10 Tips for any business to learn from Mumbai Dabbawala

10 Tips for any business to learn from Mumbai Dabbawala

The word `Mumbai Dabbawala` is not an uncommon term for Mumbaikars and off course across India and around the world too. Most of the Dabbawalas are common men from rural areas of Maharashtra and each of these common men are a part of a very uncommon history written over the years by themselves.

There are many top qualities to learn from Dabbawala who is serving hot lunchboxes all over Mumbai on time with an operational history of over 120 years. It is no wonder to say that these people are providing an error less service with no technology support until the recent times and every operation is manual. Now here are top 10 qualities from Dabbawalas that are adaptable by any business on this very planet.

1. Always on time

Dabbawalas never be late or out of time and almost never been in their history. They have been delivering lunch boxes filled with home made food from numerous home to offices daily with a great time sense.

Over 60% workforce in Mumbai depend on Dabbawalas for lunch and this is because of their perfectly timed service

This is what making over 60% of the Mumbai’s work force to depend on them for lunch and in turn they are like an indirect back bone for post lunch productivity for many working people.

This accuracy on time makes any business to gain  customer confidence and tuning customer’s mindset to ‘Sit back and Relax’ also preventing a turnout to ones competition.


2. Discipline and Dedication

Dabbawalas are one of the most self-disciplined men with pure dedication towards their service. They never had a record or feedback of dissapointment from their customers. Irrespective of any personal or other issues they are on duty almost every working day ferrying over almost 2,00,000 lunchboxes everyday

They had never gone for for a strike even a single day since their inception in 1890 except for one day in 2011 to support Anna Hazare  in his Anti-Corruption campaign and that too on a public holiday of Parsi new year.  Every Dabbawala dedicates a complete nine hours of service in a day and may do some other odd jobs only after the work hours. They spend exactly 20 minutes for their lunch break when on duty. The Mumbai’s Local trains have been witnessing their dedication over the time.

Dabbawalas efficient service teaches us that reputation always followed by dedication.


3. Well Defined Hierarchy

Any business with unstable or unstructured hierarchy falls apart one or the other day, but this is not the case with Mumbai Dabbawalas. They have a very simple and effective hierarchy. This vast serving group consisting of more than 4000 semi-literate members possess a well organised hierarchy. Their governing council does not have too many levels but few like President, Vice-President, General Secretary, Treasurer and nine directors to make sure for a smooth running service.

We can efficiently collaborate under a stable and simple hierarchy that can run things faster


4. Team Work and Support

The team spirit of Dabbawala lies in their goal oriented service, they are competitive with each other when it comes to fetching more customers and providing a better service but collective work for a single goal with better coordination.

It is very rare that a Dabbawala quits his group and chases some other jobs

This represents their team spirit, caring and bonding towards each other. It is very easy to find a Dabbawala out of usual Mumbai crowd, they all follow the same code of conduct and dressing in dothi mostly with a cap representing the sense of belonging. When ever a team member has fallen sick or unable to attend work, it is natural for other team member to take up the risk of managing extra customers. Thus a customer never feels he may miss out a lunch for that day

 Mutual understanding and coordination is the essence of any successful team besides knowing each other.


5. Customer is King

Only thing any Dabbawala know is to serve the customer at their best and none of the Dabbawalas has been to any Business Schools and none hold a degree. They have been a case study for many management students from top business schools across the world. Dabbawalas even entered into World Guiness Records for carrying most number of tiffin crates (3 crates at a time) on head. This explains that customer service is their only core intention. Having such good track record each Dabbawala makes around Rs. 12,000 – Rs. 16,000 per month.

A great Customer service always earns Respect and Loyalty from Customers


6. Error Margin

It is not over exaggerating to tell that no one remembers when was the last time a Dabbawala committed and error in service, as it is very very rare.

Their calculated error margin is one in every 16 millions of deliveries making them near error less.

Their Six Sigma performance is at 99.99999 making them be recognized by Forbes. By selecting their mode of transport as Cycle, Train or Crate Dabbawalas are Eco-friendly too.

7. No Deviation of Pride

None of the Dabbawalas ever seemed to deviated from customer service due to the pride they earned. The perfect example was they allotted only 20 minutes of their time when British Royal Prince Charles wanted to meet them as they could not fail at their service even for a single customer.

Pride should never be the reason for service Deviation


8. Systematic Operations

Dabbawalas have a simple color coding system to identify source and destination of lunch boxes and at core this is the heart of their error less Supply Chain Management. Many companies across the world try hard to build such systems for smoother and error less operations but Dabbawalas have cracked the code many years ago and still following the same effective method.

Well defined policies/rules will allow any business to survive longer


9. Referral System

The best and effective way to gain new customers for Dabbawala group is through Customer Referrals. The group has grown a such huge customer base with word of mouth and referrals. The services provided by Dabbawalas make customer to refer friends and neighborhood for the same service.

Satisfied customers are the best source for gaining new customer base


10. Service Cancellation

A business cannot sustain far if they hesitate to get rid of bad or overdue customers. Similarly Dabbawalas never hesitate to cancel a service to a customer who delays in cooking food on time at home and causing them service damage for many other customers.

Be well aware to deal with problematic customers to prevent any service damage


This video from one of the TED Talks help you understand the Dabbawalas more through the words of Dr. Pawan Agarwal

Please share your thoughts or any aspects in comments that are not listed here.