Recently I had to travel to Bhimavaram in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. Of course I had to look it up on Google Maps to figure out where it was. It’s about a 120km north northeast of Vijayawada. As my daughter had to be there at 9am on a Saturday morning and had forgotten to tell me but five days before, I had to scramble to make the arrangements. Now that I’m back in Bangalore I realize somewhat belatedly how everything we needed was handled almost a 100% online.
The Economist in its latest issue talks of Indian technology firms and where they may be headed. While I didn’t agree with everything they asserted, my own experience of making it to Bhimavaram and back resonates very well with their core premise that technology, the web and mobile have already changed Indian businesses irrevocably. Here’s what I found and learned.
Google – of course this is where it began – with Google Maps figuring out where Bhimavaram was and the nearest airport – Vijayawada in this case. Cleartrip was my next stop to check out airline tickets. Once I found Jet Konnect had the best connections checked out their website as well and bought the tickets there directly. Usually when travelling to a new city, I’d call friends, to see if they had any recommendations for hotels. Given I was travelling with my daughter, I checked TripAdvisor for reviews and everyone seemed to suggest the Taj Gateway awas the way to go. So off I went to TajHotels website. Then I had the bright idea to check hotels right next to them – as in centrally located by not as expensive. I decided to check out Stayzilla who’s ads I’d seen in Bangalore – and they got me a good deal at the Taj Gateway. Then off it was to find a rental car. I called the Taj up and asked them to refer a cab company. Once again I felt the cab rates were quite high and so a quick Google search revealed a service called Saavari.com that fit the bill – they could get you a cab (including rates, ratings, the works) in practically any city – most importantly in Vijayawada in this instance. However, I couldn’t figure out a few things re quoted price online, so I called them on their toll free number. They said they’d get back to me and never did. So in the meantime I kept searching and here’s where Google Local came in real handy. Several cab companies in Vijayawada had excellent reviews ratings on Google and I reached out to one of them over the phone after checking out rates on their website (which I’m finding hard locate just now). So here we were four days before our travel, with flight tickets, hotel bookings, local taxi rental all done over a couple of hours online and on the phone – to a city we’d never been to, whose language we did not speak and with some measure of perceived safety for my teen traveller.
- Online reviews matter – the hotel we ended up staying in had good reviews on TripAdvisor. The cab we used had good reviews on Google local. These were instances of a local supplier beating out a larger national “professional” supplier. Social and community word-of-mouth is getting better, even it’s not from someone personally known to us.
- Websites matter – Even after locating the cab company via a review, the fact that their website had clear rates, reviews and contact info is what tipped us over. Good websites matter – Savaari.com and Stayzilla I had to look up in my mail trial as I couldn’t recall their names – and in the formers’ case I couldn’t figure out the pricing and latter’s case I had to resort to the phone to resolve issues.
- Customer service matters – Saavari.com said they’d get back to me and they never did. They had a beautiful website – clean and while my use case was not a clear fit to their standard offerings, phone calls were not returned. Similarly Stayzilla called me back to say that the Taj Gateway room was no longer available – that they’d put me in an another hotel on the same street. To give full credit to them, they constantly followed up but were caught scrambling. The place they finally got me I passed on due to poor reviews on Trip Adivsor. Jet Konnect won over ClearTrip as it was easier to cancel or make changes with them.
This was the first time that I travelled to a new city – let alone a Tier 2/3 town – without seeking direct personal inputs from friends or family and did so at short notice and had a uniformly pleasant experience – despite not speaking a word of Telugu in this instance and carrying minimal cash. Whether web and broadband penetration is where we’d like it to be or not, for businesses the web and mobile have changed how they do business forever.