N R Narayanamurthy’s wisdom and sagacity is spoken about the world over, Ratan Tata is revered for living the values espoused by the Tata Group and Chanda Kochhar is admired for her business acumen – these are just three random names I picked up from the pantheon of Indian Business Heroes – but are these leaders the everyday face of the organisations they head?
How many customers of Infosys, Tata and ICICI actually interact with these highly respected and widely admired personalities – most times it would be a lesser functionary that interacts with the regular customers. In spite of the appreciation for the leaders mentioned earlier will the public hold their organisations in the same high regard if the interaction with the front end executives is less that satisfactory?
Imagine walking into the showroom of a luxury automobile brand, such Jaguar or BMW, and you are accosted by a badly groomed person who is not able to maintain a conversation with you because he is unprepared and ill-at-ease – would you continue the conversation or wish to meet someone else? Won’t your perception of the brand take a hit on account of this interaction?
In order to trim costs organisations are resorting to operations through dealers or outsourced staff; and this has huge implications for both the brand and revenue because poor implementation and adherence can wreck the best laid plans.
I walk into the Customer Service Centre of a telecom company to pay the month’s bill – on my way out I see an employee using the laptop and Internet Datacard that’s kept in the showroom for demonstration. While some employees in the Centre were in uniform this man wasn’t – he was either a new employee or a back-office staff. He was checking mail on the machine kept there for demonstrating their 3G services and working with such concentration that he failed to notice me standing next to him.
In order to attract his attention I asked – Is that a 3G Datacard?
He turns around, nods half-heartedly and continues working. I ask him the price of their Datacard (Modem) and the usage charges; seeing that I can’t be shaken off he stops working and turns to answer my query. All this while he does not mention that the Executive in charge of Sales has gone out and he is at this Demo Station only to check mail. I become aware of another presence next to me – while I am in conversation with the first Executive, another dark form started eclipsing his face. It was as if I was witnessing a celestial drama and I could hear voices too.
This new entrant was making a desperate bid to take charge of the situation; he did not pause to offer a greeting nor did he tell the other person that he is taking charge of the situation – this brave-heart just jumped in to man the breach!
I was startled and his own colleague was a bit nonplussed too – everything happened so fast. Sadly, the soldier was ill-prepared for battle; he made a famous entry and was felled by the first salvo. I asked the same question again.
He replied – “Sir, the modem costs Rs. 1600/- and there is a Active charge of Rs. 100/-.” I asked him to repeat that because during the 12 years spent in telecom I had not heard such a term. The term was Activation Charge and it is an industry standard. This youngster had not been told how to quote regular terms and he was not sure of the tariff either. I was shown a tariff card and asked to choose a plan.
The next question was an interesting one: “When are you buying?”
I admired him for that! In spite of all that he had (not) done this young buck thought I was ready to buy a product from him.
Customers buy from organisations because when they see value in the product or service offered and that happens only when the sale is convincing. This young man had not even started selling and I wasn’t there to buy – I was testing the organisation’s Sales Process. Obviously the organisation had chosen a youngster with poor social skills and they aggravated the mistake by not training him in product, process or behaviour. Shambolic is the word that readily springs to mind!
It is all very well to have leaders who are universally admired, but would it help to cover up the mess at the front-end? How much thought goes into definition of the processes running in the Customer Interface and what level of diligence is used while appointing and training front-office Executives?
What is it going to be? Shamefaced or showing the best face to the world?
Note – The names of business heads used in the article are there only for illustration; the organisations mentioned in the article are there only because the are popular names, but the situation mentioned in their context are hypothetical.
However, the interaction with the Executives of the telecom operator was an actual Service Experience … Real!
There is nothing more frustrating than hearing a prospect tell you – “Can you send that proposal again? I think the last one ended up in the Spam folder.”
She probably has not read it but won’t say so! There goes 3 hours worth of good work; the frustration for the Sales Pro does not end there, the entire Sales process gets delayed and his sales plan goes for a toss.
Mailers get the same treatment – you send a nicely worded (You think so!) message to a 1000 prospects and hope for a 8 – 10 % response, but end up receiving 18-20 replies.
What is the reason for such behaviour?
- It partly because people are getting too many emails; there just isn’t time to go through each one.
- The other reason being the Sender, or more specifically, the quality of his work ; the message didn’t evoke any interest.
Today email has almost completely eliminated snail-mail as the primary medium of written communication. People use emails to communicate even within the office; emails are sent to people sitting across the room on subjects that can be discussed face-to-face or by phone. Add to that the overdose of marketing messages from various sources (most of it can be classified as SPAM).
Aren’t we ignoring another huge dump of messages? Social Media! It’s hardly surprising that people are rejecting all but the really important or urgent messages!
- Important: Messages from clients and superiors
- Urgent: Mails from co-workers that are followed up with a phone call by the Sender!
You won’t be faulted for believing that a reply will be sent only for messages that come with the following subject line – Respond to this message in a minute or your computer will Self–destruct!
Or is there another way?
How can the client be induced to read the messages – create the hook / the elements of interest that force them to act.
- People just don’t have time to read lengthy messages filled with small text – make it crisp (content) and large (font). Say it in a few bold words.
- If pictorial or chart based content is included the message becomes more interesting. A smartly captioned picture or an easy to interpret graph can add to readability. The idea is to make the message visually appealing.
- Add an Executive Summary that gives the reader a snapshot – they would go into the details if the snapshot is interesting. So create a compact overview that forces the client to read the rest of the material.
- Include Call to Action statements that force the client to do something in response – make it deadlines oriented, use action verbs and limit the number of actions they need to take. Again use colours and pictures to improve appeal.
Your new look proposal won’t get a re-send response; it would be a call for further action or a Purchase Order instead! Remember to thank me when the responses come pouring in!
I left home this morning and traveled to a town 250 kilometers away. Having used my HP laptop on the train to prepare a few official messages I wasn’t surprised to see it running out of charge soon after I switched it on again at an associate’s office. Promptly, I put my hand into the portfolio bag and fished around … Drat! I had missed packing the A/c adapter. I cursed audibly and admonished myself for the lapse.
But, just when I thought that work has come to a standstill till I get home the next day my associate turned up with the adapter used with his laptop. He has a Compaq and since the two companies have a common owner a lot of features had been standardized across models made by the two brands. My day was saved thanks to the efforts made by these international brands to improve Customer Experience.
All leading organisations in the world spend millions in developing and maintaining standards for Production, Sales, Service and even internal work processes to make work more efficient and to give the customers a feel of continuity and convenience wherever they go.
Sales Teams can standardize the Prospecting, Proposal Submission, Order Acceptance and Product/Service Delivery Processes – even the Customer Service, Complaint Management and Relationship Management processes would improve hugely when standardized. Such efforts payback through improved sales, reduced errors and complaints, better revenue and greater customer satisfaction.
It becomes easier to train people to deliver quality and people can be moved across locations without need for retraining. Sharing and interpreting information also becomes easier when everyone follows the same format.
Getting stuck with one set of standards has it’s pitfalls too – after getting used to one set, switching over to another can be difficult and sometimes it even leads to errors and loss of efficiency.
- After driving in India for many years it took me some time to get used to the reversed controls in the cars I drove in Oman, where they drive on the other side. I would invariably switch on the wiper when the need was to use the indicator lights.
- Driving the Bullet motor-cycles used to be a big challenge for riders in India because the levers for gear shift and brake were reversed. All the other bikes on Indian roads had the levers placed the other way round and the Bullet eventually had to toe-the-line to improve sales because people who liked this classic bike were not comfortable buying it on account of the need to adapt. They did not want to take the risk.
Hence, while the development of standards is important it can become counter-productive if poorly designed, particularly without understanding the environment in which organisations operate. While establishing standards in practices it’s best to ensure ease of use and wide acceptance.
Standards go a long way in helping you win and retain customers.