Delivering the Goods - Lessons Learned About Customer Service and Profitability from One of the Best Managed Businesses

The people of India have created a recipe for business that contains ingredients worth adding to your mix. Every morning Mumbai's legendary Dabbawalahs (lunchbox carriers) spread out across the city to collect freshly prepared lunches from people's homes and caterers. They then efficiently use the transport network, which they have fine-tuned over the past 112 years, to quickly deliver lunches to the customers' workplaces. In the afternoon, the network is reversed as the Dabbawalahs retrieve lunchboxes and return them to their place of origin. For this they charge approximately U.S. $10 per lunchbox, per month.

So why is this so special? After all, we have take-out and home delivery right here in the U.S. Here's why: the Dabbawalahs deliver over 200,000 lunches per day, with 99.99% accuracy. Forbes magazine gave this service its highest quality rating of Sigma 6, which means that per million transactions, there is just an error of one!

Here are lessons we can all apply to our businesses, courtesy of the Dabbawalahs:  
Share the wealth - The majority of the Dabbawalahs are stakeholders in the organization. You bet they show up everyday. Even when there is a strike (which happens often) or inclement weather.

Take care of your people - The Dabbawalah Trust provides several services to its members, including schools for the children and health care in emergencies. Can your organization say the same?

Hire people you know - "Everyone who joins us is known to us," states Raghunath Medge, president of the Dabbawalah Trust. Have you run out of people in your own network to hire? Establish an employee referral program. This will reduce the likelihood that you will have to hire people that no one knows in your own organization.

Enthusiasm trumps experience - When selecting members of the team, the Dabbawalahs look for people who are enthusiastic because they understand enthusiasm is not something you can train for. In this economy, there are many people looking to transition into new industries. Don't discount them because they don't have the exact experience you think they need. Instead, focus on hiring people who are upbeat and show a passion for learning.

Embrace change - Although they have been doing things the same way for the past 112 years, the Dabbawalahs recently debuted on the World Wide Web. Customers and prospects can now sign up for the service online or with their mobile phones. Products and services can also be purchased through their web site. Coming soon...a blog! When is the last time you looked at ways to make it easier for your customers to do business with you? No time like the present!

New ways to increase revenue - A delivery service is a delivery service, right? Not if you are a Dabbawala. What products and services could possibly be added to increase revenues? If you think small, then the answer is not much. If you think large, like the Dabbawalahs, then you might consider offering products that are symbols of your business.

For the Dabbawalahs, this means selling Dabbas (Tiffin boxes used to transport food), that represent hard work, discipline, and time management or services that include the opportunity to work side-by-side with a Dabbawalah for an entire day. Don't think it will work? Just ask Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, who recently signed up for this once in a lifetime event.   To increase revenues in tough times you must think out of the box. What are some natural extensions of your product or services? No idea is too small.

Helping employees transition to better opportunities - Have you ever heard of an organization that actively tries to help their employees find better work opportunities? That's exactly what the Dabbawalahs do. Their web site touts the many advantages of hiring these people into their customer's organizations.

The U.S. major accounting firms have been doing this for years. They recognize the value of having alumni working in other organizations, who can help them cement relationships with both current and prospective clients. Is this concept worth consideration for your employees and your firm?

Eliminating bad customers - The Dabbawalahs don't have time to deal with bad customers. They readily shed bad customers so they can focus on providing exceptional service to their valued clients. When is the last time you released a bad customer?

Connecting with customers - On their web site, the Dabbawalahs list their value proposition through the use of their top 10 reasons for using their service. My favorite is No. 3: "Do you not love your mother or wife and like to eat food made by her?"

Emotion causes people to act. Does your web site or marketing allow people to emotionally connect with you?

There are many more lessons that can be learned from this group of people, who have built a business model that is still relevant in today's world. With an open mind, you can easily integrate these concepts into your own organization with the end result being the delivery of exceptional customer service and increased profitability. Now that's a recipe we can all get excited about.

Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions ( and has been helping companies align their people assets with their business goals. She is considered an expert in generational workforce issues. Roberta publishes a monthly newsletter "HR Matters" which is jammed with resources, articles and tips to help companies navigate through sticky and complicated HR workforce issues. Click here to read her new blog on Generation Integration. She can be reached at 413-582-1840 or