path step by step higher, witnessing the vegetation withdraw and the landscape resembling that of the moon till finally reach the summit, is one thing.

The true spirit of the mountain, however, derives from the collective will to make it together. From the necessity to rely on each other in case of any incident. And from cherishing the moment once you made it up to the summit together.

MännerMitÄhre on the Summit of the Zugspitze (2962 m)

When Werner right there pulled out his flask with the apricot-schnapps and passed it along, it was one of those rare honest MännerMitÄhre-moments in life. In comparison to plenty of networking-events I do attend, this setting was entirely devoid of any mutual commercial interest or a hidden agendas, but entirely dedicated to our honest comradeship.

I believe the world needs more MännerMitÄhre. Us four will be back for a mountain-tour latest next year, whereas our starting point Ehrwald should be renamed into Ährwald ;-)

Global India Meeting in Munich: Reception and Gala Dinner

It’s been an honour to participate a new high-calibre event about India, the Global India Business Meeting. Even more so as the event takes place in my hometown Munich which is on top of that highlighting India’s State of Karnataka in whose capital Bangalore I have been living for the last 5 years. Somehow my little personal „globalisation delivered“. The organizer is Horasis („The Global Visions Company“) chaired by Frank Richter whom I met for the first time some 9 months back for a breakfast in the legendary Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai.

Frank Richter, CEO Horasis and Host

The quality of conversations was stunning yesterday during the reception an Munich’s Residence, followed by a gala dinner in the “Emperor’s Hall”. (Here‘s the entire picture set on Flickr from last night’s event. )

Gala Dinner in the "Emperor's Hall" at the Residence

In his dinner speech Anand Sharma, the Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry, pointed out how far we’ve come with globalization where India in the meanwhile is investing more in Germany than Germany in India with 123 Indian companies being present in Germany.

Gala Dinner in the "Emperor's Hall" at the Residence

At the same time he emphasized the challenge of his country to produce inclusive growth where the 7 % GDP increment would benefit also the majority of people in his country who are still living at the poverty line. Mr. Sharma made it a point to transcend this necessity to all countries in the world that are facing similar fundamentals as India.

During dinner I had a mind-tickling conversation with my table-neighbour Gunjan Sinha, serial entrepreneur from India who has been living in the Silicon Valley for the last 20 years.

Gunjan Sinha, my table neighbour at Gala Dinner

His latest company Metric Stream is into providing a software-solution that allows for a 360-degree bottom-up approach in risk management for companies. So we spoke a lot about my currently favourite topics of the predictable, the unpredictable, the Black Swan (beneficial or catastrophic) and how little even big companies are nowadays are able to think, let alone act within these categories.

During coffee I talked to Infosys’ CEO Kris Gopalakrishnan about the recession and how it’s impacting his company (“it been tougher but we are still hiring”) and about his predecessor Nandan Nilekani’s move into the Indian Government to introduce the digital National Identity Card. “That hasn’t been easy for us, but given the importance of the cause for the nation, it is the right decision”, Mr. Gopalakrishnan said. Here a picture at the end of the evening with him, my friend Suhas Gopinath from Bangalore and me (no, I am not standing on anything ;-)

Kris Gopalakrishnan, Rene Seifert and Suhas Gopinath

OLPC for Vatsalya: Only EUR 431 missing

Your support has been absolutely overwhelming, over the weekend additional donations have led to an overall commitment of EUR 2369 from the total of EUR 2800 we are aiming at. This went way faster than I would have ever dreamt of. Here is the latest list of donors, with the detailed overview here.

Juri Reisner
Martin Wunsch
Rene Seifert
Malte und Tina Krüger
Fabian Seyfried
Dirk Schornstein
Petra Rautenberg and Jürgen Kock
Andreas Hörr
Sascha Mladenovic
Paul Fritze
Simone Bayer
Michael Munz
Alexander and Michaela Erlmeier
Lukasz Gadowski
Nils and Anita Rauterberg
Jan Poerschmann

Thank you very much indeed for this. Stunning I find also that 90 % of these commitments come from social media-communication via blog, Facebook and Twitter. The nature of such concerted action displays three things: That the future of young girls in an orphanage in Bangalore can reach out to a influential number of people without the use of “classic media”, that the same channels empower us to take immediate action and last but not least, we can feel being part of a joint cause.

So here we are with just another EUR 431 missing, in case anybody would like to participate, drop me a mail at rene.seifert (at) gmail.com and I’ll add you to the donors’ list.

18 hours later: OLPC for Vatsalya and half way there

I feel indeep deeply touched by your overwhelming support, far beyond what I would have dreamed of. In a fast intermittently connected world the good news propagated to me through Facebook, Twitter (and Mail) when I disembarked the plane 1.5 hours later on Menorca Airport after I had posted the start of the charity project from Madrid. And not even 18 hours later we are almost half way there. From the targeted EUR 2,800 we have already committed EUR 1,370. Here is the list of the generous donors in chronological order:

Juri Reisner
Martin Wunsch
Rene Seifert
Malte und Tina Krüger
Fabian Seyfried
Dirk Schornstein
Petra Rautenberg und Jürgen Kock
Andreas Hörr
Sascha Mladenovic

Here on this Google-Spreadshirt I will keep an realtime and public update about the donations made. Thank you so much for all your support. I will get back to you within 2 to 3 weeks on the operational issues of money transfer and the next steps to follow. Till then, feel free to spread the word, I will also do so today till Sunday on Martin Varsavsky’s and Nina Wiegand’s Menorca Techtalk.

Indian Consulate in Munich: Back to the Future

Just attended a colourful evening in the Indian Consulate in Munich where my own India story began. Back in 2003 when I had a dream and a business plan to move to India, it was exactly this Consulate General that provided me with the critical guidance. Information about the country, the regulatory environment, practical advise on company-establishment, apostille for foundation-documents and last but not least the visa. I felt already 6 years back that the consulate provided an outright proactive “service” to help me execute on my plan, far beyond the level of expectation.

Therefore, it was almost something like “back to the future” when I gratefully accepted the invitation to tonight’s function which was an initiative of the Consul General and Mohammad Rehan to bring together the Indian community in Munich. Community in the broadest sense of the word: Obviously Indians in Munich, but also Germans and other nationals from Munich who are dealing with India in the professional context. Anup Mudgal, the Consul General and host of the evening, expressed his confidence that no matter which results will turn out of the general election on Monday, India was firmly set to maintain its course of economic openness.

Mr. Mudgal put India in its historic context of century-old openness towards other cultures which I feel are indeed a coining tenet of even daily life on the subcontinent. Whenever India was geared to openness and freedom, it succeeded, Mr Mudgal said. India has indeed fostered long-standing relations with Europe, where Germany has been one of the most important trade partners in terms of trade volume and investment. Siemens for instance helped build the first telephone line between Kolkata and Europe.

All in all, a good opportunity to bring together the ties of globalization from the “other end” in Munich, which used to be my own starting point before I “changed the side”. Likewise, I met an Indian entrepreneur tonight who set up his company in Munich. It is touching to witness how in parallel to cherished local cultures, there is indeed more and more emerging something like an inclusive globalized culture in our world.

Landed in San Francisco: Stunning Lufthansa Service

I couldn’t be luckier for today’s flight LH 454 where I just landed in one of my most favoured cities, San Francisco. Bought myself an Economy Class ticket, used my abundance of miles for an upgrade to Business and checking into the Lounge in Frankfurt, I got a free upgrade to First Class. And yes, the Flugröserl was in the game again :)

Surely, this is not a lucky draw in the lottery, but based on my HON Circle-status, but I appreciate these gestures from Lufthansa a lot. Maybe, therefore, I am a bit biased, but overall flying Lufthansa like crazy in the last 3.5 years between the continents, I feel that it is time to express a thank for the splendid work the airline does.

Jumbo Jet Boing 747

It doesn’t come by surprise that – based on “good old Germany virtues” – Lufthansa consistently ranks high at safety, reliability and punctuality. But those same virtues culture-wise were not always prone to outstanding service, it’s usually not what Germans are like. Slightly on the brush side of life, the understanding of service falls short in the scale of galaxies what one finds in India, Singapore, Thailand or Japan. There, serving a customer is culturally considered an honour.

Hence, it deserves even more hail that Lufthansa grew above itself to be not only significantly better than average German service, but even on the many instances on the ground, but especially on board, truly exceptional. Gone are the times (which I remember) where a bitchy flight attendant would almost throw the tray with the meal in front of you.

Admittedly, passengers in Business and First Class pay more to get better service. But my point is that you can’t buy friendliness, attention and charm when it’s not in a company’s DNA, when you have the wrong people or you have the right people and over time in a  bad organisation they degrade to jerks. In my perception, Lufthansa has worked hard to change its DNA. In some instances I spoke to flight attendants off the records where they told me about their training in general and the briefings before every flight in particular. The purser would remind the cabin crew that it’s them who will make a difference in choosing Lufthansa over a competitor and make a lasting impact on the experience. So there seems to be a system of deliberate effort behind, and to me it seems that the system is bearing fruit.

There are many aspects of outstanding service, but it come most in the shade of getting something which you did not expect: Like today I chose for my meal a French wine, the flight attendant asked me if I was sure not to go for the Chilenean one. I stayed with my choice, but he came back to me smiling after two minutes with a sip with the one from Chile just to give me a try.

I don’t intend to celebrate my middle-age-wine-decadency with such an example; it’s just illustrating how small unexpected gestures can make a difference in delighting a customer. Today and in the last months and years I have seen a couple of these instances where Lufthansa’s staff has gone, or rather, flown that extra mile for me. Thanks.

Kulturempfehlungen.de ist live

Web 2.0 macht vor keiner Nische halt. Jetzt wird auch die Hochkultur davon überrollt bzw. davon aufgerollt, und zwar mit einer neuen Plattform Kulturempfehlungen.de

kulturempfehlungen.de

Wie der Name schon suggeriert, dreht sich alles um Kultur, und zwar in der ganzen Spannweite von Musik, Literatur und Film. Wie ich auch gut unterrichteten Kreisen erfahren habe, wird demnächst auch Kunst, Design, Architektur und Bühne hinzukommen.

Eine erste Vorauswahl wird von der Redaktion getroffen, dann macht die Community weiter und kann CDs, Bücher und Filme bewerten und empfehlen.

Collectively collapsing all Rules at Carnival

After all my successful years of abstinence, I got drawn in this time. Into the weird proceedings of carnival in Germany. Unfortunately, my friend Arnd exploited a weakness of mine which was asking me if I wanted to join him and some friends to the unique, unparalleled und world-famous carnival in Cologne. It took me around 10 seconds to accept. And there we were for “Altweiberfastnacht“, the brave sailors after an exhausting trip on the seven seas ready to go on land (pictures here).

Leichtmatrosen Benninghoff und Seifert

The unbelievable thing is that over the last 5 days of the carnival season, the city is basically  in a state of emergency. Nobody works, don’t even try to call someone up for business and everybody in the street is in one form of disguise or the other.

Everyone in Costume for Carnival in Colgne

I don’t intend to bore the death out of you by intellectualizing the sheer fun. But I found the social dynamics of something like carnival extremely insightful. Also I realized that quite a few “cultures” (in a simplified usage of the term) have something which carries some similar properties. For instance, Oktoberfest in Munich, Holi in India or Springbreak in the U.S. Or yesterday, I went to another carnival-event, “Fasching” as it is called in Bavaria, thanks to an invitation of the “Münchner Sozietät”, slightly changed my dress and went as both Barack and Hussein ;-) – pictures here

Faschingsball "Münchner Sozietät"

What I mean that for some pre-defined period of time, the usual collective rules seem to collapse. Those underlying values of proper behaviour which we deem essential for the very functioning of our social fabric. Just gone, right through the chimney. People drink in a way where they make sure everyone realize, personal distance among strangers disappear and the approachability between genders raise exponentially.

It was interesting to watch in Cologne’s pub how apparently new acquaintances were polishing each other’s tonsils in a matter of minutes – thereby seemingly reinforcing the communal cohesion for the rest of the year ;-) Moreover during carnival, the very nature of being in a costume creates an alter ego which allows for acting in a parallel self which can’t be held accountable for these unintentional occurrences.

Ultimately, hey, when everyone is doing it, nobody can be blamed. Hence, the state of emergency becomes just a normality. Essential, however, is the common notion of this “pre-defined period of time” where everyone can go berserk before knowing exactly where the point is when it’s time for the reboot.

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