Hit Refresh – The Empathy Quotient

Few days back finished reading the book ‘Hit Refresh’ by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. It was really a fascinating book, with many takeaways for everyone. Satya’s viewpoints on organizational culture made me think deeper, sharing some perspectives in similar lines. Before getting into my viewpoint, let me brief a bit about organizational culture that Satya calls out in his book.

The ‘C’ of CEO stands for Culture

According to Satya, the letter ‘C’ in CEO stands for Culture,starts from the top,in case of Microsoft it starts with him. In order to rebuild the soul of Microsoft, Satya emphasizes the simple word  – empathy. When an employee demonstrates empathy in day-to-day transactions – empathy for team members, empathy for the community, empathy for customers, magic happens automatically. Given that Microsoft is a technology company, making empathy as center helps them to build products and solutions that makes sense for the customer.In a empathy centric company ‘I know it all’ attitude takes a back seat, which was the major barrier that Satya has to break to drive cultural transformation in Microsoft. Irrespective of the size of organization, customer value creation happens when customer needs are kept as topmost priority. Popularly known as ‘customer first’ approach, cultural of an organization directly drives commercial goals of the organization.

Satya deep dives into empathy by calling out his personal experiences. Being a father of two special children, it was extremely challenging for him to come in terms with reality. After going through ‘why me?’ question for a while, he was able to come in terms with situation by developing empathy for his children. He also calls out how amalgamation of technologies like Computer vision, Artificial Intelligence and Internet is making life easier for his children with special needs. The thinking of ’empathy’ can be extended to B2B context as well, by enabling Businesses to become faster, smarter and productive.

The context of Emertxe

Let us cut to our current business context. In my organization Emertxe, we embarked on a journey to address the industry-academic gap that exists in countries like India. Our main goal is to make entry level engineers employable with hands-on technology training programs. Given the fact that hardly 15% of engineers are employable in India, this ‘Finishing school’ approach provides huge opportunity to create long term, sustainable, profitable businesses which we are in the process of building. In the current context more than 90% of our target audience come from tier-2 and tier-3 towns of India with aspiration of getting into their first job.

Unlike what most of us could imagine, upskilling is a time-consuming and challenging process. At an outset, training or education business might look simple (due to lesser entry barrier), however challenges are at root level, which is quite challenging to resolve. 

The Empathy Quotient

As a team, our major challenge is to understand typical Indian engineering student mindset. Most of today’s engineering graduates not only lack in terms of technical skills but also require lot of behavioral coaching. For example, lack of technical skills further leads to self-doubt, sense of insecurity, lower self-confidence etc. In order to bring anyone out of these challenges it requires deep empathy and understanding things from their perspective. Before making them learn new things, I would say making them ‘unlearn’ is where maximum barrier lies. 

Let us take example of programming skill, using which entry level engineers build capability to translate given requirement into a working program (of any language). In most of the engineering colleges today, programming (similar to other subjects) is taught in a rote based approach where an engineer ends up by-hearting each and every line of source code including the syntax aspects like commas and semicolons. Definitely, the real world problem solving is very different from this, but how to transition an engineer through this journey? The rejection, struggle, doubt, frustration that each individual goes through is quite humongous.

As a learning service provider it is very easy to say ‘they don’t understand the basics’ and further blame the education system, parents and eventually society at large. I come across numerous subject matter experts who are extremely good in their technical part but lack empathy towards the learner by placing the consumer in their shoes. The process of learning is not only about delivering the content but also to ensure that the learner learns the topic from his perspective. There is a huge gap between these two which can only filled by Empathy.

Connecting with ‘Hit Refresh’

In my opinion, developing this sense of empathy is where customers start perceiving the value that we offer. Some of them will realize it quickly and some will take time. As we deliver customer value on a consistent basis, we are observing a clear buy-in. For organization of any size, this should be foundational. The role of senior leadership is to invest and build a culture of empathy in their teams.

Connecting back with Hit Refresh, this is exactly what Satya Nadella discusses in detail. The culture of empathy driven in large scale in organizations like Microsoft will not only bring in technology innovation but also bring a larger sense of purpose. As I spend more time in the journey of entrepreneurship, I was able to connect each-and-every aspect that Satya has brought out in this book. In fact after a long long time it has prompted me to get back into my hobby of blogging.

Fallout of Airtel and its customer service

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. This seems to be truer in case of Airtel.

I have been Airtel’s loyal customer more than a decade now, ever since I took my mobile phone connection. Few years later I have taken broadband + telephone connection as well. In both cases their customer service was really good, always used to have great experience in every other interaction of support. For example they have surprised me even during a normal phone call, which I wrote in post titled ‘A great customer experience’. However over the years their service quality is consistently taking toll. During 2011, I again wrote a post titled  Irate customer – A lost opportunity, where I called out painful experience I had with Airtel, while resolving some issues related to Jwritings domain.  Over the past two years their service level even gone down, which I heard from many of my friends who have Airtel connections.

My recent experience was awful when I visited them to get my mobile rate plan changed. Even after spending 30 face-to-face minutes with customer service representative he couldn’t even locate which rate plan I am currently using. My objective was to convert my plan into a corporate plan, so that I can bring down my monthly rental as the corporate plan seem to offer more benefits in terms of free minutes. The issue hit the roof when I asked him about my current data plan, when the customer service representative enlightened saying “Sir, till 2 GB data limit, you can download anything from the Internet. However after that limit you can only browse the Internet”. This guy doesn’t know the difference between browsing and downloading from the Internet. I thought I will forget my computer science fundamentals if I continue to stay in their showroom.

Definitely Indian service providers are under tremendous cost pressure due to various issues (Regulatory issues, scandals, ARPU challenges and maintaining healthy top- line etc.) in telecommunication sector. In order to meet these challenges, Airtel looks like subcontracting customer facing services to third party providers who are ruining customer relationships.

Innovation – Type 10 – Customer experience innovation [Case: Bigbasket]

Bigbasket
Bigbasket

The tenth and final type of innovation is around customer experience, which is all about creating a superior experience to customer’s entry to exit. In India many players attempted to do online grocery store for quite some-time now. It is extremely challenging business in Indian context (logistics, poor roads, unpredictable traffic, varying climate conditions etc…), which Bigbasket is able break by creating very good customer experience around it. I have personally tried and tested this many times, it works all the time with great experience.

Simple and effective User interface

The first thing that impressed me about Bigbasket is their simple and effective user interface. It was very easy to search/navigate for individual grocery items and create an order in a hassle free manner. Every item contains optimal information (neither too less nor too much) with put me into ease. Also when individuals go back for re-ordering, it keeps previous list handy for modification, which saves time for second time. This works very well for monthly grocery ordering.

Prompt alerts

While building an easy to use user interface might look relatively easy, integrating with backend supply chain to meet the promise is super critical. Especially in India, where the probability of providing prompt service is less (due to inherent challenges like infrastructure) providing prompt alerts to customers about the order status creates a lot of trust. In case of Bigbasket I get regular alerts (both in form of email and SMS) about my order status. Just before the final delivery of goods, authentication PIN is provided via SMS, so that both delivery person and customer can be assured about delivery.

Service delivery guarantee

Bigbasket
Bigbasket

After placing order, customers get to choose the time-slot in which they wanted the goods to be delivered. This super critical item (similar to Flipkart’s cash on delivery service) which helps office goers to get goods delivered at a convenient time. Their interface also shows the current booking status and slot availability in order to help customers choose the proper delivery time. From execution point of view, I have always seen they deliver goods on the time promised.

Return policy and wallet

During delivery, in case of item mismatch (ex: quantity) or damage (ex: broken seal), Bigbasket delivery folks take it back without any questions. Upon entering these items in backend (using Mobile application) customers again get immediate notification about when the updated item will be delivered. In case of item return, the money is kept back in a digital wallet which can be adjusted for next purchase.

In summary right from order placing to goods return, Bigbasket has done massive integration and prompt execution of their service. This gives a great end-to-end experience for customers in terms of quality, on-time delivery and reliability.

Book retailing: Traditional v/s online

Recently I had a casual conversation with owner of a large scale book store. His is a family owned business, been in book retailing for decades with great passion for reading. Upon further discussions he mentioned about his book retailing business heading south (for months together) due to the emergence of e-commerce portals like Flipkart. It is quite obvious that e-commerce portals enjoy benefits of on-demand inventory, lesser operational costs (ex: rental) and direct supplier relationships helps to offer a better price. Added to that, most of Indian e-commerce portals are backed by heavy funds from venture capitalists, which help them to provide un-realistic discounts on books with additional benefits like free shipping, cash-on-delivery etc. Over a period of time, these e-commerce portals build valuation for the company based on number of transactions and incrementally grow by bringing more products (apparels, electronics, toys etc…) thereby becoming online mega store. On the other hand, traditional book retailers are struggling to keep up their operations with increasing rental/labor costs, overhead of inventory and limitation of not able to offer higher discount as it will affect their bottom line.

As a matter of fact this problem is not new. In countries like US e-commerce portals (likes of Amazon) took away significant market share from traditional book stores but some of them re-invented themselves and survived this challenge. I was wondering what Indian book stores (considering Indian context) can do to compete fiercely online bookstores. Here are some of my ideas which can be considered:

  • Similar to book stores of the west (ex: Barns and Noble) traditional book stores should re-shape themselves as modern libraries by creating a compelling reading experience around it. Readers should be compelled to walk in, take a look of their choice and spend hours in the shop by going thru their favorites. By adding additional factors (like coffee shop, comfortable table & chairs for reading, offering sample chapters for free etc…) these book shops can attract regular visitors who will potentially end up buying these books
  • There are some specific types of books (ex: Children books) come in various shape, size and weight, which is still not comfortable to buy online. As a parent I spent lot of time considering these aspects before buying book for my daughter by physically visiting the shop. Such type of books still has a lot of ‘touch-and-feel’ factor associated with it. Traditional retailers should think of some special promotions and tie-ups to push these books thru young parents and readers
  • Among adult readers (both fiction and non-fiction) there is a strong possibility to build a community based on common interest. Such communities combined with social media can be made as early adapters of new releases and share their viewpoints in terms of face-to-face get together, sharing book reviews, meeting authors directly and exchanging book related practical experiences. Such community should be provided with special discounts and covered under loyalty programs, thereby attacking clusters
  • Even now many of the traditional shop owners are expecting customers to physically walk into the shop and order for books. This should be changed by adapting home delivery based on phone order, building a micro-site for the bookstore where alternative channels of reaching out to the customer. Such new channels should be backed with excellent customer service in terms of delivery time and quality to re-invent the whole business.

I am not sure if any of the traditional book store owners got necessary mindset to re-invent their business by adopting new ways to sell books in this digital era. Unless they adapt to this change and re-invent the way they do business, it is going to be extremely difficult to survive.

Book review: Employees First, Customer second

Jwritings - Employee first, Customer second
EFCS - Vineet Nayar

Author: Vineet Nayar

Price: 499 INR (Audio version of the book)

Employees First, Customer Second (EFCS) is creating buzz for a while now! Coined by HCL vetranVineet Nayar, this term has created a bunch of different interpretations, perspectives and discussions. I picked up audio version of this book from Reado, mainly to bring pace  to my reading habit. Listening to audio book, especially in busy city traffic conditions, makes it a enriching experience by putting better use of time. Also audio book helps to read book faster than the traditional printed books. I used to be an advocate of buying books in printed form and have them as my priceless possessions. Thanks to the busy schedule at work and home kindled me to explore innovative ways to keep my reading habit alive. EFCS is the first audio book I have heard (long time back I did similar stuff with one of the Tamil books, by having them listen during travel), so listening to an English audio book is also equally interesting experience.

Coming to EFCS book, author Vineet Nayar shares his transformational journey in HCL using EFCS framework. HCL, one of the top notch software services companies in India, steadily lost its stream both in business and people elements.  HCL was not considered as a preferred employer by many of people due to not so favorable work environment. Based on his experience by meeting HCL employees Vineet felt many key issues, which pushed him to make transformation in HCL by implementing EFCS. Fundamentally Vineet believed what he describes as ‘value zone’, which is nothing but an employee linkage with its customer. This critical zone where  customer interacts with software service organization like HCL to get the necessary assignment done. For customers, they see the software company and its value generation thru its employees who are interfacing with him/her. So from the organization perspective, if employees in the value zone, who can be enabled and empowered, would result in more value for customers. In order to take care of its customers better organizations need to work with their own people, to put them first before customers. Because every action they do eventually gets converted into value for customers thereby maximizing many things which include employee satisfaction, customer value, revenue, profitability etc. This doesn’t mean providing a second-class treatment to customer, but in order to give them first-class treatment, employees of the organization needs to be taken care.

With this basic principle, Vineet goes on executing EFCS by taking few important but bold changes in the organization. To start with, he gets his top 100 leadership team to buy in this concept of EFCS by creating what he describes  as ‘blueprint’ meetings.  Initially most of the senior leader were not able to buy in this idea with ‘yes, but….’ Thinking, but over a period of time, they start seeing the value of doing such things customers. Second, Nayar believes in order to implement EFCS successfullym, he need to build trust in the organization at all levels. In order to open up conversation with employees, he creates an internal two-way transparent web based system called ‘U and Me’ by openly making conversation with employees. Employees at any level can open conversation with the CEO (Nayar himself) or any of the senior leadership team. In case of specific questions, pertaining to a business line, the corresponding leader would provide the response. When this started off, initial days were more of making it as a compliant box, but over a period of time it turned out to be a platform to build two-way transparent conversation for building trust in the leadership. After attaining certain level of maturity, Vineet opened up this platform with a new item titled ‘My problems’ where he started seeing suggestions/inputs from employees for the issues faced by him with respect to competitors, business changes/challenges, media etc. He started getting very creative and workable suggestions from employees from all the level, which in turn created more belief in the leadership among employees.

Third, internal systems were tuned to support/empower and aid people in the ‘value zone’. For example business support functions like HR, finance, operations etc, need to be tuned for getting support to the business needs by creating a ticketing system with automatic upward escalation. This also broke the traditional power center concept by truly tuning the organization to be people centric, thereby eventually passing on the value to customers. In the same lines, Vineet opened up business results (revenue, profit, current status etc..) data of individual businesses as a transparent information across the organization. Every individual group/team were able to clearly see where their team/business stood with respect to other organizations. While this created some initial issues (ex: information leaking to the press, as HCL is a public listed company) but this created a sense of urgency and bias to take action for improving the situation. It took about four years time for Vineet to implement EFCS in multiple phases and he also explains the benefit/results of this framework in terms of revenues/profits/employee satisfaction. By taking certain big bold steps like EFCS, HCL is transformed into a multi billion dollar organization with capability to handle larget client base with higher criticality.

When such large scale tranformational changes are implemented, any organization will have its mixed response from people side. When I talked with some of my HCL friends about EFCS they were not so excited but admitted that it did had impact in the way HCL has done business. It required lot of courage backed with common-sense to float something like EFCS, but Nayar’s no non-sense common sense approach was really interesting to challenge stereotype management thinking.

Innovation – Type7 – Service [Case: Flipkart]

In our ten part Innovation series, let us look into Flipkart under ‘service innovation’ (type7) category.

For folks who don’t know what Flipkart is all about, here is a simple definition – Indian version of Amazon. Couple of ex-Amazon engineers setup Flipkart mainly to provide high quality on-time delivery service, which was lacking in Indian context for a while. Before Flipkart came, there were many popular e-commerce websites (ex: Indiaplaza) who were doing reasonably well. However there were few issues are the services:

  • Delivery: Getting on-time delivery of online orders was an issue, thanks to logistics challenges that exist in India even today. Except for few reliable courier services (ex: Blue-dart), majority of them offer sub-standard service. Of course, I don’t want to talk about Indian postal service, which never improved over the years.
  • Reliability: Except tech-savvy folks, many people see issues to go online as they still perceive making online payments is not safe. Alternative approaches need to be taken to reach such customers who definitely had a need.
  • Support: Many of the e-commerce sites don’t provide 24×7 support even today. Also there are many concerns (ex:  not providing on-time responses etc.) that made online shopping experience as a non-pleasant one.

Flipkart understood each of these issues in a deeper manner and solved them from customer context. The most important factor behind Flipkart’s success was to understand the core issue of logistics much earlier. Building an online website and listing a bunch of items is relatively easier than ensuring that the shipped goods reach customers on or ahead of time, resulting in customer delight. In order to ensure proper delivery of goods, Flipkart has setup their own logistics firm ensuring timely delivery of the goods ordered from the site. Apart from that, Flipkart added 24×7 support service for ensuring timely addressing of customer issues.

However the main killer for Flipkart came in the form of ‘Cash-on-delivery’ (COD) service for purchases made thru’ the site, which addressed reliability issue. The COD came as a very good option for customers by providing an option to pay cash only when goods are delivered at their doorstep. By consistently executing on such small but really value adding services (another example being free shipping) from customer perspective, Flipkart is able to emerge as a strongest ecommerce site in India today.

Recently I have been hearing few concerns (about delivery time, non-sustainable discounts etc…). Never the less, by having a strong customer base built with service DNA is really an Innovation in Indian context.

What more examples you can think of when it comes to service innovation?

An Irate customer….a lost opportunity

In the blog post titled ‘An Irate customer….a great opportunity’ by co-blogger NWritings called out few important points that organizations should take care when they deal frustrated customer.  By providing excellent service, the frustrated customer can eventually play significant role in building the organization brand image. However when it is not done properly, irate customer will become even more frustrated.  Recently I had an experience, which I would like to share along the same points mentioned by NWritings.

Let me give some background. For about a month, jwritings.com site was having some serious issues with loading its content only from Airtel Broadband network. However it was working perfectly fine when I accessed it via BSNL or office network. Some of my friends (including NWritings) who got Airtel connection reported the same problem. I called their customer compliant number 198 and raised a ticket to resolve at the earliest. However the way Airtel took up this case was really bad, where they consistently failed to meet my expectations and eventually forcing me to write this post. Let me line up the list of issues.

Delayed response: To start with, Airtel always have a Service Level Agreement (SLA) by which they will resolve the issue, whenever a support ticket is logged. I have been a long term customer for Airtel, always respected the company for the customer focus as they stuck to SLA commitment all the time. This time they failed to meet the SLA, where nobody turned up to investigate the issue reported by me. I need to do multiple follow-ups to get a customer support engineer to visit my home. Added to that, the long IVR menu made the experience a non-pleasant one.

Blame the customer: The real fun started when the customer service engineer visited my home for the first time. During my initial days of work, I was a test engineer responsible for testing DSL routers, mainly focusing on networking protocols (ex: PPPoE). With this background I did initial level of technical troubleshooting by checking out various options (LAN/WAN connections, executing utilities like ping/trace-route/packet capture etc…) which I clearly explained to the support engineer. In spite of me providing all the details, he went on checking local wireless connection, which has got no relation to the issue. Upon further conversation he made lot of loose statements like ‘once in a while such sites become inaccessible, why are you so bothered?’, ‘Airtel nowadays not paying much attention to customers’, ‘In case you are still having issues, try to change the modem’ which made me all the more frustrated. Eventually he put a request to the backend L2 support team and confirmed back saying ‘there is no issue from our side sir, there is something wrong with your laptop’ and eventually closed the support ticket without informing me. In spite of me doing most of the technical troubleshooting, this was the last answer I was expecting from them.

After doing some more follow-ups, I got a new support ticket created. Now the second support engineer visited my home, who was even worse than the first one. He had no idea about basic network troubleshooting utilizes like ping and went on complaining that there is something wrong with my machine or with the web hosting provider. Without getting into further details I politely requested him to leave my house.  Again, after multiple phone-calls, explaining to different customer support engineers the conclusion was very simple – the problem is with me (customer), there is nothing wrong with Airtel.

No proper follow-up: To provide a last opportunity, I reached their escalation department and clearly told ‘See boss! If you don’t fix the problem, I will be terminate the connection’. After couple of days, I got an SMS saying my problem will be fixed by a time-frame, which already passed. Throughout the issue, there is no proper follow-up from their side trying to understand the problem and provide the solution. As a customer I was totally unhappy to see the  ‘don’t care’ attitude expressed by them in every other step. Nobody was even able to understand the core issue and associated emotions (of my passion for writing, not having the site up and running preventing me from writing) which were clearly below the standards.

No call-back: After my escalation phone-call, the site started working just fine. I am not sure what exactly they did and where the eventual fix was made. Till date there is no call-back from Airtel to confirm whether my issue is really fixed. In case I run into the problem again, I am pretty sure it will again start from ‘square-1’.

I am one of the long term customers of Airtel, mainly because of their excellent customer service. Especially during the initial days of me purchasing the Broadband connection, the service levels were simply outstanding with 100% adherence to SLAs. In case the SLA is not met, they will pay penalty as compensation. I clearly remember getting 200 rupee deduction in my monthly Broadband bill as they were not able to meet their SLAs. This level of great customer service is something very unique in Indian context. As a matter of fact, I purchased Airtel stocks, when I started my share market investing. This was mainly because of the fundamental belief that any organization with such strong customer focus will eventually become great organizations.However my recent experience clearly indicates clear degradation in their customer service. When I put a message in Facebook about this incident, many of my friends responded with similar examples.

Never the less, I still continue to be an irate customer!

Product Discovery – a collaborative effort

Sometime back I attended a session on Product Management by an industry expert and had some good take-aways. Ill focus on the area of “Product Discovery” in this post. It takes a very collaborative approach in the whole Product Discovery process.

The Product Discovery process looks to evaluate your product idea and provides a framework to validate whether it is worth investing time and resources on building it. The starting point of this process is a Product Idea and the end goal is a “Build” or “Not build” decision for that idea.

The idea is to form a Core Product Team comprising the Product Manager, the Technical Architect and the User Experience Designer who work together to validate the idea from the perspective of “Valuable, Feasible and Usable”. As you have probably guessed, each of the team member approaches the idea and validates it from that perspective.

The PM is largely responsible for deciding if its Valuable – Is it a real customer pain point and does the product that you intend to put out solve the problem effectively.

The Technical Architect is responsible to decide if its Feasible – Is it possible to build a product based on the limitations that exist within the ecosystem and the organization – within the given time and the organization’s technology capability.

The User Experience Designer validates the Usable angle – Is the product envisioned Usable enough from the customer angle. Is it too complicated for anyone to use.

Again the entire process is very collaborative and iterative. Based on these, you come up with prototypes which you will run through potential customers. It is recommended that you have about 6 potential customers that you work with to validate this prototype. The thought being that anything much less than this will end up being a “customer specific solution” as against a product that delivers value to a customer segment. The good part is not a single line of code has been written by Engg until this point – QA or Ops hasnt yet been involved.

The idea of this process is not necessarily to sign off with a “Build” decision, but to help you rapidly validate your product ideas in an inexpensive manner. It also enables you to quickly drop ideas that wont work and focus your energies on other one. While this is not a fail proof way of building products, it sure gives you a better shot at rolling out something that will meet customers’ needs

 

NWritings

An irate customer…. a great opportunity

Irate customers….It happens with every product, irrespective of how long the product has been in the market or the number of customers you have. Products sometime just doesnt work the way they are intended to and someone who has paid to buy it is not happy. In some cases, the issue is not even with the product – the customer screwed up or tried to use it in a manner that it was not intended to be used.

But as product owners, you and your team can actually turn this into a great opportunity. You can convert him to become a happier customer than he would have been if he had not had this problem in the first place.

Here are some of the things that we did which seemed to help in converting him into a strong advocate. While large business may find these hard to follow due to the sheer scale of operations, small and even medium businesses should benefit from these recommendations.

1. Take it head on – Respond immediately – with an email or a call. Definitely call if you have a contact number. Between his reporting this issue and getting a response, hes unable to use a product that he has paid for and thats bad news – for you. The immediate response just tells the customer that you are willing to stand behind your product and that help is on its way. Its an assurance and a strong message. As I had mentioned in one of my earlier posts, this immediate response is relevant even if you dont have a solution ready yet. Call and tell him that you will look into it and provide a solution as soon as you can. Even go ahead and provide the name and contact number of the support personnel who will be responsible for solving this issue. Automatic email response doesnt replace this. Auto response tells him that he support request has been “received”. The personal response that Im talking about tells him that someone is “looking into it”. There is a big difference.

2. Dont shift the blame – The response call is a bad time to tell him that it was HIS mistake that the product is not working, even if it is. Dont ask him if he read the documentation (not many people do… and again its a bad time to ask this). You may remind him about the documentation AFTER solving his issue
(for future reference), but not now – when he’s still irate. “No one else has reported this issue” again is a bad thing to say. Direct statements like, “We screwed up” or “Sorry, it is our mistake” convey a clear message that you are willing to own up and are committed to resolving the issue.

3. Follow it up to closure – If the issue is going to take a few days or weeks to fix, keep the customer updated on the progress. Having a product that isnt working is bad… but his not having a clue on when it will be fixed is unacceptable – and a sure way to drive customers away. Ensure that the customer has a single point of contact to get updates from. Even after the issue is resolved, ask for confirmation if you can actually close the issue ticket. The customer raised the issue and he has to sign off to close it.

4. Call back to check – Evolve your own schedule to call back customers after the issue has been resolved to check if they were happy with solution and more importantly the way your overall support system responded to him. Ask if he has been able to use the product as intended since. By now, you have a general sense whether the customer is really willing to put the whole thing behind and whether your support process works.

“How many ‏irate customers are being converted into strong advocates” is a great way you measure the effectiveness of your customer support process. Strong advocates talk to their friends positively about your product, give you inputs to improve your product, are willing to be reference customers or even sign up say nice things in your press release. Start building your pipeline of Strong Advocates…. and Irate Customers are a great place to start that with.

 

– NWritings

Piracy – Demanding innovation?

The problem of piracy is omnipresent in emerging countries like India. If you walk though any major street in Bangalore you can see the obvious examples of piracy sales which include books, movie CDs, games and software. Global organizations see this as a problem. In my opinion, piracy is another opportunity which needs innovation to open up new market opportunities. This long debated, controversial item is very much part of life in a country like India. When a much hyped movie hits the box-office, the pirated version in form of DVD, can be bought off the streets at a throw away price within few days. Copyright is taken for granted, even though there are laws to prevent this issue. It might look simple to look at, but piracy has become an organized industry in India.

Piracy
Piracy in India

The software piracy rate is growing at double digit rate especially in the operating systems domain. Purchasing original version of Windows is almost unheard, as most PC vendors install pirated version by default. Security precautions and patch mechanisms that Microsoft applies are overridden by even smarter ideas. There are multiple questions and arguments can be applied to this: Are we are not giving due importance to original versions? Is it the way we are wired? Should the regulatory systems be blamed? Are we bad people? Not necessarily. The answer is simple — we are not ready to pay for anything upfront if it costs more than we can afford. In a country with per capita income is about 35,000 rupees, how can we expect anyone to pay 10% to purchase the original version of Windows or 1% to purchase original version of a book? At the same time we cannot ask the educated elite of the urban population to buy the original version because they have more disposable income. They constitute only 2% population, who also tend to go with the trend. Even if they buy original versions, it cannot be a viable business proportion for organizations.

In a different perspective, in my opinion piracy is another form of an opportunity, which needs innovative methods to address. More piracy means people want a particular product desperately, which serves their need. Just because they cannot afford or got used to it, piracy takes the center stage. Innovation in terms of pricing, business model & offering need to be applied. The focus should be given on how to make things easily affordable by taking ‘micro-consumers to micro-payments’ model. Let us take the example of Indian mobile service provides. They have pre-paid plans for as low as five rupees (micro-payment), which work out for a daily eager (micro-consumer). Now companies like Tata DoCoMo have innovated even further by offering one second pulse, which is much different from minute based rates. With the sheer scale in sales, mobile service provides are getting their profits. In fact India is the fastest growing mobile market in the world. If the rate plans are in thousands, it would have been used only by the elite resulting in a very smaller market.

Similar approach should be taken for other businesses like book publishing (on-demand customized prints at affordable prices), software (subscription model bundled with technical support & upgrade) and on-demand digital movies (finding out alternative delivery and recovery models using upcoming technologies like DTH). The cost of it should be as low as a customer what a customer pays for a pirated version. Then only it can make a viable business proposition. Organizations need to develop deeper knowledge of the nature of customers than educating the customers about piracy. Understanding customers and their needs has been successfully done in some businesses (like mobile service providers mentioned above) but there is still a huge market waiting to be tapped across industries demanding ‘customer centric’  innovation.

In conclusion, I would say piracy is another form of opportunity. But where is the innovation?

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