September 22, 2008

Stay With the Customer ; For Businesses, Just Successfully Selling Their Products Isn’t Enough; Even More Critical is Sustaining a Wholesome Customer Experience.

By K.R. Balasubramanyam

For a business to be successful, half the challenge is won if it is able to fathom its customer's mind and decode his tastes and preferences. The rest of the challenge lies in servicing and sustaining those preferences. But this is usually easier said than done. Four experts from IT and financial services sectors converged at Boardroom Breakfast, a panel discussion organised by Business Today at Le Meridien hotel in Bangalore on August 20, and provided insights on Creating the Total Customer Experience , the topic of discussion, which was moderated by Arnab Mitra, Deputy Editor, Business Today.

Cisco's Senior Vice President, Services (India & SAARC), Kumar G.B., kick-started the discussion by narrating a personal experience. He said the Golden Quadrilateral connecting all major cities of India was a superb idea. When he drove down to Karwar in coastal Karnataka three years ago, the journey gave him an almost developed country experience .

But driving on the same road on August 15 this year, his experience was painful; the roads were in a bad shape. The point Kumar was trying to make was that it's not enough to successfully commission a project. It's more important to sustain customer experience through the life cycle of that project. Delhi Metro, he noted, has ensured that customers get a wholesome experience. Infosys Vice President and Head, Computers & Communication Division, Muralikrishna K., said today's customers are well- connected, networked and informed. Even when they have to enter into a conversation, they think about whether it will bring any value. The demands of customers are increasing and the use of technology is critical to understanding their needs, he added.

Don Koch, Chief Operating Officer, ING Vysya Bank, who spoke about the challenges of servicing the large client bases typical in the financial services sector, said a company cannot flourish by just successfully selling a product to a consumer. It must keep servicing the consumer through the product's life cycle. You have to manage the expectations of different customers and that is the key part. You have to make intelligent use of technology to make the customer feel that it (the product) is suited to his needs, he said.

Wipro's Chief Marketing Officer Jessie Paul said that customers want to be a part of a company's product innovation process. We share with our customers our innovation space and vice versa. The customer is part of the solution. We (Wipro) share our plans with our customers and link up with each other to align our roadmaps,'' she said.

Asked by Mitra to elaborate on the importance of customer segmentation, Koch said segmentation helps a company identify its customer and target his needs. Telemarketing a banking product to a lady without understanding her needs may only keep her away from that bank, he said. Customer segmentation is part of the journey; not an end in itself.

Cisco's Kumar said he believed that businesses have not been able to tap technology fully. We are still scratching the surface when it comes to the use of technology. We are at the tip of the iceberg as to what technology can really make possible. Paul added that technology is just an enabler and can help categorise customer trends and preferences and save them for the future. As technology evolves, you add more to that information. Technology follows marketing and not the other way around.

A member of the audience wondered if technology was making businesses impersonal by taking away the human touch. He said doctors now examine patients without touching them; they do so by merely looking at the medical reports. Koch, too, hinted at the declining human interface when he cited the findings of a survey wherein respondents hailed a bank for its technological advances like ATM network etc., but said they still preferred to use the bank's branches. But Paul cited the success of telemarketing saying the new generation, being tech savvy, prefers technology in their dealings.

Muralikrishna stressed the importance of customer feedback, adding that sales people remain in the background at Infosys's annual customer meets. It's the same at Wipro, Paul said. One of the rules is that we do not discuss business at such meets and this helps keep the personal connect going. Muralikrishna said at Infosys a lot of new services have been introduced following feedback from customers. And products like the Walkman, iPhone, etc., had followed after the companies concerned (Sony and Apple) understood customer trends, Paul added.

Paul explained how the public and the private sectors differ in the way they work. A PSU bank offers a lower rate of interest whereas a private sector bank lends at a higher rate but delivers more in terms of customer experience and satisfaction. Many people, she said, go for higher rates if it involved better services. Kumar added: No doubt, overdelivery is the key here, but one must do it profitably.

The event concluded with a vote of thanks by Ashish Chadha, Associate Publisher of Business Today.

(c) 2008 Business Today. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.