Customer service is something that drives me in my company, and interviewing Kaizad Patel was thus an honor. He runs SatisFIND, which uses qualitative and quantitative methods to understand how your customer experiences your brand and its offering. Kaizad was one of the first to venture into Mystery Shopping in India, back in 2001.
Do tell us about your school & college years, and key lessons learnt.
I was just a small town boy from Hyderabad who was raised in Bombay. My schooling was in Campion Boys School and it was a good grounding for me. I am still in touch with a lot of my batch mates thanks to Social media. I enrolled in Arts at the Elphinstone college but rarely attended classes. I had a summer job at Weekender (an apparel retailer) after the ICSE exams and I was enjoying it too much to get back to classes. I was, however, busy going through my admission process for Switzerland for a course in Hotel Management. The 3 and half years I spent in Switzerland were for me the most life changing, challenging and one that shaped me into the person I am today.
My family could not really afford an overseas education for me, but when they saw I was keen on this, my father sat me down and said we can fund the first year but we are really not sure how it will go thereafter. Our former prime minister, MMS, was the one who devalued the Indian rupee in 1991 and messed up all the calculations my parents had made when we embarked on my overseas education plans. I assured my parents that I would work hard and be able to fund my own education from year 2 onwards.
I really had no clue then on how, but with some good luck and my dedication paid off, and I was able to fund my education from year 2 onwards. As part of the hotel management course, one needs to do a practical semester (6 months) once each year, where one works in a hotel or restaurant. I was working in Zurich and my employer was kind enough to reward me for my hard work and I was able to pay the fees and manage my expenses at the same time. This, I still feel, is one of the most profound moments in my life.
At 17, I realized what hard work really meant and lived it.
Why Hotel Management & Hospitality?
I was exposed to hotels from a very young age, my mother at that time was working for Taj Hotels in the housekeeping department, and she would take me to her workplace. I was able to see the back-end operations of hotels from this young age and was always very intrigued by it. By the seventh grade, I was quite sure I wanted to make a career in the hospitality industry. It was a conscious decision even after seeing the hard work and long hours put in by my mother. When I told my parents I wanted to set forth and study hotel management, they were both concerned and wanted me to rethink my options. However, I was quite sure and they supported me fully. I was fortunate to study at Les Roches in Switzerland, which is one of the best hotel schools in the world.
What were your notable experiences working abroad?
I love to travel and have lived a significant part of my adult life abroad. Having studied in an international hotel school, I was exposed to a multi-cultural environment. We had close to 60 nationalities on campus and there was a time I could ask a girl for a date in more than a dozen languages!
Understanding people and how their background, culture and exposure affected their actions was very insightful for me, and helped me during the time I was working in the hotel industry and also now in reaching out to our clients, our CEAs (secret shoppers) and team members at SatisFIND. What might be considered wow in one part of the country may just be the norm somewhere else.
Perceptions of service and customer expectations vary vastly
even within India.
Do take us through the journey from hospitality to mystery shopping?
I started my first entrepreneurial venture in 2001, it was a hotel consultancy service to guide small and mid-scale restaurant and hotel owners to establish their projects (restaurant/hotel/bar). To give you a background, my father and 3 generations before him all worked for the same company and all retired after a lifelong career with that company. Not working in the same company was already a surprise for some members of my family, secondly, not joining a Parsi company or the Taj Hotel was another shocker for my extended family who thought I was making a big mistake by becoming an entrepreneur. My parents did, however, support me fully and unconditionally.
My father got all my paperwork organized and I was all set to start my own business, but 9/11 happened 2 months later and no one was venturing into any new projects. At that time, a Swiss Software company appointed me as their exclusive dealer for a food cost and inventory management solution. Rising food cost was the concern and I did make some inroads into progressive hotels and restaurants who wanted to be on top of their costs by using this software.
I decided to call my company, Kaiz Hospitality Services, and there were some who advised me, don’t you want to name it something else so if the business does not go well, your personal name will not be in any way affected? I thought the contrary, and told the naysayers that some of the biggest corporations and inventors had the guts to name their companies after themselves.
Failure in the long run was not an option
once I set forth as an entrepreneur.
I worked from home and met clients at their restaurants or hotels. One of my projects was a health café in a Gym, and it was spotted by an architect who asked me if I would be interested in another similar project in Hyderabad, I agreed and in a few short months I got a loads of new projects in Hyderabad as compared to Mumbai and other cities. I decided to move to Hyderabad as bulk of my work was coming from there. In Mumbai, I was considered too young to be a consultant.
There was a mindset that you ought to be old and grey before you are wise enough to advise. Gladly that is not the case today.
I would be involved in the project stage in developing or fine-tuning the concept of the restaurant, hotels and bars, etc., setting up the kitchen / bar areas and setting up systems to follow and once the outlet / hotel was running, my role would typically be over. However my clients would always call me for advice on management decisions, which was no longer in my scope of work and they would not be paying for this service.
I decided to extended my services to include mystery shopping for the companies to evaluate the customer service offered and find out any areas of concern in the operations. I was one of the first companies in India to offer this service and joined the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. Joining this association was good for both professional and personal reasons. I met Michelle, my wife at the MSPA conference in Singapore and we ended up being on the same committee in the association. No Bollywood-style romance but a Bollywood-themed wedding did pursue a few years later.
In 2010, Michelle and I merged our companies under the brand name, SatisFIND which was Michelle’s company in the Philippines. We now have offices in India, Philippines and Singapore and offer our services from the Middle East to South East Asia. We offer Customer Experience Measurement (CEM), which is is more in-depth than a typical mystery shopping audit. It provides our clients with a snapshot of how their customers experience their brand. The program combines quantitative and qualitative methods of research and results are always actionable.
I moved to Philippines in 2008, and now mange the international operations from Manila. Michelle and I are a magnet for poor / bad customer service and we make it a point to let the top management of the company know when we are victims of poor service. Instead of ranting on social media, which is so easy to do these days, we would like to give the companies the opportunity to act on the complaint. SatisFIND is a response to the growing need in the market to close the gap between customer expectations and the mediocre delivery of service, while at the same time recognizing the “Service Stars” (service providers) who deserve to be commended as role models for others to follow.
Why should an organization have a customer-centric strategy?
Why else are they in business if not to meet customer needs? Even if you are only operating in the B2B model, you need to be doing it for the right reasons. Being honest with the customer, no bullshit claims and tall promises, on time delivery is key as well. Having the right mechanism in place to address customer complaints is very important in every organization. An empowered organization where decisions can be taken by the staff without fear of retribution from the management is what I feel makes an organization truly customer-centric. Focus on the customers, and do not see them merely as numbers and % points. At SatisFIND, we are currently looking for partners to expand across India but finding partners that share our mindset, values and passion for customer service is the current challenge for us.
Every brilliant marketing idea comes from a customer insight.
What are your passions & hobbies apart from work?
When I was younger, I liked horse riding but alas am unable to do so now due to a weak back and knee. My real passion really would be food. I love to eat like any typical Parsi, I guess it is in my DNA. In 2003, I made a comment to the then Editor of Hyderabad Times on one of my recent dining experiences and she asked me to send it to her by email. My feedback was shared in the newspaper anonymously and soon I was asked by Times to write a weekly restaurant review and also the food guide for Hyderabad in 2003 and 2007. During the time I was writing for Times, I must have dined in over 700+ restaurants serving all types of cuisine at different price points. This was in an era before blogging and Instagram became popular and people relied on restaurant reviews to know what to opt for and what to skip.
I gave that up when I moved to Manila, though. I love to listen to music (Rock genre and Queen are my top playlists) and I can watch some of my favorite films again and again especially the Godfather trilogy and Rocky, which both are inspirational for me. I also practice mixology as a hobby, to be able to mix and tweak drinks to match the palate of my friends and guests.
The highlights we can take away from a conversation with Kaiz-
- There’s no alternative to hard work.
- Know what you really want, and follow through.
- Focus on your customers, their retention holds the key to business growth.
- Add to your competitive advantage by evolving your offering
(not just Mystery Shopping but CEM)
- Practice your hobbies regularly, they complete you 🙂
Thanks a bunch, Kaizad! Best wishes from the community.
About the Author:
I build Hammer and Mop, specializing in marketing, service and operations. I’m a published poet and a writer. Startups excite me. Have been a part of speaker panels, been a speaker at Youth to Business Forums (powered by AIESEC) and I sit on Unltd India‘s selection board once in a while. Contributing as a business writer at TheRodinhoods. @sushrutmunje