India, the world’s biggest democracy, is rapidly becoming the key market to crack for international brands. In a new series of blog posts Anjul Sharma – fluent in Indian culture and languages Hindi, Punjabi & Urdu - looks at the approach to branding in one of the planet’s fastest growing markets.
Did anyone watch the Commonwealth Games in Delhi this year? Well, there was a colourful and slick opening ceremony showcasing the sheer diversity and rich heritage of the world’s biggest democracy. But that’s probably not what you remember.
You probably remember the coverage in the press in the run up to the games. After all, you could hardly notnotice it, so ubiquitous was the story right across the TV, radio, press and internet. Incredible pictures of bridges collapsing, badly sanitised athletes facilities (below), participants falling ill and the great names like Usain Bolt not turning up were just the start points. You’d be forgiven for presuming that customer service wasn’t exactly India’s strongest point. But think again!
There are a handful of Indian brands that pride themselves on being the global leaders in customer service. The Taj Hotels and Palaces is just such a brand. Parented by the Tata Group (who also own Jaguar and Land Rover), Taj Hotels has 76 hotels, 7 palaces, 6 private islands and 12 resorts. Spread across 5 continents and staffed by over 15,000 employees, they aren’t exactly small fry. While global in stretch, their most famous properties are in and around India where they have authentic royal palaces in regions such as Rajasthan and, of course, the infamous Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai (below) which was subject to a recent terrorist bombing.
The 5*+ chain has prided itself on luxury par excellence balancing gracefully on old world charm, homely intimacy and ultra modern facilities. I have been lucky enough to savour Taj hospitality in Mumbai, Varanasi, Delhi and Jaipur. In fact, when I stayed at the Jai Mahal Palace in Jaipur I felt like I had walked into a ‘days of the Raj oil painting’ in all its finest glory. All the reception staff were in Jodhpurs and looked as if they had just come in from a day of exotic falconry (not to mention the fact that they were all stunningly handsome!) In Delhi, I was met by an immaculate receptionist at the Taj Palace Hotel who came out to greet me on the forecourt and took me through check-in procedures in the comfort of my own rather sumptuous and magnificent room. Indeed, in some ways Taj is almost unashamedly elitist. Its loyalty scheme is known as the ‘Inner Circle’. If you’re in, you get a silver card – none of this red to start, silver when you have more points and then finally gold. They automatically categorise you as important (otherwise you couldn’t afford the prices).
Taj is a great example of how we, as marketers, must be weary of slipping into the skewed Indian stereotypes often evident in the media. First off, this brand proves Indian companies do know how to put up structures that last – no falling bridges and dog prints on bed sheets here! Secondly, while global brands are looking to enter India, it is just as true to say that top Indian brands are looking to enter new global markets. I expect to see further international growth from Taj, especially given the expansionist ambitions of its parent, entering carefully chosen global cities rather than blanket-covering all major cities. Thirdly and finally, Indian brands can absolutely be global leaders in customer service. Taj’s focus on service is one of the best I have seen in the world, even outstripping 7* star hotels such as the Burj Al-Arab in Dubai: it certainly does feel like they worship customer service.