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 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.

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.

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