Month: May 2004

Technology drives Customer Experience

Technology drives Customer Experience

In this era of parity in product quality and product price, the only distinct competitive advantage is superior customer service. If employed sensibly, technology can be a potent instrument in effectively enabling organisations to provide superior customer service consistently. This was the central idea of the "FedEx Spirit of Success" seminar presented in association with The Economic Times General Management Review.

No matter how much business dynamics change the customer will always be the king. Modern managers must realise that marketing today, more than ever before, is customer-centric. And because today’s customers are more technologically savvier than before, their expectations of service and value-for-money have also grown shaping a more competitive business backdrop. With instant access to all the information on any product, the customers of today can make informed decisions. Unlike in the past when products and services created or destroyed value, today that is done by events and experiences, say C K Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy, authors of The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers (HBS Press, 2004).

But technology must be used prudently, for sometimes what is designed to serve the customers ends up doing the exact opposite: disservice. Unfriendly technology, however sophisticated it might be, is as bad as poor quality service. Organisations that employ technology will do well to remember that in the end, it is only a means to an end, not the end itself. Technology should serve us and our customers, and not the other way around.

A Hi-tech Experience
Technology-driven customer service and a corporate culture relentlessly focussed on exceeding service goals has been at the core of FedEx since Fred Smith first founded the company in 1971. Smith, who is Chairman, President and CEO of FedEx Corp., believes that change is permanent. Ever increasing customer expectations must be met with ever improving customer service. According to Smith, "Change is shorthand for opportunity, and if you can be a little bit ahead of shifts in business, the opportunities can be big."

To be ahead of shifts in business, you need knowledge. It is this need for the knowledge that The Economic Times General Management Review (GMR) fulfils. The knowledge of key managers and their ability to apply it is at the heart of all successful organisations. Year after year, evidence grows that those enterprises which proactively manage their intellectual assets see bottom-line results. Knowledge is now not only equated to power but also profits. Every quarter, GMR empowers its readers with high potency doses of business intelligence. As a multi-disciplinary platform for sharing and disseminating business intelligence, GMR captures the latest in global management best practices and the techniques to implement them.

The "FedEx Spirit of Success" forum, presented in association with The Economic Times General Management Review, was the third in the series of seminars organised jointly by FedEx and The Economic Times. The purpose of the forum was to bring out the growing importance of "customer experience in marketing and the use of technology in enabling such an experience".

Held at Bangalore, the technology hub of India, the forum showcased leading names from the industry. The Trinity Hall of the Taj Residency in Bangalore was filled with managers from the Bangalore business latitude as Shombit Sengupta, Ashok Waran and Vivek Gokarn shared their experiences. We present to you the excerpts.

Have technology, will build relationships
Ashok Waran, senior director of Oracle’s North America India Operations, spoke about the role of technology in managing customers. He started his presentation by revealing some interesting figures of the US auto industry. The marketing costs of the top three car manufacturers rose 87 per cent between 1996 and 2000, translating into an extra outflow of about 3000 dollars per vehicle. In the same period, the combined market share of the top three giants dropped four percent. This was in spite of the fact that 55 per cent of the marketing budgets are used for promotions – discounts and incentives.

According to Waran, push strategies are not as effective in these days of media saturation. Proliferation in TV channels and the emergence and growth of the Internet have shrunk the average attention span of the customer and it is much more difficult to reach the customer using these. There is need to understand the customer and his behaviour.

This is where Customer Relationship Management comes into picture. Waran said that business realities have changed. Customer today, armed with information, demands higher value. He has increased purchasing power, and a higher technological aptitude. It is easier to reach him one-to-one than via the mass media. On the organisational front, marketing budgets are being tighter due to higher media costs resulting in falling marketing effectiveness. Moving to a customer-centric approach from the traditional product-centric approach is a real challenge. The technological reality is that today customer data is available more easily than ever before. The data processing too is faster and more reliable leading to improved analysis quality.

Keeping these realities in mind, relationship marketing emerges as a strategic response and CRM deployment is as the strategic tool to implement it. However,   Waran warned that majority of CRM initiatives fail not because of poor technology but due to the "the three Ps" – people, process and politics. What is required for successful CRM initiative is an executive sponsorship of an enterprise CRM vision, investment in employee training and focus on processes.

Success recipe: Mix technology with human ergonomics
When international management consultant and founder of Shining Emotional Surplus, Shombit Sengupta took the stage, the audiences instinctively sensed an unusual presentation is in the offing. And their expectations were not wrong. Sengupta presentation was as colourful and cheerful as his attire and helped him deliver his message with solid impact.

Sengupta’s focus was on balancing technology with the human factor to deliver the ultimate customer experience. He fervently declared that to be truly effective, technology must blend with human ergonomics, or human engineering is it is popularly known.

He explained this using a four-dimensional model of technology-service design, which includes rational, functional and emotional attributes that are needed to address the ergonomic character of a human being. The output is the formation of a subliminal connection to the consumer. Later, he said, "The task is to make business appealing using technology as the rational factor." He beautifully demonstrated that technology is a necessary but not a sufficient aspect of delivering customer experience by showing a skeleton and a nude picture of Marilyn Monroe and asking a simple question: How do you prefer Marilyn – this way (skeleton) or that way (with flesh)?

Using several real-life examples, he explained that technology is the rational aspect, the non-visible system, which is like the skeleton, whereas work-enabling environment is the functional aspect, which gives the usage advantage and proactive service is the emotional aspect, which connects with the consumer. So, a luxury hotel with a powerful backend technology will fail to impress if there is a never ending queue of guests for checking in. Similarly, even after his 69th visit to your company, the receptionist asks the customer for a business card, will leave him rather disappointed, never mind how technologically sophisticated your company may be. Sometimes technology itself creates a problem. A customer is hungry and wishes to order food but simply cannot use the advanced (read complicated) phone system installed by the hotel. Or, a customer returns from the
freezing cold of Moscow, only to find himself freezing in the hotel room because he can’t figure out how to use the thermostat of the AC. Unfriendly technology is as bad as poor service quality, and together they make for inferior customer experience.

Sengupta ended his presentation by emphasising that technology should be employed to create outstanding experience for the customer. And to do so, it must blend with human ergonomics, he once again stressed.

The Marketing Loop
As he began the third and final presentation of the evening, Vivek Gokarn, CEO and managing director of SAS India, confessed that he had the unenviable task of keeping people’s interest from food and beverages. Besides, he was following Sengupta’s presentation, whose vibrant presentation even featured Marilyn Monroe in one of the slides! Gokarn who holds joint responsibility as CEO and managing director for both the SAS subsidiaries in India, namely SAS India and SAS Global Services, spoke about the role of technology in enabling superior customer intelligence.

Accoding to Gokarn, pain is endemic and pointed out that organisations use technology to alleviate corporate pains. All top managers – CEO, CFO, CIO, COO or CMO – have their own set of pains. The CMO’s pains include losing market share, increased advertising expenses, declining advertising response rates, losing touch with the customer etc.  

Gokarn focussed on the closed loop marketing process of "plan, target, act and learn" to explain how customer intelligence can be used to develop effective marketing strategies. Organisations develop their marketing strategies driven by various internal and external pressures such as profit objectives, competition, market and environmental forces etc. The objective of your marketing campaign could be acquisition of new customers or retention of existing ones or even cross selling/ up selling to the existing customers. The marketing and sales set up of your organisations supports your strategy objectives and reaches out to your customers using various channels like advertising, direct marketing, internet/email and SMS. The customer is right in the middle. He has a behaviour and risk pattern and also a profit potential, as seen from the organisation’s perspective. The essence of your marketing campaign is to learn from customers and use that learning to plan your strategy, and then target it back to the customers.  
 
You typically begin by creating customer insight using, for example, web analysis, surveys, media spend analysis, billed and unbilled call behaviour. Then you use this insight to create new intelligence by determining which of the solutions is most suitable in your case: customer acquisition, retention or (prevent attrition), cross sell/up sell, and so on. Based on this you adopt one or more of the many solutions like marketing automation, e-intelligence, web personalisation, campaign management, real-time interaction management, market/channel optimisation and so on. For example, marketing automation enables you to understand your customer information, optimise your customer interactions, and more efficiently plan, target, act and learn from your marketing campaigns, thereby increasing campaign efficiency and profitability. Gokarn highlighted the importance of maintaining a competitive differentiator throughout the marketing campaign. He also urged that key marketing performance indicators, must be used to measure marketing effectiveness at all stages.

Gokarn’s gave several with case examples of successful companies that have excelled in their endeavours to harness customer intelligence, and have used this intelligence to drive customer relationships and to enhance customer buying by understanding behaviour pattern of customers. Among the examples were Amazon.com (online bookstore), FedEx Express, 1-800 Flowers.com (a gift and convenience store in the US), Marks and Spencer and GE Capital.

For example, Amazon wanted to enhance shopping experience to improve profitability because they were unable to measure the impact of their ongoing efforts to improve personalisation for customers. Using the above method of acquiring and applying customer intelligence, Amazon.com now has a way to measure the impact of innovation, enabling them to roll-out something which is of value to the customers and profitable for their business.

The FedEx Way
In his vote of thanks, Jacques Creeten, managing director of FedEx India, revealed some interesting facts about FedEx’s thrust on technology. Creeten said, "Technology is one of the key drivers in our business. We spend about USD 1.3 billion per annum on technology development and we employ close to 5,000 information technology professionals who develop this technology." These IT professionals develop both internal technology needed by FedEx and external technology which FedEx uses to integrate itself with its customers. Technology is a great enabler and it allows you to do a lot of things – whether your objective is cost efficiency or better targeting of your customer base – you can build these synergies.

Creeten spoke about how FedEx started using technology to improve efficiencies inside the organisation. But he insisted that even though technology is extremely important, the human factor cannot be disregarded. "Even today, if you make a mistake, the way you react and the way you recover and fast and efficiently you do that, still requires the human element. To facilitate superior customer service requires, you require not only technology but also reorganisation and redeployment of people to make the organisation more customer-friendly and the people more customer-focussed," Creeten emphasised.
Technology not only enables your organisation but also your customer. It gives your customer much more power and much more flexibility than ever before. The customer experience that you provide becomes evermore important and you cannot count on just technology to make that happen for you. It is, in the end, just a tool that helps you run your business in a better way. You still need to hire excellent people and invest in building their skill sets to enable to them to use technology to make the right decisions.

Without naming the company, Creeten gave the example of a European airline that conducted market research in the nineties and they found out that more and more passengers were using laptops on the planes. The research told them that their customers were unhappy and that they would like sockets on their seats so that they could plug in their laptops and work while travelling, because the laptop batteries were lasting about 30 minutes. Over the next two years, they installed sockets on the entire fleet of 200 aircraft. By the time they finished, there were laptops with improved battery life that lasted for five hours. This demonstrates that market research doesn’t replace vision.

Love your children, not their performance

Love your children, not their performance

Year after year, as board results approach, we hear distressing stories of students taking their lives because of the fear of failure. But what happened in Thane last week was really sad. When I first heard about 16-year-old Vijay Sharma’s brutal act of murdering his mother, I was shaken. The fact that he was from my alma mater St John only deepened my grief. Newspaper reports suggested that the reason behind young Vijay’s brutal act was a "row over studies" as he wasn’t interested in studying. When you hear such stories, you know it is time for an awakening. It is time to find out what is it about our education system that drives students to take such extreme steps as taking their lives or killing others. Perhaps the answer lies in our obsession with marks. A report on CNN.com says that when it comes to board results, "India is obsessed with the numbers, and some teenagers are so wracked by anxiety that they become ill, or worse." The report also quotes a study conducted by The Week in October 2003, which said that approximately 4000 students take their lives each year.

What creates such pressure on students? Peer pressure is one thing. But that can be handled, if parents are supportive. Unfortunately, many parents are as nervous as, or even more, than their children during exams. As a result they end up adding fuel to fire by constantly nagging and often applying undue pressure on their wards to become high achievers. This sometimes causes them to make things worse by being too forceful.

Yet, most psychologists opine that parents can play an important role in helping their children cope with the trauma of examination. According to Dr Rajan Bhosle (MD), a renowned counsellor, "Parents need to be as tolerant and supportive as they can at this difficult time. It is essential that parents repeatedly reassure their children that the love and treasure them and whatever their performance at the exams, this fact will not change."

There are countless examples of people without formal education who’ve achieved heights of success and parents must realise, and also help their children realise, that doing poorly in a particular exam does not translate into doing poorly in life. They need to be reminded that just because someone else is better in their education course, it does not mean that that person is a superior being.

Another issue is that of forcing career choices onto children. Studies suggest that parents often view their children’s career accomplishments as a reflection on themselves and as a material for the construction of meaning in their own lives. This is often where conflict between parents and children may arise.

Agreed, that most parents have their best interest in mind when they pressurise their sons and daughters towards excellence. But top psychologists advise parents to know when to draw the line. According to Jim Clarke, from irishhealth.com, "There is good stress and bad stress. Good stress keeps us alert to things we need to be concerned about, whereas bad stress undermines peace of mind. Bad stress has health ramifications, as it can cause headaches and anxiety and can lead to serious complaints developing, such as panic attacks or depression." Parents must ensure that bad stress is kept at bay. The solution, says Clarke, lies in proclaiming unconditional love.

Next week, a student-welfare NGO is organising a free seminar in Thane for those students who have appeared for the class X and class XII exams. Watch out for details.

Triumph of the Human Spirit

Triumph of the Human Spirit

There’s a famous quote that goes: "Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope." Hope is that all important ingredient that is found in all stories of survival. There is one more strikingly common feature in such stories -the triumph of human spirit in the face of adversity. A few youngsters from Thane demonstrated this quite aptly.  

A few days ago a bus filled with about 20 students from Thane was returning from a nature camp at a Wild Life Santuary near Alibag. The camp was one of the many organised by city-based student welfare group Jidnyasa for all age groups. The campers comprised of one guide, Chitra Oak, seven seniors (college students under 20) and the remaining school children between 9 and 15. It was 3.45 pm and the bus was negotiating the ghats five km from the camp house, when unseasonal rains rendered the roads slippery. For some reason, the driver lost control and did not turn at the right moment – resulting in the bus plunging 40 feet into the valley. It was a shocking nose dive, but thankfully the valley was densely populated with trees and bushes which prevented it from hitting the ground, which could’ve been devastating.

Mercifully, in spite of the terrorising fate of the bus, there were no major injuries, except to Chitra Oak, who was the guide to the students and was also the oldest passenger. Oak was in tears because of the unbearable pain – apparently, she had fractured her limbs. After the initial shock, the senior students showed an amazing presence of mind. Instead of succumbing to panic, which is very natural in such circumstances, the college students made sensible use of their minds and began to work towards rescuing the others. Slowly, everyone was pulled out of the hanging bus and helped onto the road. Afterward, the seniors formed a human chain to transfer the luggage to a safer location. Once everyone was out, their first priority was Oak, who seemed to be badly hurt. Manasi Apte and Manas Takle went to fetch transport for the injured lady so that she could be taken to the nearest hospital. The location of the accident was quite remote and hardly inhabited. Manas found a six-seater (a cab commonly found in the interior Maharashtra) and after consulting a local doctor, who feared multiple fractures, they took Oak to a hospital in Alibag.

Meanwhile, the other seniors were trying to calm down the younger children back at the accident site. These youngsters had still to recover from the shock – some of them were crying.

Mobiles were out of range and another senior, Abhijit walked for half a km, managed to get a lift and reach a telephone from where he called Surendra Dighe, managing trustee of Jidnyasa, to inform him about the incident. Dighe immediately arranged for another bus and headed towards the accident spot. He also called the camp house at Alibaug and informed the instructors about the mishap. Two instructors then brought the shocked campers back to the camp house.

Manasi, who played an important role in the handling the situation, said, "I had not expected this. Nobody does. So for a few sparing moments, I panicked. I was sitting next to Chitra Aunty, on the front seat. When I turned back and saw that my sister and others were safe, I felt a sense of relief, after which I began to think what to do next."

As often happens in such situations, Murphy’s Law came into effect. Mid-way, the new bus that Dighe was bringing met with a freak accident and its radiator ruptured. So Dighe had to return to Thane and arrange for another way to bring back the kids. This time he took two Sumos with him. Finally, he reached Alibaugh a little after midnight. And when he saw the bus, he couldn’t believe his eyes. "I had not imagined such a severe accident. The bus was actually hanging in the middle of the nowhere, supported by bushes and trees," said Dighe. Later, after he heard the account from the children, Dighe’s chest swelled with pride. He said, "The seniors showed amazing presence of mind. It was indeed a true display of the values of courage and determination that Jidnyasa stands for and tries to instil in every student. Now I know that Jidnyasa will live, long after the founders."

In the end, it was teamwork, says Manasi. All seniors maintained their calm, ensured that unnecessary panic was kept at bay, and conquered the adversity. It was a victory of the human spirit.

Regularly Irregular!

Regularly Irregular!

For over five decades now, the legendary R K Laxman has captured the sentiments of the city on the front page cartoon piece "You Said It." For millions of Times of India readers across the country and even abroad, the daily dose of Laxman’s patented brand of humour, represented by the celebrated "common man," sets the day in motion.

On Wednesday, Laxman depicted a huge queue of people and as usual the common man was a silent spectator while a bystander explained, "Elections are over. This ‘Q’ is of those who want to complain their names didn’t appear in the voters list!" A prominent lady from Thane, a dedicated social worker who requests anonymity, says that hundreds of Thane residents would also like to join the queue – herself included! Ironically, prior to elections, our friend had actively participated in various events aimed at citizen-awareness regarding elections, including the Maharashtra Election Watch held at the Indian Merchants Chamber on March 07, 2004. But on the day of elections, when she went to every polling booth in the vicinity, her name was not found. She was shocked and disappointed, to say the least, more so because she has never skipped voting in a single election since she began voting decades ago. "What surprises me is, how can the names disappear from the list unless someone deliberately deletes them?" she asks, puzzled.   The problem is, such irregularities are amazingly regular and therefore give rise to suspicions of sabotage. Indeed, it is frustrating for citizens who are deprived their basic right of voting, and incidents like these make one feel that the very purpose of democracy is defeated. Sadly, instead of accepting their mistake, the election officers conveniently blamed the citizens for the faux pas. What would the officers say to such cases where someone who actively participated in educating the common man before the election found herself out of the list, in spite of taking all precautions? Thankfully, our democracy is rather strong and in a population of over one billion, a few cases of booth capturing and poll rigging cannot alter the results. Our deprived friend hopes that "the elements behind such reckless actions realise that such it is useless and the powers that be take adequate measures to ensure that this large scale irregularity does not repeat itself." Amen.

Values Added  
Hasat Khelat Gamadi Jamat, (learn while playing), a unique 15-day workshop, aimed at instilling values in small children, aged three to five, was conducted in the city last fortnight by Shweta Phadke, who teaches at the Saraswati VidyaMandir’s pre-primary section. Held at the basement of Phadke Wadi near Gadkari Rangayatan, the workshop began on April 28 and lasted through May 12.

Every morning, the workshop would begin with recitation of Slokas. Throughout the workshop, the children were taught strong values to help them grow into wise and mature individuals. They were taught to pray and be respectful towards elders. Using examples of the Sun, trees, water and air, the kids were told that they should be thankful for the gifts of nature. There were story telling sessions, which comprised of stories with moral and ethical values – the objective was to discourage negative attitudes like greed, dishonesty, impatience and violence while encouraging virtues such as endurance, love and hard work. Then there were innovative competitions that tested their physical skills in a fun manner. For instance the kids were asked to pick up biscuits using their mouth while their hands were tied up. Many couldn’t do so standing or sitting, so they decided to digress from the tried and tested and lied down on the floor to accomplish the task given to them. In one section, participants were encouraged to share their knowledge and the little ones surprised the instructors with their grasp of facts. Four-year-old Omkar Nivalkar from Bhagwati School shared his knowledge of five different types of germs.     Parents seemed pleased with the outcome of the workshop. One parent, Mrs Gupte said "My child has opened up and has started interacting with us."

Playtime is a wonderful opportunity for children to learn and build their self-confidence and self-esteem. Research says that while it may appear that all children are doing is playing for fun, it is actually a much more important part of a child’s developmental process because it uses all of their senses. The workshop relied on the basic instincts of children – that of playing – to help them learn something useful.

Visual Appeal

Visual Appeal

Art lives forever. And thereby makes artists immortal. One such immortal artist is Dinanath Dalal, who lives among us even after three decades of his demise. Dalal is probably not as familiar as some of the leading Marathi litterateurs, yet it is difficult to find any literate Maharashtrian who has never come across the works of the talented artist from Goa. Dalal’s career spanned over three and half decades and during this period, his paintings appeared in various Marathi textbooks, magazines and literature of varied kinds. That his work was so fine can be gauged from the fact that it influences many new generation artists of today. In his lifetime, Dalal had become a legend – he was the most sought-after artist for magazines covers and book jackets. The versatile artist used his artistic talent to depict various aspects of literature including mythology, history, social issues, human feelings and politics. Like most true artists, Dalal always found some time to pursue his interest in pure art, in spite of his busy schedule. He passed away at 54, leaving behind a legacy of a work that has few parallels.
 
This week, art lovers in Thane will have a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of the works of Dalal. Between May 13 and 16, Akshar Rang, an city-based association engaged in promoting art, has arranged an exhibition of some exclusive works of Dalal – the exhibition will showcase over 300 pictures, cartoons and landscapes – it promised to be a visual treat. The exhibition will be inaugurated on May 16 at 6 pm by well-known cartoonist Vasant Sarawate. Vasudev Kamat, eminent artist, will be the chief guest for the function. For the benefit of the audience, Kamat will also conduct live demonstration of Portrait Painting.   Art Students and lovers of arts can flock to the exhibition which will be free to attend and will remain open for public during 10 am and 8.30 pm.

A workshop on Calligraphy by Achyut Palav and two other exhibitions have also been planned, one on paintings by Palav and the other on ancient manuscripts, published during the period 1600 to1900 AD.

The exhibitions will be held at the Shiv Daulat Hall of Shiv Samarth Vidyalaya, Opp. Gadkari Rangaytan. For more information, call Sanjiv Hajare 98206 18645  

Unadulterated Fun
Children’s minds are free of corruption, and their souls are pure. They do not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed or status. All they want is to have pure, "unadulterated" fun – with no interference from adults.   And their values are genuine, as was reflected by students of Garden School recently.  

On Monday, 20 students of Garden School joined 20 tribal children from Yeoor for a trip to Lonavala. The Garden School children mixed with the tribal children very easily and spent a full day sightseeing, playing antakshari and throw-ball and generally having fun. They even shared their tiffin boxes – in fact, the students of Garden School were requested to bring in two tiffin boxes with exactly the same contents – one for themselves and one to share with a child from the tribal group. Later, the children visited a tribal area called Kune near Khandala and learnt how the people there live their lives.

The picnic was a part of the once-a-week course on value based personality growth and development conducted by Garden School. The project was jointly organised by NGO Sevadham and Garden School – the idea being to promote empathy among children and also to help them learn about life first-hand. What’s heartening is that parents of these children encourage such initiatives, revealed one of the teachers of Garden School.

The rise and rise of Squash

The rise and rise of Squash

It was Sachin Tendulkar’s Birthday. Yet, Thane’s Squash-enthusiasts celebrated April 24 for other reasons – not only was it the "World Squash Day," it was also the birthday of their much-loved coach Sunil Verma. So how did they celebrate the day? Of course, by playing their favourite sport – and with as much fervour as they could garner! About two dozen kids from across Thane aged between 7 and 15 years, gathered at the Hiranandani Estate Club House, and played Squash until they could no more. What better gift could the coach expect!

This keen interest in a sport that was virtually non-existent in the city just a few years ago can be largely attributed to the springing up of residential clubs which provide high quality Squash Courts to their residents. And when the question of talent arises, there is no paucity of it in Thane. Already, as many as seven children from Thane have participated at various national- and state-level Squash championships organised by the NGO "Indian Squash Professionals," better known as ISP and Squash Racquets Association of Maharashtra. Some of these kids are also seeking participation at the Milo All Star Junior Squash Championships to be held in the first week of June 2004 in Malaysia.

Squash, for the uninitiated, is the newest of all racket sports. The sport was apparently invented at Harrow School in England by boys who kept knocking the ball on the wall awaiting their turn to play a game of rackets.

Across the country, the popularity of Squash is on a rise, not just among sport enthusiasts but also among celebrities. Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Sachin Tendulkar, Sunny and Bobby Deol, Sanjay Dutt, Rakesh Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan, Kapil Dev and Akshay Khanna are among those who play Squash. The sport enjoys the support of many influential people as well as large Indian companies like the Leela Group (Hotel chain) and Jindal Iron and Steel. Recently, when ISP organised the 50th Squash Championship, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee appreciated the sport in his letter saying, "Squash is gaining popularity both as a sport and as a means to achieve physical fitness." In another letter received by ISP the Big B Amitabh Bachchan says, "It will come as no surprise to all of us to soon see ‘India’ as a strong contender the world over, in this dynamic sport."

Despite this rise in status of Squash as a sport, it does not enjoy official status in Thane. One reason could be the lack of facilities. Until recently, there were only two Squash Courts in the city, both at the Dadoji Kondeo Stadium in Thane. The good news is that Verma, who is himself an official coach at the Jindal Squash Academy and member of ISP as well as SRAM, intends to change all this and is working towards getting official recognition for Squash in Thane. In order to promote Squash, Verma is planning a week-long camp mid next month. The camp will cover essentials of squash like field-training sessions, fitness and strength training, speed, squash technique and tactics and the importance of nutrition and diet. "In Squash, stamina is as important as technique – and if you dream of playing at the international level, then it is equally important to develop both your stamina and your technique to match world standards," the ace coach explains.