E-Tail in Retail

A recent survey by the National Retail Federation of US reveals that consumer behavior is continuously changing in a most dramatic way. As stated in the report – adoption has increased exponentially and is being driven by increased comfort levels with security, but even more important is convenience. Shoppers are time-pressed, and user experience is critical in gaining loyalty.

Remember when not long ago mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets were heralded as browsing and research tools to enhance the shopping experience? Last year the retail world saw important changes driven by rapidly evolving consumers’ shopping behaviors, technological advancements and ultimately, the exponential rise of the mobile consumer.

Increased mobile usage leads to a rise in usage of mobile apps, and will continue to see an increase in the development of mobile apps in the global market. Mobile now represents two out of three minutes spent on digital — and people also spend most of that time in apps. Mobile apps on their own now drive most of digital media time spent

The Apple App store boasts close to 2 million of these apps while Google play has over 2.2 million Apps. This number is expected to increase in the future. Hence brands trying to lure customers with user friendly customized applications.

A holiday wrap up 2017 report published by a syndicated agency – Criteo reveals from a survey of 2,500 U.S. consumer electronics buyers, that, consumers do not buy from the first website they visit, and 52 percent of them are about as likely to make impulse purchases online as they are offline. And that 89 percent of shoppers said appealing product photos can sway their purchasing decision, and that 77 percent say video can do the job.

The Consumer(s) still want to test the products they are shopping for, whether a TV or a smart fridge, in store. And this new study is shedding light on the shopping habits of consumers who research products online but then go to the store to buy them.

So, a new type of consumer has emerged: The “omni shopper,” one who browses and buys across devices and screens, online and offline. This is causing the world of online and offline to converge as retailers and brands seek to transform their businesses to reach, know and inspire these shoppers. There is an increased need for all marketers to know that an omnichannel strategy is more important than ever.

How do retailers and brands adapt? Can they compete with giants like Amazon that offer easy, integrated shopping experiences that consumers want? One thing is certain: Data is the secret weapon. Having more of it and using it the right way doesn’t just win battles, it wins the future.

Data is required on a mass scale and it needs to be granular—not just what shoppers purchased, but what they viewed, on what device, on what day, during what season, how they arrived on that page and where they went next. With data in-hand, retailers and brands can then take the next step and successfully activate it to generate sales.

There is another angle that determines brand loyalty shift – brands (corporations) taking a stand on social issues. There seems to be a strong relationship emerging between specific age groups and purchase decisions across the controversial issues may it be same sex marriage? Emergency contraception? Obamacare? An emerging relationship that could have far-reaching impact for business leaders and brand decision makers.

In a study it was found that Americans are 8.1% more likely to purchase from a company that shares their opinions and are 8.4% less likely to purchase from a company that doesn’t. In other words, it’s no longer just about whether a person likes the product or service, it’s about whether they like the company’s stance on certain pertinent issues.

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Stirred up a hornet’s nest

 

Some responses on social media to my post dated Jan 3rd, 2018

On H1 B Visa Changes

Louis D. Lo Praeste

You have excellent data and points–and a more than a few cheap shots about entitled US labor–or  “American lads”. Let me ask you this- do these recipients express their thankfulness to THIS country—-if so how? Do they learn and English, to they understand the need for hygiene in close work spaces, (yes some developers actually need to be told to consider deodorants) and acclimate their families and children into society or do they create Indian and Chinese enclaves where there is no need to change their behavior? Do they vote, do they participate in civil life? You present the Indian immigrant as the ideal worker–but many people would disagree. That they are ready to come to work on American holidays means perhaps that they do not respect them–or more problematically create a more competitive environment for families who might like to enjoy those holidays and not worry about someone trying to steal their job. I find your defense of this practice to be shallow and a bit biased towards our Indian colleagues.    (edited)

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Subash Patel

Louis D. Lo Praeste Your concern is genuine and valid. Being an Indian, I can tell you how other Indians try to create their own micro-culture instead of integrating with mainstream Americans. It comes mostly from the cultural and upbringing where many of these who do that are not having self-confidence, feel inferior and insecure. It will take sometime to get them settled (check for Indians who came here 20 years ago and you wont feel the same in them)  (edited)

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Bernie Karlowicz

So you’re saying it’s a race to the bottom.  The person willing to put 24/7 in wins. Got it… what you paint is what is called a lose-lose scenario.  Crafty folks with solid math skills would understand that to be the worst end state.

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Vikrant Rai, CFA

Well put … and rational explanation than most emotional outbursts for personal grudges.

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Daniel White

Shardul, what you say is true, but the ugly resultant truth is corporation use Indian firms to cut operations costs, in new product rollouts,  help desk, and as you say, very technical fields. This displaces American workers, just as union busting did. It is a global economy, what happens eventually is that India , Mexico, China, whenever the workers improve their standard of living,  they want a new car, a nice house, nice clothes, travel for nice vacations. Global economies raise standard of living everywhere, at what cost. Will all counties have to socialize education, like India has? To compete in a global market takes a deep look into how to be a global leader, education of the young, retrain displaced workers.. there is a solution and limiting H1 B is part of that correction. Yes, I voted for Trump, this country needs this correction

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Michael J. Albany

Shardull is 100% spot on and most of the other comments in this tread are a bunch of excuses. Our educational system has been failing us for at least 40 years. We have been giving our children rewards and trophies for participation rather than for achievement. We allow the wealthy the opportunity to buy their child’s way through college. We are not keeping up globally in education, technology, or manufacturing, yet we want our children to succeed. To the person that commented somewhere above that he is unemployed at age 60 with lots of experience; Yep and that puts you out of the job market because you expect to get paid for that experience. It will take 2-5 years for your experience to show results at which time you will retire. Or they can pay a person half your age half as much to be up and productive in the same period of time. That is a decision based on business not or country of origin.

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Michael J. Albany

Part 2: To those saying its a culture thing; your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, also took a generation or two to blend into the American culture (ideas of hygiene fall into this category too). That is normal. To those asking “what do these people contribute? Do they pay taxes? Do they vote?” They can’t vote under a visa; they must be citizens first. They pay taxes more regularly and with fewer deductions than most Americans and if they send money home to their families they pay taxes again there on the same earnings. They also contribute diversity, culture, opinion, labor, ingenuity, to name but a few things. To anyone that thinks the H1 B program is hurting America and that Indians and Chinese are hurting this country, Check yourself. Your Red Neck is showing.

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Dan Teodor

Snapshot 2001: My conversation with mid size telecommunication equip builder in US as I applied for job to develop specialized near real-time non-hierarchical database to feed info to their switches quickly: Why should I pay you US software development wages when TCS (Tata Consulting Services) will have someone in my office next month for 75% of what you’re asking. At that point I first fully understood that the H1B program is unadulterated US labor market abuse. How much did that TCS consultant pay out of his own pocket for the Masters in Computers Science I spent 6 years many $$$ and many late nights earning. The H1B program MUST hire only people in specialities not available here in the local US market … Not be used to lop 25% off the earnings of US citizens.

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Sowdesh Kumar Sukumar

Louis D. Lo Praeste There is a difference between taking a shower every morning before work and not wearing a deodorant vs Wearing the deodorant every morning before work and once in a week jump into the pool to increase its salinity ;P

Moises Ellis

I have worked with numerous Indian engineers and love there work ethic.

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Joe Moreschi

My experience working with Indians has been horrible. Not very knowledgeable,  can’t speak our language with any clarity and always an excuse for their failures. The program needs to be shut down. Hire American workers.

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Drew Courtright

I have just moved back to the US after living in the UK for 13 years.  I heard the same rhetoric there as well, that jobs were being taken by foreigners.  If it was only that simple, that there was tons of qualified talent available to hire, and only the economics of cheap labor drove my hiring decisions.  That simply wasn’t the case there, and as a hiring manager I can tell you that isn’t the case here either.  Global education systems have created a very capable talent pool to hire from.  For different reasons both the UK and US have not been able to keep up with the demand.

Populace thinking is how people like Hitler came to power.  Find a scapegoat to blame and exploit the ignorance and hatred of the masses.  With all that being said though, the H1B program needs an overhaul because it victimizes the worker, as well artificially influencing the local job markets.

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Steve Pourteau

I disagree with you having worked with 100s of Indians in the ME, and more and more here in the US… We do not need outsourced technical expertise, most particular engineering, when we have qualified people sitting here struggling to find work. We don’t need the expertise from India or any other third world country. Companies use exactly what you are spewing as an excuse to hire an engineer at $40k as opposed to $100k for a domestically degree’d engineer! Try that BS on somebody that doesn’t live in the world you are trying throw flowers on!…see more

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Dominic J Fruges

Shardul — I take great offense at your depiction of Americans. I have worked with many Americans over the years and never questioned their work ethic. I can remember working for a then large telecom company and deciding to go into work on a holiday. I thought I would be perhaps one of a few but found probably over 100 cars in the parking lot on a HOLIDAY. Personally, I have worked all hours including weekends (on my own time) to either get work done or read tech white papers to learn new technologies. Tired of your nonsense logic and anti-American comments.  (edited)

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Scott Benjamin

Offshore work

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Kathy Collins

SHARDUL BHATT Your post is so far off base that I can almost laugh.  Almost.  I, an American born citizen, got into the IT business in the U.S. from a previous position as an Administrative Assistant in the 1980s.  From that day forward, I worked 60 to 80 hour weeks most of the time.  Those around me, also U.S. citizens, worked the same hours.  When a project was due, we worked around the clock to finish it if we had to.  Sometimes we would take a two hour nap in our cars.  Sometimes we could go home and eat, sleep, get up, eat, and go back to work.  When I started training new H1-B employees, I found them to be typical of young adults everywhere.  Bitch and moan about the hours, expect to be treated special.  I trained it out of them, as was part of my job.  I taught them the things they couldn’t learn in college.  The worst part was having to prove that I, a woman, knew more than them.  With all of my experience, they had to see that I was worthy of their respect, rather than the other way around.  This was especially true of Indian workers.  I stopped working in the IT business in my 50s.  Even though I was at the top of the field, I was tired.  Tired of the hours and always having to prove that I deserved my position.

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Jegram Fondli

I don’t like Trump and am of Indian descent myself, born and raised in the West, but I’ve worked in the tech industry since graduating, and of the 25-30 Indian hires I’ve worked with, they have always, without exception, produced the poorest quality work by far. They come in with resumes showcasing lots of work experience, but they lack a proper understanding of everything from polymorphism to data structure performance – stuff I had a strong grasp of in the 10th grade.

What they do understand is syntax, which children here commonly learn in elementary school. In the world of electrical engineering, it’s circuit symbols. They cannot solve problems above a very basic level of complexity – they usually need some template to work off of. This isn’t a racial thing, but to do with Indian education. The schools there are of piss-poor quality and practically diploma mills. That, and rampant abuse of the program  by Indian contracting firms, is why “70%” of H1-B applicants are Indians.

This isn’t something limited to just me either. If you browse around on tech forums/subreddits, you won’t at all be hard-pressed to find complaints or someone ready to complain about the extreemly poor quality work done by Indian H1-B holders.  (edited)

Jegram Fondli

I’d also like to point out that Indians being the primary source of H1-B applications is actually rather saddening. A LOT of very well qualified engineers from the Anglosphere and Europe would love to work for tech firms in the US, but they cannot or do not bother because the market is absolutely flooded. The applications come from these Indian contracting firms.

These firms hire out their workers to American companies. I’ve seen promising young tech graduates rejected for jobs at my own company in favor of some Indian contractors. They actually advertise US work placement back in India, and require little to no technical competence.

For an individual from say, the UK, they have to find a company willing to sponsor an H1-B for them. Most companies and applicants don’t go through that trouble. But Indian companies make it super easy, running it like a  visa business. Read: millions of Indians are actively abusing the H1-B program.

All this, while dozens of engineering graduates from my university have been out of jobs for years now.If you don’t have a job in your field soon after graduating, you miss out forever.  And we pumped tens of thousands into our degrees here.

Indians ARE stealing jobs.

To be or H1-B

According to US Department of State for immigration- out of 163,613 H1 B Visa receipts in 2016 , 126,692 were Indians (77.43%). The next closest were Chinese at 21.657(13.2%).

In today’s knowledge driven economy literacy, numerical ability and digital compatibility are the foundation for socio economic success. However, I would add that toil and craftiness as the unique traits of Indians who have made it out in the US economy.

Abundance but Scarcity –

From the 325 Mn US Population, it is believed that 40 Mn were born in another country. (12%). With the exponential growth in IT field there is a need for over 2 Mn candidates who have educated in Science, Tech, Engineering and Math’s. But as a report of NCES 2014-001 U. S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION which is available online states that total of 48 percent of bachelor’s degree students and 69 percent of associate’s degree students who entered STEM fields between 2003 and 2009 had left these fields by spring 2009. Roughly one-half of these leavers switched their major to a non-STEM field, and the rest of them left STEM fields by exiting college before earning a degree or certificate.

So the Tech industry needs to hire from overseas or outsource the work. Which will not go well the current political Rhetoric “Buy American, Hire American”. But US local labor pool lacks a lot of skills that are required for a new tech enabled labor market. Core technical, design and math skills are a must and one cannot continue to blame others for lack of employability.

Legal immigrants under H1-B visas, get paid better and so pay huge amount of taxes, also shell out annual visa fees and renewals. Plus, they contribute to the Real Estate, Pay Rentals (as person of Indian origin will eventually have family visiting so rent at least 2-bedroom apartment) Lease/ buy Auto, Food, Retail, Tourism (Indian families keep visiting).

Indians tend to be diligent and can work late hours (not giving importance to soccer games during work hours. Approved leave of absence may be hardly 4 times a year. Labor Day, Thanksgiving of Christmas they are ready to come to work. Any Indian Festival or anniversary and birthdays are always celebrated on nearest weekend.

Amidst the current socio-political scenario where “Entitlement” is at its peak, an American will take 1 week to complete what a smarter Indian can complete is a day’s work. Not only that he/she will take the work home to finish it on a deadline. When one looks around at the Retail stores and commercial businesses American ladies have their beauty to attend to (can you believe a call center representative checking on her lipstick and eyelashes every 10 mins?) The American lads love their soccer games stop work at 5 and also, they get annual hikes without a performance review. And still, they live a life of uncertainty daily.

If US is considering new regulations aimed at preventing the extension of H-1B visas, so be it. However, this idea of ‘self- deportation’ of hundreds of thousands of Indian tech workers may actually result into either closing down of many business or relocating outside the US, resulting into unemployment of the entitled US labor who depend on the industries that employee these techies.

Set(h) thinking -No hard feelings

When you choose to work for someone there comes a point where views differ.

A point of view is the difference between a job and a career.

It’s the difference between being a cog and making an impact.

Having a point of view is different from always being correct. No one is always correct.

Do not be blind to your rights.

Try not to be judgmental.

Try not to be persecuted.

Try not to be clever..

Be Observant.

Be Trusting.

Be Wiser.

Power isn’t as important as productivity

Honor the schedule

You are not your work, embrace criticism

Be obsessed about appropriate quality, ignore perfection

Empathy is not sufficient. Compassion is more useful, because it’s possible to talk to someone who is experiencing something that you’ve never experienced.

It’s pretty clear that there are forces on both sides, individuals and organizations that are working for open and those that seek to keep things closed instead.

Do you benefit from a population that’s smarter, faster and more connected than it used to be?

Do you prefer transparency?

Either you’re riding the tide or pushing against it.

Are you hoping that those you serve become more informed or less informed?

Are you working to give people more autonomy or less?

Do you want them to work to seek the truth, or to be clouded in disbelief and confusion?

Is it better if they’re connected to one another or disconnected?

More confidence or more fear?

Outspoken in the face of injustice or silent?

More independent or less?

Difficult to control or easier?

More science or more obedience?

Here is where maturity and experience will be asset.

Try and teach less , observe more and guide team towards success.

Organisations needs old war horses.

Embrace the harness.

 

 

Improved customer contact

With the dominance of Internet of Things (IoT) trends watch out for in near future are the Virtual Reality (VR) chats Augmented Reality (AR) chats. But the question to ask, is that going to create a more satisfying user experience?

Most companies are encouraging customers to use the self service options or download the application on their mobile. App developers are working towards making chat-bots resemble human beings in the pattern of speech recognition and personalities, leading to smoother interactions.

Customers today expect seamless interactions with brands whenever, wherever and however they want. Some customers will always require a human touch. Hence the plain old vanilla customer service is here to stay.

However, everyone who has interactions with customer service for any of products and service related issues, are randomly happy. Though necessary, nobody enjoys it. The representatives that are answering calls and the companies that spend their dollars on customer service feel the same way! It’s unpleasant, expensive, often mundane, but necessary.

The entire call center industry is based on a foundation of dislike. There is no reason that a customer should have to make a call to a business if they don’t want. (My Manager Pat tells me “I rarely call any customer service, I prefer to use the App. I also text everyone I know. I rarely call them anymore, as most day-to-day conversations are easier over messenger apps.”)

Think about this, texting is a continuously easy method of communication that we can use throughout our days and weeks, whenever we have a free moment or even when we’re multi-tasking. We all live a busy life, some are probably busier.

 To spare 30 minutes to call a company (product/service provider), interacting with an ineffective and  frustrating IVR or waiting on hold for long periods of time, and then engaging in a high-stress conversation with someone that knows almost nothing about you can be a horrible experience. In fact, more than 50% customers hung up on a customer service call because they did not want to wait for an agent to have a conversation that may or may not help them.

On the flip side, it’s as frustrating for the live representatives talking to irate customers repeatedly with the same set of questions and angry complaints.

This is one of the reason the attrition rate among call center representatives can be more than 30%. However, it can be reduced by making the work more interesting and pleasant. While it’s a challenge, with new technology like AI, the live interactions can be improved.

Every business provides a finite number of service or feature. There exists an enormous amount of database on the type of service issues customers usually call about. Business leaders are aware of the “grey” areas that exist in their sales funnel.There pressure sales, misleading information given by retail outlets, broken promises etc.etc.

An effective creation of the data base like preset conditions and detailed information map about customer’s service related interactions can be used effectively by way of prompts and pop ups to the representative talking to the customer. The call log details, historical interaction,call reason,specific pain points, sensitivity of each customer to given responses are a bunch of tools for effective connection with the customer and useful for de-escalation at the outset.

Imagine an AI-powered conversational agent or chat bot that can answer up to 60-70% of the simple,basic, routinely asked questions, freeing up human representatives and allowing them to answer the more complex queries.

In fact, if given a choice, 2/3rd of today’s consumers prefer messaging to a voice call for customer support. (which explains the same ratio of calls made by customers while driving). To give a better live call experience customer called back after a 2-minute review of assimilated data, can a make an agent well informed and more empowered to give a better call experience. This also reduces the AHT.

Every human wants a decent conversation in each interaction. It is human nature to be treated nice. Customers want to reach out to the service providers in the most natural way that they have conversations, with others. So, it is easier to do messaging. The future of customer care is about convenience, and messaging is one of the easiest forms of interaction.

Messaging can be done at the customers’ own time. It keeps a record of their conversations, and it allows them to be thoughtful in what they’re saying.

The representative on the other side will do the same. They will be thoughtful, they will do more research and, in general, it will be a better conversation with improved outcomes. More companies that offer self-service also prioritize making it easy to escalate to a live agent.

Hence the future of live interaction can be improved with help of AI rather than replacing jobs with AI.

Mobile induced immobility

Mobile users are spending more time-consuming doing “things” than ever before. Sadly the time spared for physically communicating with a closed one is as much as a “commercial” break in TV program.

You would all agree that people are on their phones “all the time.” But can you imagine that how much time did people spend on their mobile phones in 2017? Thankfully, there’s been a lot of research done on this recently.

The average American adult (18+) spent 2 hours, 51 minutes on their smartphone every day. That’s about 86 hours a month!

While it may appear a bit skittish and as over imagined as a daydream about how a fully-automated “smart” home might seem in the future —talking to your toaster! Asking your toast to be golden brown or a hair brush that counts your strokes! —many of today’s internet-connected devices are going to create real problems rather solve daily life problems. Physical activity will be minimal.

No one can better imagine getting stuck outside in the rain next to the car in the parking lot just because one left the key inside and locked it. No doubt the usefulness of a key less smart lock or voice recognition lock is far better.

But can you imagine a talking dustbin or a washing machine reminding you to empty them or the car reminding you to fill it up. Or thinking of something like a simulated sunrise which can make waking up on a dark winter morning easier on your body and your mind is not frivolous thought at all.

All of these, and many other, will be managed through your mobile phone. Daily activity like watching TV, Laundry, Grooming, Socializing will be done through a single hand-held device which will relate to other devices (appliances) in the house. It’s amazing how the purpose of mobile phones has changed through the years. They started as another way to communicate, and now they’re tools to experience the whole world from your fingers!

 

Mobile phones have become very practical, highly functional devices, and the increased usage reflects the importance of application based economy. People have rapidly adapted to advancements in mobile technology en masse, and businesses who follow suit will be able to thrive in this mobile-first era. At least until the next big thing comes around.

 

This means people will spend more time indoors, program a simulated lifestyle, no driving to work amidst challenges of weather and traffic, no putting up with intolerable boss or unpleasant colleagues, work from home, “switch-off” stress, and switch on mood improving ambience. Pick up your kids from school in a self-driven car. Order a customized meal online. Get connected with others or stay secluded -it’s your wish!

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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