Map the Gap, fill it!

Dynamics of customer value creation turn yesterday’s  differentiators as a taken-for-granted norms of today. Marketers are constantly challenged to find offerings, features, positioning with the highest perceived value for their customers that will keep them constantly interested and therefore engaged.

Less compulsion, more choice

As many leading retailers struggle,under the onslaught of e-commerce, a bay area based startup is betting to break up American shoppers hooked with big brands through its offering of  generic products and simple pricing.Everything will be priced at $3. Definitely disruptive. Engaging for the time much like the Dollar Shave Club.

Too busy? No worries-surrogate shopper is here.

With the accelerating growth of online grocery shopping,especially Amazon.com Inc. acquisition of Whole Foods Market Inc. would put more pressure on grocery chains and startups to win over customers. Already Mega Retailer Walmart has started the online order and drive thru pickup. There are delivery companies to the aid of the grocery stores faced with a tough sell because of logistical challenges and customers’ unique preferences for perishable goods.

A delivery company in Birmingham, Ala., is offering delivery to 582,000 Indianapolis-area households through hired shoppers on a contract basis akin to ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft to shop for you.

Hungry ? Just call.

McDonald’s is about to start testing delivery service — from nearly 200 restaurants in Orlando, Tampa and Miami by partnering with UberEATS to offer the service.Customers will be able to order anything from the McDonald’s menu through the UberEATS website or mobile app, and a courier will deliver the food to their doors.

Fast-food chains have been slow to adopt delivery services. Taco Bell was one of the first to offer the service in July 2015 through a partnership with DoorDash. But Domino’s Pizza Disrupted the Delivery Game and Became a Leader in Customer Delight.

In coming days…

The future is more and more about the combinational  impact of technological disruption and innovation accelerators that will collectively transform our world,societal factors amplify the impact. There is an interesting reciprocal tension at work here, as the social dimension is impacted or squeezed by these waves, while at the same time, social change have a reciprocal effect. Humans will have more time to look after themselves, and health care will change from catering to people when they’re ill to more monitoring and prevention. within few years , we’ll also see more drugs personalized based on people’s DNA and more training and surgery conducted remotely

More and more medical service companies selling nutrition advice, teeth cleaning, wellness checkups and emergency services are increasingly finding new homes in the strip malls and shopping centers being abandoned by traditional retailers.And there’s plenty of space available to rent as scores of retailers are closing.

With an aging population, early retirees and a focus on health, the wellness centers will be a place to be. With complementary daycare, Wi-Fi and exercise workstations for laptops, more people who prefer work from home will  be spending time at such exclusive facilities. There is an appeal to getting out of the isolation of houses and being somewhere bright, warm, with other people, and getting exercise, perhaps go out to dinner, and maybe pick up groceries on the way home.

More about this in the next update- the new club culture.

 

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When You’re NOT Really Doing it for Your Customers

We all are probably familiar with accidental innovations like plastics and penicillin–products that only came about because of the inventor’s inadvertent mishap. What I am going to write today is about innovations designed to resolve an immediate business threat but not capitalized upon, some of which later down the line pioneered by a better organized, bigger company with enough resources and R&D.

During the mid-seventies the affordable, lighter, fuel conserving mopeds (a low-power, lightweight motorized bicycle) segment grew rapidly in India. City roads were not well developed, public transport was poor. So, this was a preferred economical means of conveyance for rural and people in the lower economic strata.

Automobile Products of India a company established in 1949 and more famous for the ‘Lambretta’ brand of scooters under license from Innocenti of Italy, also launched the ‘Laxmi‘ brand of mopeds which was later sold to Kirloskar-Ghatge Patil Motors. Arvind, whose family business was in manufacture of ‘bobbins’ (a cylinder or cone holding thread, yarn, or wire, used in textile industry, especially in weaving, machine sewing, and lace-making) had to daily use this vehicle for making delivery at textile mills and often run out of fuel as the tank capacity of the mopeds was small. Dragging the moped to the next gas station involved physical labour and waste of time resulting into penalty by the mill due to downtime and loss of production.

Arvind found a small size lead acid battery from a scrap dealer and clamped it on the front suspension of his laxmi moped, by attaching a separate battery-powered hub motor to the front wheel he could still run it when it goes out of petrol. Now this was purely a need based innovation which was taken few steps further, in collaboration with the company showroom owner, who knew the family, suggesting customers if they need this additional option they can visit the Garach’s Garage to get a battery fitted at a cost. The showroom manager also enthusiastically shared it with company representatives who visited Arvind’s Gara(g)e. They rewarded him Rs.1000/-.Took pictures.

And as it happens, a few months later the company sent him a legal notice that any modification on their brand is covered under copyrights and Arvind will not be eligible for any royalty but taken to court if he does any modifications for his commercial gain without their legal approval. This was in the late 70s when reputation of families was more valued and small businesses feared taking on bigger business houses who had better lawyers, so the family decided not to challenge it in court. It was only some 25 years later, two final year mechanical engineering students in Mangalore registered similar innovation and much later, a Steel Engineering Company of Gujarat launched an eco-friendly electrical bike in 2004.

Long before Tata Salt, pioneered the packaged branded salt movement in India in 1983 (at that time most of the salt was sold loose without consistency of quality and accuracy of weight), Two cousins from a Rajasthani family accidentally developed the first packaged salt (albeit non-edible). The Kala family business suffered a major setback during late seventies when a consignment of industrial salt was affected by rain, rejected by the end user industry and trucks had to be unloaded in the home compound to avoid heavy demurrage charges. The landlord, dholakia, a london based NRI gave them an ultimatum to clear the compound within 3 days. The entire family of 2 brothers with help of school-time buddies toiled for 50 hours to pack the salt in plastic bags purchased from local markets, all different size and shape procured on need basis as the packaging activity progressed. Much after free samples distributed to relatives, friends and neighbors a commercial sale was made to 2 leading soap companies (one of them owned by another school mate Ram whose innovation story is also appended here under).

During the late 80s branded washing detergents were already making inroads into the local manufacturer’s market shares. There were Tatas, Levers and Swastik Industries and a local Gujarati entrepreneur was aggressively pushing his Nirma brand, giving the organized players the early scare. Two local washing soap manufacturers, of Bhavnagar, belonging to same community, were also experiencing the heat in a shrinking local market share where dealers and retailers were demanding more margins to stick with them. One of the short sighted, selfish local manufacturer resorted to unethical practice of bribing the temporary daily wage workers on the (soap) shop floor of his competitor, to deliberately let some empty containers pass through the conveyor belt before they are stacked and packed inside the cartons. Rejection, loss of reputation and settlements harried Ram who was the affected party.

Physical checking of each carton before dispatch will involve extra cost and labor when margins were shrinking. Ram’s factory was next to the railway station. He requested them for a 400-mm diameter high powered carriage fan from their scrap lot and placed it by the conveyor belt so the empty cases will fly off. This resolved the problem.

The common factor in all three case studies is the incidental innovation by lads from traditional business families. Perhaps a more customer focused effort could have really contributed to predict the commercial outcome. Who knows.

In case of the first and second case, there was a potential to turn the idea into a viable commercial venture but maybe then it was too early as there wasn’t a more conducive environment. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying. Isn’t it ?

[ All incidents are real life events witnessed by this writer. Much information about the family name, companies etc. is suppressed for sake of maintaining privacy]

 

 

Do not miss the clcik

During my various interactions with customers requesting assistance about issues bothering them while using a technology oriented product, it very easy to gain appreciation as most of the time it is just a simple thing which fixes the problem.

The problem lies with the way we purchase a product for a functional use but has added features and service that sometimes one really doesn’t need. We as customers are guilty of buying a product that starts either by plugging it into an electrical outlet and start it by pressing a few buttons, and now -a few touch n swipes. Tell me how many of us actually read the user manual in detail before we overcome by the urge to the ‘new thing’ started.

There is another side to the problem as well, the guys who sell these products do not connect themselves beyond the basic functionality of it. To illustrate better I would like to list a conversation between a lady and a salesman I her heard at an electronics shop. The lady wanted to buy a set of security cameras. “things could happen you know?” She told me as she sees my attention while I was waiting to be attended by another salesman. The salesman helping the lady, pulled out 2 different boxes of products available at the difference in the price between two was not much.

The lady wanted the one her friend had purchase six months ago, unfortunately the company had come out with modified versions. The suave salesman was smartly dodging the questions the lady had about the product’s features, the one she’d seen at her friend’s home. Acceptable since the product was no longer in circulation. What disappointed me though was his inability to position the advantages of the product he was selling. The height was the lady wanted 2 of them but the lack of confidence of salesman emerged in him suggesting she takes one for trial and come back again. To which the lady replied she leaves 50 miles away. Worst even, there was sticker on the box which offered 50% off on the second if customers buy one which seemed to escape either one’s attention.

While it is very easy to criticize the salesman, I would go further to state that the root problem is the total disconnect some people have with their products/ process and work(job). When the sole objective to take up an assignment is to earn eight hours of wage this problem is going to remain. This is more prevalent amongst some of the fast turnover (in numbers of completion or close rates) professions. Because they are lucky having to assemble or sell heavily advertised brands which create a pull there is little connect and more monotony.

I would like to share here an interesting anecdote of how quality suffers due to the disconnect on the job. Once while consulting an engineering firm on quality improvements, I happened to visit their workshop. The analysis of past one year’s complaints, revealed that most of them were related manufacturing defects emerging within six months. Since the company gave one year’s warranty the free replacement and return shipping cost was too high. Being in the business since 3 generations and a reputation to stand for, the company never compromised with the quality of raw materials and all ancillary parts were sourced of standard quality from most reputed vendors. Then why such high rate of rejects?

The first thing that struck while entering the shop floor was the loud blaring of radio. The shop floor was well maintained, workers were diligently working on the assembly line. Everything was the way it would be on a shop floor of an successful engineering company.

Back in the boardroom I happened to ask the HR Manager “is the radio on workshop given by the company ? “ The poor fellow did not know what to reply in front of his bosses. So the owner answered himself, we’d hired a consultant from ‘A’ leading pharmaceutical company to improve productivity. It was her suggestion that some music will motivate the workers and increase productivity and it did help.

Everyone was uncomfortable due to a moment of silence and wide smile on my face. I explained that in an engineering firm a machine operator or assembly line person has to apply all his senses including eyes and ears. When a screw is tightened it makes a sound which tell the fitter to stop before his hand turning the spanner meets with a resistance. Now this was an educated guess but it fixed the problem. Because of the blaring of radio, workers were not fully attached to their work and some functions were being assumed like 5 turns are enough to fit a screw or so much pressure is good enough to lock a joint. But they were missing the “click”. So, for all those guys in customer service may it be as an owner or employee don’t miss the click!

Why put up with

Having to do a job , you don’t necessarily feel like doing where your professional stature isn’t respected . Where your intellect holds no value but ability to be steadfast and often suck up to those in power matters more.
This is modern days bonded labour. The curse of being a professional, having to engage with others in a way that leads to the best outcome for the business’s need.
The emotional labor of listening when we’d rather yell.The emotional labor of working with someone instead of firing them.
The emotional labor of seeking out facts and insights that we don’t (yet) agree with.
Is it difficult ?Of course it’s difficult. That’s precisely why it matters. Sometimes, knowing that it’s our job—the way we have to survive- until a time comes- that our talent is recognized—helps us pause a second and decide to do the difficult work.
Of course no one gets hired to eat a slice of sweet pie and free pizzas.

More important than you think

Keeping employees motivated is important in any environment, whether it be in a round table discussion with executives, among battle-weary troops, or on the court with an under performing basketball team. If you can’t get your employees or coworkers excited about working for you or with you, many of those uninspired workers are going to leave to find happiness (and a paycheck) elsewhere.

Most people dialing into a customer service contact center expect the person answering them, to fix the problem. It is estimated only 30% of respondents exhibited to have the will, tools and authority to resolve. The most concerning fact is remaining 70 % in customer service and sales exhibiting nothing more than a pleasant outlook and well scripted speech.

While there is no success recipe, experts opine, a healthy mix of empowerment, technology, and strong work relationships can help to stem the tide of contact center agents unplugging their headsets, leaving their seats, and walking out the door — and out of your contact center forever.

When an agent is empowered he is not just somebody taking a number and transferring [the call] or escalating to a manager. Companies should invest improving technology to enable quick responsiveness which is possible by investing faster CPUs, Better VLAN configuration to avoid the software and hardware conflicts, efficient routing to avoid inbound congestion and call drops.

Finally, the providing of targeted training to agents is an important way to boost their morale, because knowing what the problem is and getting input on how to correct it allows them to be more successful in their work is the biggest motivation.

Given just how critical those customer-facing interactions are, there’s no sugarcoating the fact that agents have a difficult task it’s a very, very high pressure job that agents undertake. Motivating these agents can require a variety of tactics, but just throwing parties and instituting casual Fridays won’t be enough.

There cannot be enough pizza parties in the world to keep somebody in a job they don’t like so it is extremely important to find the right employees for the job, right out of the starting gate and follow good practices to retain them.

Frequent memos on policy changes, incentives promised but not given. “Different interpretation and manipulation of performance reward policy are all counterproductive to the right hire and investment of training and the loss of reliability scores until the agent is finally productive.

It is like flowing a pure water after several filtration steps, chemical and energy expense through a corroded pipeline to render non-potable again! The sooner managements understand these important aspects the better they will be able to manage the attrition rates in their companies.

Hire to Retain

Recent conversation on LinkedIn by a group of HR enthusiasts, interested me. The topic was about hiring the right candidate and some strategies on hiring the right candidate, ensure they succeed at job and give the returns on investment on hiring, training and retaining. Which kind of stirred up a memory of similar dialogue I had with a now retired dean of Management Faculty M.S.U and now a Professor@Delhi School of Management, I’d used a term “Programmed to fail” to his apparent amusement at the state of hiring of candidates by grossly inadequate HR officials of my company. The only mantra my guru had for me was “but you are empowered, isn’t it? turn the glass into a crystal!”

No company hires a candidate to fire. So what explains such high attrition rate? Ambition? Opportunity? Pure financial attraction or is it the age-old peg and hole theory? Well I believe a square peg can be systematically trimmed at edges to fit the round hole.

When I was interviewed as a new hired manager, by a Retired Maharashtrian Tata Executive who was our HR consultant (and responsible for most the mis-hires) about the comparison between the present company with previous (Bombay Dyeing Mfg.Co.Ltd. Ltd) I had shared the role of HR limits after the initial hire and the departmental lead or HOD should take over to shape the future of the hired and bring out talent to mold it as per company needs. And the process is continuous.

What is it that makes an employee happiest? A sense of achievement! The pride of reaching a goal. This followed by instant gratification and appreciation conveyed in cash or kind. So, what is new that I am stating? Really not? But how many organizations have such mechanisms.

This is what I have seen across the board (across borders). ‘Programmed’ Supervisors view their role as overseer – disciplinarian – enforcer – show scant interest in developing or mentoring their team – but are simply focused on pleasing their boss (to survive). To them pushing people to perform is the best way to display leadership. As a result, they end up having suckers who “play favorites” for reasons other than merit which creates an environment of discrimination. Which leads to frustration amongst the ranks resulting into significantly higher quit rates.

I must mention here,that mostly, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the finest supervisors who lead by example – coaching, mentoring – providing performance feedback – more of advice on failure-how not repeat it and fostering a greater sense belonging to the team and at the workplace.

Remember one thing, nobody, repeat nobody goes to work to under perform. The triggers are at the workplace itself. It is all about culture at the workplace what does the leader (team lead/supervisor) bring in his baggage when he or she comes at workplace with. The buck starts and stops at their desk.

Oh ! how different .

The biggest impact of the digital disruption is the democratization of consumerism worldwide. And because it happens to and through digital things its power multiplies precisely because it can apply to industries that are not even digital.

The outcome of this is a more informed and empowered customer. If you are in the service industry, this is change is perceptible. These days the customer does not call only for a service but to know what more than can get from you than your competitor.

Present day consumer of product or services expects and knows their money is worth more than the price printed on the label and the product or services may not be good enough — but better than it promises.

With information on ‘hand’ and easy mobility the consumer will bypass the geographically convenient and maybe a cheaper store brands to prefer a more expensive product that they believe is better (in value).

Certain items — belonging to the psycho-graphic segmentation variables – like phones, cars, shoes, handbags, favorite hotels, etc. — can get them quite excited. Not only they buy those products, they advocate them to others – on social media.  Good old times — Harley Davidson and Marmite — were tattooed on bodies. Now they give them the thumbs up (likes).

Hence the challenge of today for the “truly marketing oriented “company is to be “truly differentiated” not in terms of your product or service but how you come across your customer at every touch point.

So ultimately, differentiation is to be found in what you do for your customers each and every day. It is embodied in the routines that people throughout the company follow, especially front-line employees, your call center employees, people handling escalations.

Ask executives whether their company’s offerings are differentiated and about 80% will say yes. But ask customers of those companies the same question and only about 10% will agree. Unfortunately, more than half of front-line employees aren’t clear about their company’s strategy and what makes it different from competitors. Most do not know what they are offering what the customer pay for.

Here is a suggestion make them think customer. The front line guys, sales representatives, customer service agents should be asked to respond to their service encounter as if they are the customer and how would they react? Empathy is a cliché’. What is required something deeper-introspection very conscious-continuous.

Differentiation in overall approach to the customer ,existing or future, may begin with the founders or leaders of a company, but it doesn’t become real until the front line lives it and breathes it.

To me the secret to most successful enterprises — companies who realize this importance — translate these strategies into front-line activities and focus maniacally on routines. In short create a replicable behavior in each interaction with their target audience – the consumer they want to win over each time.

Which matter more?

Education and learning provides information

To interpret the information correctly and retrieve it in useful manner is knowledge

Applying the knowledge from time to time gives you experience.

The experience of what knowledge works when? is wisdom.

A wise person will constantly put the acquired knowledge through experience for constructive purpose of self and others.

Most of us are talented but often weary.

Some hate the labor to augment their talent.Or else, you can also work to get a little less lazy.

In the long run being more courageous, overcoming fears, becoming productive and being industrious is much easier than may be to acquire certain talent.

Talent is the best insurance

No matter whether you are an employee or an independent self-employed, there will always be moments where your services come under question.

You might just have hit a bull’s eye on recent team project, but if circumstances change, loyalty is the first causality (it cuts both ways).

Is it naive to assume blindly that any position is safe? Yup. In an era of Automation and advanced technology, there is every reason to think about the changing concept of loyalty in the workplace.

Recent HBR leadership series article underlines the shift in business strategy from one that aggregated work effort in order to optimize productivity and create value for customers to one that aggregates profitability in order to create value for shareholders. Which indicates the management’s obsession with efficiency rather than productivity.

This is a doable task, with use of algorithms and machine intelligence you break the components of a mundane cognitive or manual work, which have a predictable outcome, into separate, discrete pieces and translate into a digital format to parcel out to any location willing to complete it at desired speed and lower cost.

History depicts that since the industrial revolution organizations have always invested in training and re-skilling their workforce. It may not happen anymore. Because we entering into the age of robotics which requires reprogramming.

Contradictory to the recent political rhetoric – Jobs haven’t been outsourced; they’ve just become outdated. Jobs requiring more manual efforts with added smartness will be more affected by the automation and digitization. In my opinion, there is a lot of optimism and opportunity associated with automation because I believe rising machine intelligence advances will test human potential to solve the most complex and threatening problems.

Working in tandem with technology, we can create, solve, and shape the world for the benefit of all. The process of reaching our collective potential will require a new approach in educating our next generation and rediscovering our talents.

The idea of self-driving cars as a means of reducing accidents may still be ridden with exceptions as fully autonomous cars would still crash sometimes, and so over that timescale there will always be situations where the computer will have to pass the controls to a human. There are talks about a ‘black box’ installed in these vehicles so they will require experts to interpret the backbox’s data. For a driver-less car to work, every inch of road, every junction, road sign and signal everywhere must be mapped in perfect detail. An opportunity for drivers to be a part of this project, who know the areas like the back of their palms.

Cars on autopilot will also radically change the car-insurance business. Claims made against cars which crash while in driver-less mode will be paid out by insurance companies who will then recover costs from the party responsible for the incident, which may be the manufacturer. So, the manufacturers will need experienced drivers to fight court libels.

In February this year the first Amazon Go store has opened in Seattle, in which is a combination of computer vision and deep learning technologies that tracks items and only charges customers when they remove the items from the store. But if a customer contests a wrong charge they will require a human to manually verify.

Recently, Bank of America began testing three “employee-less” branch locations that offer full-service banking automatically, with access to a human, when necessary, via video teleconference. So, they will still need services of BPO employing trained humans in banking functions.

Consider, for example, the rise of the chat bot taking on sales and support tasks, but they also will require humans to take if further.

Automation will create a more flexible and on-demand work platform that enable individuals to work on their own terms. There will be a tremendous potential to provide meaningful work and learning, and to re-imagine work in very positive ways.

We must remember that we all have other talents – they are our insurance policy when that fateful day unexpectedly comes. The key is that we need to nurture them and ensure that we are ideally making changes when it suits us rather than when it suits others.

Look out for the crevice

Just a few moments ago, I met James at a coffee shop. He is an iPhone repair expert. Lack of money and infrastructure but compensated by talent with humility. I watched a few minutes while he deftly repaired a device, the young owner paid for the services and thanked.

While I walk upto him more impressed than curious, he receives a call. ” I Phone Repair!” he answers in a crisp well mannered, business like tone. I wait till he finishes. The prospect has called up to make sure he is still at the coffee shop where he is available everyday.

If you have a costly smartphone it is a crime (yes crime) to break it within a few months.Even if you have insurance it works like the auto insurance claim, where the deductible portion works like a penalty for aspiring to have a costly smartphone and then- breaking it ! People like James are a blessing to this world of distraught youngsters who are most susceptible to the predicament.

The title of today’s post might be a trifle naughty. But I could not think of anything better.(so quickly). We have case studies of smart entrepreneurs effectively use niche marketing strategies while planning marketing campaigns, especially useful strategy for smaller companies with limited budgets and products or services that are targeted toward a certain segment of the population.

In a mature market place, there are niches galore, niches exist within niche markets. So the smart entrepreneurs need to find a hitherto unattended need to get a foothold for themselves by conducting authentic-seeming conversations with target customers.How ? Easy!  First find where exactly the shoe pinches. Provide a solution which is prompt, seamless and cost effective.

Rather than having to trek to 9 different stores to find the perfect black dress there are online stylist, who once they get to know your style and size, arrange to send you a boxfull of clothes and accessories selected just for you, according to your budget with a worry free return if you do not like some or all of it.Saves time and money and is a boon for people who find it a bother to take a trip to the mall. And, if you’ve got a special occasion coming up, it’s a great way to find the perfect outfit without having to make a bunch of trips to a bunch of stores for shopping and making returns.

The eyewear industry was dominated by a single company enabling them to keep prices artificially high while reaping huge profits from consumers who didn’t have other options.Buying glasses should be easy and fun. It should leave you happy and good-looking, with money in your pocket. With this objective a company created an alternative by offering higher-quality, better-looking prescription eye wear at a fraction of the going price.You can even choose a frame online and try it with 3D digital mapping done with your webcam.

Men were wary of paying higher price for their daily shave for high priced blades in oligopoly built by two leading traditional consumer products marketing companies ,with the pricey blades kept in locked plastic doors at stores.There came a e-commerce company, which   built a unique association with the target customers by blending of a cheap and convenient product with entertaining content thus providing a reason to snatch customer’s attention away from traditional razor sellers.

In a digitally  connected world consumer demands and expectations are constantly progressing.Today’s consumer is technologically more empowered and a marketplace that gives them increasing control over their brand relationships, younger consumers are even more demanding than their older peers. Every Brand is susceptible to this changing customer sentiments. Therefore the real winners shall be those who can find the crack, slit it open and create a new positioning which addresses the unattended need of the consumer.

 

 

 

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