Reliability wins customers

An extract from Harit Nagpal’s new book ‘Adapt: To Thrive, Not Just Survive’ on how the new CEO of an AC company that ranked fourth in a market of six big players, found a sustainable differentiator: making the company “easy to deal with”

Founding Fuel

(Editor's Note: This book features in D Shivakumar's 'My 6 best business books of summer 2024')

With this book, my aim was to explore the basic principles of business as well as the core needs of employees that need to be met if a business is to be truly successful. I wanted to illustrate these principles with my learnings on how businesses can include ‘adaptation’ in their strategy. The obvious thing to do would have been to build a two-by-two framework for each basic principle and write five thousand words to explain it. But that would have ended up as a textbook my friends and family would have bought but not read.

Most people are sceptical of preachers. Our predecessors were aware of this and masked their teachings in tales we call mythology... [Stories] help open our minds and absorb lessons from others’ experiences. If heard repeatedly, these learnings become internalise...  

This idea of the importance of storytelling was playing on my mind when I began work on this book. I took up each subject and created a situation around it, as close as possible to real life, to help explain the process of adaptation. Most of the stories here are based on what I saw or experienced. I have myself lived three of the ten stories, nuances and all, and those who know me can figure out which these stories are.

I also set these stories in different countries and industries—even on a different world—just to make the point that genius was well as stupidity are universal. Some of these countries and industries I have never been a part of. Researching them was the best part of writing the book, and I learnt a lot in the process….


In spite of receiving positive feedback for all the changes she has introduced in the company since joining, Nur is aware that unless product quality issues are resolved, the battle will remain only half won. She needs to understand why it is that the customers keep calling the call centres, why it is that they are facing so many problems with Breze air conditioners. Nur suggests that a bunch of senior management people listen in on the customer calls and read customer complaint emails for some time each day…

Two weeks later, the new team comes up with a 250-point list of reasons why customers call Breze call centres.

Nur asks them to group together those items that may be arising from the same or similar problem. This brings the list down to forty-five items. At the next team meeting, they start brainstorming on these forty-five items, trying to drill down to the root cause of each one…

They come up with forty-five cross-functional projects, each led by a team of three–four members, who are given a fixed timeline to address the problem.

Nur also announces that she and the division heads will review each of these forty-five projects, once a month in two fortnightly batches, with five minutes dedicated to each project. Project teams are expected to come up with a single-page document that reports the progress against the deadline and lists any hurdles that they are facing.


The next few weeks prove to be eye-opening for everyone involved in this mammoth project. They discover some very interesting problems, and together they come up with some interesting—even out-of-the-box—solutions for them…

In areas where electrical fluctuation was common, the fuse provided in the AC units would often blow out whenever there was a surge of electric current. With the fuse blown, the power supply to the motor of the AC would turn off and the machine would be saved from damage. The team looking at mechanical issues realised that very often the only task that technicians performed in this area was to change the blown-out fuse of the AC unit. Even though Breze always provided two extra fuses with every AC unit enclosed in a small bag stapled to the instruction manual, most customers were unaware of their existence…

Training for the sales team was organised to ensure they conveyed the necessary information about fuses while selling the units. Thereafter, every time a customer called in with a complaint about the AC unit not working properly, the call centre would direct the customer, over the phone, to check if the fuse was blown and change it using the extra fuses. This saved the technicians several field visits and made the customers happy, since they didn’t need to wait for a technician to come fix their AC.

In this way, thirty out of the forty-five projects are completed successfully, because of which complaints from customers have also come down…


Six months after Nur joins Breze, the COVID-19 pandemic strikes the world. In Malaysia, everyone is asked to stay indoors as much as possible. Call centres are shut, and technicians are not allowed to visit customer homes for repairs. The fact that every member of the family is stuck indoors and it being the onset of summer, ACs are required 24x7, does not help.

Nur knows that if urgent steps are not taken, the goodwill Breze has earned in the last few months will be lost. She, along with her team, decide that customer service agents will take customer calls from their homes. Breze asks all their call centre partners to ship a laptop to every agent taking a call on behalf of Breze. The IT team creates a platform to transfer calls to the agents’ laptops so that they can take customer calls from homes easily. Within ten days of the declaration of the lockdown, Breze’s customer service facilities are up and running, albeit from homes spread across the country.

Breze even launches its app during the first phase of the pandemic, allowing customers to book their complaints through the app. This leads to a reduction in customer calls since most people prefer to book complaints through the app.

The inability to visit customer homes forces Breze to figure out new ways in which to help customers carry out minor repairs on their own. Short videos on how to clean filters, mend fuses, remove drainage blocks, etc. are uploaded on YouTube, and often when a complaint is received, the customer is directed to these do-it-yourself videos. This proves to be a huge success because for small problems in their air conditioners, people prefer to carry out minor repairs on their own instead of allowing an outsider into their homes.

By the time the lockdown is lifted and normalcy is restored, the majority of the complaints are being received through the app and fewer people are calling in for minor repairs that they can do on their own. At the first physical Monday meeting that they have in months, Nur comments, ‘I wonder why we needed a pandemic to do for the customer what we should have done in any case. Let us not go back to our earlier ways. I think we should make all our processes pass the COVID test, that is let us assume that the pandemic isn’t over, that we must manage everything from our homes in remote locations, and then come up with solutions.’

At the end of the first year of Nur joining Breze, reports show that sales have gone up significantly. In the next two years, Breze becomes the market leader once again. Every employee, dealer and partner feels proud of what they have achieved together.

At a company get-together held to celebrate the regained market leadership, Nur proudly says, ‘We do not sell cola or candies, something that customers can try for themselves and discard if they don’t like the taste. ACs are expensive and they are an investment. When someone buys an AC, they usually check with three other people before doing so to find out their experience. It could be a neighbour, a colleague from work or even the AC dealer. And if any of these people shares a bad opinion about our ACs, then most probably the customer will not buy from us. Hence, our real advertisements are not those that are played on the TV or printed in newspapers. Our best ads are the testimonies of customers who are satisfied with what they are using. Our service is our biggest salesman.’


On one of her subsequent trade visits to Penang, Nur asks a dealer which AC they sold the most and what is the reason for that.

The dealer replies, ‘When a customer faces product failure, they contact the dealer from whom they bought the AC, despite knowing the phone number of the company. Your price to the customer and margin for us is the same as that of your competitors. All things being equal, I am more likely to sell the AC that gets me least complaints.’

Nur realises that this is like what she heard from another dealer a few years ago, when she had just joined Breze. The only difference is that this time the dealer is talking about urging more people to buy Breze ACs because the dealer receives the least number of complaints for them.

(This extract from Harit Nagpal’s book ‘Adapt: To Thrive, Not Just Survive’ has been reproduced with permission from the publisher, Westland Business)

Buy it on Amazon

Watch (or read the takeaways) from a conversation with Mr Nagpal and two of the authors: 23 Takeaways from Founding Fuel Live: The Best Business Books of Summer 2024

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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