Served Hot: Pani Puri & Customer Relationships

Bangalore Pani Puri
Photo Credit: http://rice-n-spice.blogspot.in/2010/06/pani-puri.html

In my estimate, Bangalore must have at least 10,000 (or more) Pani Puri shops.

Some of them are high profile shops where you get a printed bill and they prepare their chaat items with high quality ingredients. They even wear new plastic gloves before making your Pani Puri.

But most of the joints don’t care about such hygienic aspects; they just put all the required ingredients in a basket and carry their “shop” wherever the crowd is.

In fact, it is the other way; wherever a Pani Puri basket appears, it seems to pull the crowd. People are pretty happy to pay 10 rupees for a quick and dirty (oops!) solution here than looking for a fancy shop and pay 50 rupees for a similar product.

But, is price the only factor in their mind?

Some people like the taste of street food. They seem to enjoy it more when served with the “not so perfect” ambience.

Whenever I go to these Pani Puri shops, I take more interest in watching the sellers, than the stuff they sell. I feel they have mastered the art of customer relationships and that’s what brings the crowd to them.

For example, when a customer walks in:

  • If (s)he is a known customer, they immediately greet them with a smile
  • If there is a specific order (customized) that the customer likes usually, they make it a point to ask, ‘Can I make the usual sir?”
  • They always introduce new products and try to cross sell
  • They take care of up selling too, when a plate gets over, they don’t say “Pay me Rs 10”; instead they ask “do you want to go for another plate?” (Answer is “Yes” in most cases!)
  • They try to serve multiple customers one Puri at a time, instead of making a full plate and serving them
  • But still, they can’t serve more than 4 or 5 customers at a time. When the place is crowded, people may have to wait for few minutes; whenever they see customers waiting, they ask for their order, they give some quick status update like “I will make your order in next two minutes” etc. making them feel comfortable
  • If someone decides to leave because of the crowd, they someone spot them and give an empty plate in their hands. Give them one Puri and they can’t leave till the entire plate is completed!

All these may be “Usual stuff” for the corporate world. But think of a Portable Pani Puri stall structure: It is (mostly) a single man show; he is the owner, chef, cashier, server and cleaner. On top of it, he takes care of maintaining a good customer relationship without anyone teaching him about it.

In fact, we can observe similar traits in many street vendors who sell vegetables, fruits, fried snacks etc. I feel, Indian small (tiny?) business system is as sophisticated as big MBA-run institutions.

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