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.




E is for Engagement

Waiting at an Airport terminal to catch a flight looked up the commercial playing on the TV monitors lined up at the terminal’s waiting area , finished your lunch and there is still time on your break and you are just passing time watching the TV in break room , Or you picked up the remote of your home TV and just turned on any channel out of curiosity – in any of these situation there is something that catches your attention, momentarily, but engaging enough to arouse some curiosity and interest, something different not the usual.

“Engagement” –distracting enough is the mantra to get a continuous attention of your customers who are your target audience in a marketplace cluttered with plethora of offers and the ‘veiled’ rip offs by businesses elbowing anyone to maintain a foothold in their crowded marketplace.

What did a Minnesota based entrepreneur who makes $100 Mns/year by spending $45 Mns/year advertising a pillow do? or what did a powerful YouTube video by the founder of a e-commerce startup offering weekly shave as low as $3 to men itching to find an alternative to the high-price blades sold by Gillette and Schick do? They Engaged the audience with something really unique, but addressing a daily need that really mattered in a most cost effective manner.

During customer survey, rather than using a generic scale that might range from very satisfied to very dissatisfied, as is commonly found in Likert scale questions, the Semantic differential questions are posed within the context of evaluating attitudes. Where the lowest rating could start from (P)oor–>(F)air–>(G)ood–> (E)xcellent. Similarly E is for Engagement nothing beats this strategy for  getting constant attention of your customers continuously pestered with promos,ads and offers.

With due respects to Ries and Trout the father of positioning strategy and also Late Edward Chamberlin  for his 1933 Theory of Differentiation. The take away from both these is the art of Engagement,the key maintain a sellers impermanent position in a queue where every marketer is vying for the distracted customer’s attention.

More about such unique engagement strategies in my next update. Meanwhile , guys please use good engagement tactics to keep the attention of your Valentines.

That coin for expectations

I am travelling tonight, and I need the services activated right Now !

I did not authorize this charges and want a refund Now!

I have traveled all this way to attend this event so can you please issue the admission Now!

Every business faces any or all of the above situations, there are customers not calling for a solution but actually calling  with ‘a solution’ and an ‘expectation’ attached to it.

A wonderful post by Satayantan Roy about Indigo Airlines [ on @LinkedIn] and how the lead hostess used her acumen of empathy, which made more business sense then charging a passenger for a meal that would normally be charged for on a no frills flight.

There are businesses who stick to the policy and procedures to their y‘s and s. But the customers want businesses to take care of their needs in unique situations. This is where the business managers need to take a call. In the proverbial hamlet soliloquy -to be or not be customer oriented and do away with what laid down script?

“The customer is always right”  a motto or slogan which exhorts service staff to give a high priority to customer satisfaction, was popularized by pioneering and successful retailers such as Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field. They advocated that customer complaints should be treated seriously so that they should not feel cheated or deceived. This attitude was novel and influential when misrepresentation was rife and caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) was a common legal maxim.

The retailing giant Walmart loses about $3 billion every year from theft, or 1% of its $300 billion in revenue.Samsung, The South Korean electronics giant will lose approximately $3.1 billion on the fateful Note 7 recall.Amazon’s net shipping losses exceeded $1 billion in last year’s total. All these businesses are consciously taking this kind of hits to build a reputation and gain customer confidence in a calculated manner focusing on the quantum business turnover covering this kind of loss.

This is the coin spent for building and keeping a reputation which will be worth more in bigger denominations of currency notes.


Symptoms of disruption

A quick glance around the room you are in, and note first ten products you interact with, or think about the next few services you use, and consider everyone (at businesses both big and small) working hard to make them better for you. You’ll find a continuous disruption and innovation being created around.

Value creation and preservation will be the defining asset for many of these companies – those that do this will continue to surf the wave of disruptive innovations and stay atop their markets.

Unilever and P&G are masters at traditional marketing, mostly offline, but their struggle with the direct-to-consumer brand-building is evident from the some innovative startups eating into their core market shares with disruptive customer engagement strategy.(More about it in my next update) Again, the failure of large consumer and retail players to innovate is clear in the Walmart vs. Amazon battle.One category after another is being transformed by new brands as consumers demand more personalized offering.


Business Managers are oft seen struggling to keep customers, by dropping prices or offering comparable product features.This short term strategy won’t work since they might lack the the intrinsic advantage of the disrupting competitor.

Innovation is often the product of mistakes made, of caution thrown to the wind,and yet, the ability to be disruptive and quietly meticulous might just be the difference between a bubble-fueled fad and a business built to last.

Several businesses have exhibited this in recent past. And for a change today I am not going to speak a lot about e-commerce.

Living Spaces, a California based company started with a simple goal to provide a whole range of furniture under one roof at the same or better quality than some of the leading furniture brands at a fraction of the price. They blended in unique advantages ready stock and assured delivery within 24 hours, even special orders with furnishing of choice within 2 weeks. This was unheard of in the $100 Bn+ US furniture markets. In 16 years the company has expanded to 19 stores in California and aspires to be the leading lifestyle brand of the country.

During a time of one of the most profound shifts in America’s population, due to the silicon valley growth, Trader Joe’s has proven how cultural awareness can cultivate business growth, and a grass-roots marketing niche that draws viral consumer activity. Their non-conventional culturally-tailored approach and attitude is one that is deeply embedded in the roots of their business model:  from their packaging, product selection, store layout and graphics, to their vendors, employees and management.  Trader Joe’s knows its audience. Trader Joe’s is focused on product innovation and selling groceries and wine at a cheap price. Because customers know they can get high-quality stuff at a low price, they pack Trader Joe’s stores. Eighty percent of Trader Joe’s products are in-house, meaning that customers can’t get them anywhere else and the grocer can sell them at lower prices.

Warby Parker, the innovative eye ware company started by four Wharton B-school students,  is, overall, a daunting model to emulate, growing from 0 to 30 stores in six years.From Customer in store experience to the pricing the entire retail strategy, the company has disrupted local traditional optometrists who had been serving their local communities at much higher cost.By designing and manufacturing their own frames and selling directly to consumers over the Internet, they’re able to charge as little as $95 per frame, a fraction of what a similarly nice pair of glasses would cost at a typical optical shop. That price also includes prescription lenses, shipping, and a donation to a not-for-profit such as Vision Spring.

The learning here is to focus on what Clayton Christensen  would advise – to understand “what jobs does do customers want the product to perform ?” Successful entrepreneurs naturally look at opportunities in terms of the jobs they can do for customers to make the product work at a cost advantage.

Customers now expect to be welcome and respected participants in the brands they love. They don’t want to be persuaded that something is worth buying; they want to contribute to making that brand better.


Romancing the customer

In today’s world of information abundance and choice at fingertips, it’s important to make your customers feel special and to create a bond, just as you would in a romantic relationship

The digital revolution of ‘apps and taps’ enables quick choices and every brand is on the brink of getting chucked out by single swipe of the bargain seeking customer.

The biggest impact of the app disruption has been on the brick and mortar retail businesses. America’s leading home appliances brand Sears is closing 150 stores and selling its vaunted Craftsman tool brand, rival Macy’s saying it would close 68 locations, the department store concept itself is looking like an endangered species in wake of the online shopping explosion. In a retail landscape now dominated by online sellers like Amazon and big-box chains like Walmart and Home Depot, Sears finds itself in a search for a reason to exist. One of the reasons people liked to visit/browse/shop at omni channel retail stores was for a wide choice and selection, whereas today there is no wider choice than on the Internet, so a lot of the reasons for going to those department stores no longer exist.

In addition to Sears, many retailers, including Kohl’s and J.C. Penney, have failed to innovate in ways that will continue to attract and keep shoppers continuously engaged. In the new era of e-commerce may witness the demise of many of legacy players, because of their inability to create a romantic interlude that keeps their customers connected.

Research reveals that the connections we make with brands can be as deep and emotional as the relationships we have with other people.  With some brands, we have wild, short-term flings. With others, we “fall in love” and enter a mutually beneficial relationship.

Having arrived at the above conclusion let us pin point to the single most contributor for a long lasting relationship- Respect !

A new study published in the Harvard Business Review recently in November 2016 reveals that Customers trust companies that they feel understand them and that they respect companies that they believe respect them in return.

In the survey of 20,000 customers, five of the top 10 performers were grocery stores, naturally a daily consumption item to which customers are naturally intimate. And because relationship is so constant that they have the potential to inspire intense emotion, loyalty, and passion. The tech-savvy empowered consumer expects to be heard and respected by their favorite brands, and it isn’t necessary they’ll stay loyal to the current leaders. Even a standout brand like Apple cannot afford to rest on its past and present successes.

Interestingly on a matrix where customers felt most or least respected by the class of businesses, the top rankers were household , personal care and technology industries while at abysmal bottom were the Telecommunications, Health Insurance and Government.

Recently the CEO of T-Mobile said in an interview revealed that their industry’s early ways of marketing where mobile manufacturers hid behind carriers where the phones were apparently given free under 2 year contracts where wireless carriers charged customers more than the phone retail price.  Moreover, it is well known that each smartphone is equipped with some unique features which some unaware customer doesn’t know triggers off data roaming and excess charges.

Customers would value companies they see as honest. Companies and brands that ‘mean what they say’ !  And so, consumers place a premium on brands that they believe to be direct, forthright about their values, and ‘Consistent’ in acting on them.

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