Bisi Bele Hulianna and process (hint: famous in Chennai)

Bisi Bele HuliannaOne of the foundational keys to consistently achieve business  benefits – whether they are related to inward looking drivers (such as efficiency, costs,  etc.) or outward looking (such as customer orientation,  customer service quality,  customer satisfaction, etc.) is the process. So as evangelists of ‘process thinking’, we all believe strongly that getting the process right is the surest way of influencing those inward and outward looking drivers.

Human element

However, with our fierce obsession to that ‘process thinking’ we face the risk of missing a very critical element that can, rather easily and perhaps more directly, influence the shift from ‘customer satisfaction’ to ‘customer delight’: the human element that connects the process with the customer.

A recent experience reinforced this further. Last week work took me to Chennai in Southern India, a city where I spent a large part of my childhood. I travel often now to Chennai and am usually booked at a hotel that is not far from where I lived as a kid. The hotel has a lot of nostalgia value for me, for, among other things, it has a swimming pool where I spent a few hours every evening through my high school days. It also happens to be right next to the first pool I ever stepped into and was coached. And so, though there were better hotel options for me, whenever I have travelled to the city over the last year or two, I haven’t really asked to be booked elsewhere.

Bisi Bele Hulianna

Adding to this nostalgia was a fairly more recent experience from last year during one of my trips. I had called room service to place an order for dinner – and happened to pick a dish called Bisi Bele Hulianna (BBH), a rice-based dish. It turned out to be a delightful meal. Ever since, I have had the dish at least once during my trips to Chennai.

So this time when I was in Chennai again, I was looking forward to some piping hot BBH. After few attempts of calling at 11.30pm (after the kitchen closed), I finally called at 10 pm to place my order. You can imagine my disappointment when I heard the voice on the other end of the line say, “Sorry sir, that dish is available only till 8 pm.”

And of course, I expressed irritation and told the voice what I was told during my previous attempts and that I have also had the dish served on many occasions after 11 pm.

“Sorry sir” was the grim and rather indifferent response.

“But I have had this dish every time i have been here. I think it is excellent, and I really was looking forward to it,” said I, with disappointment I was unable to hide.

The tone changed remarkably. “Really sir? You liked it?

“Yes, very much”

“OK sir, I will make it for you”

“Are YOU the cook?!!”

“Yes, sir”

“Thank you! I think you make incredible Bisi Bele Hulianna!!

“Thank you sir. Hope you are having a good time in Chennai, I will make this dish especially for you”

And that was it. I got my Bisi Bele Hulianna in 20 minutes, and it was as delectable as I have known it to be. In fact, it was brilliant. There is a kind of magic that is an inevitable by-product of a cook who is happy cooking. As a customer I was delighted of course.

Customer service’s two-way street

This whole episode reinforced the importance of the human element, and, of course, you see that. But my take-away was that the human element can spring forth from not one, but two people. One is certainly the service agent who exhibits that ‘plus-factor’ that goes beyond process and customer service work-flows. But there can be another influence on the actions and reactions of the agent, no matter how well guided and thought-through the process. This is the role WE play – yes, you and I as customers and it is something that we seldom see. We tend to externalize ourselves from the whole episode, but in reality, though we seldom realize it, we as customers have a role to play in bringing that plus-factor into our own experience.

We often overlook this and turn judgmental and begin complaining and whining at the first sign of an ‘exception’. Like I wrote before, as process professionals, we tend to see much more beyond just that specific incident we are experiencing and are often inclined to be more critical of the underlying processes possibly because to us they seem to be short sighted and restricting agents rather than empowering them with that additional freedom required to resolve exceptions. But Chris Taylor,  in his column on PEX  takes this point further saying that while the process is important and must come first, you need to then place over that a strong foundation on culture, friendliness and professionalism. Chris goes on to say that it really isn’t about being adaptive as much as setting the terms for customer engagement –

The key takeaway is that process management itself, in the many forms it can take, is foundational to layering on culture, friendliness and professionalism.

Great process management sets the terms for engaging the customer. It lets the agent know what boundary conditions look like and when to ‘punt’ to a supervisor or take action that might include hand-offs and follow-ups.

And that really is an immutable necessity for any agent to convert a flustered, rattled and irate customer going through a bad experience (or maybe just a bad day) into a pleased, delighted and maybe even a more actively committed loyalist.

And to me, it is also an equally immutable call to us as customers to lighten up and help the agent help us. A little appreciation, a little understanding, a little empathy for the person on the other end of the line or across the counter goes a long way in making them as service professionals deliver better service to us.  It is surely a key ingredient that brings out the ‘plus factor’. The way I inadvertently got my Bisi Bele Hulianna.

How can there be a high-five if two hands don’t come together? How can two parties experiencing an exception resolve it if they aren’t a team at some level?

Adapted from a version originally published on

Tags: , , ,

Categories: Customer Experience Management, Customer Service, Process Management

Author:Jaisundar Venkat

Jaisundar Venkat is a process professional specialized in Business Process Management. Jaisundar leads BPM Consulting at a large technology firm and is on a mission to help companies achieve the fundamental promise of BPM. His areas of interest include BPM, CRM, SFA, Sales Performance Optimization, Corporate Performance Management and general IT industry developments & trends. He writes on these topics at his own blog, and also writes for a few popular sites specializing on Business Technology trends, specifically the crucial intersection between Business and IT.

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