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Will customer centricity ever come to the fore?

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Companies come up with innovative ideas to enhance market access, often going a long distance to make it easy for her to buy. The product managers too...

Companies come up with innovative ideas to enhance market access, often going a long distance to make it easy for her to buy. The product managers too love making changes to the product and invest in proactively offering new product designs and variants to suit changing customer needs

Sanjiv Kataria

As one among thousands of newspaper readers who spotted headline 'Nirmalaya Kumar to join Tata Sons', I felt happy for the Indian consumer as the news announcing the appointment of celebrated marketing professor and author said that he was expected to bring 'Customer Centricity' to the fore across the Tata group companies.

As consumers in a scarcity-hit nation until a few decades ago, Indians are transitioning from queuing to being served as consumers. However, the sales and marketing managers are still striving to understand 'Customer Centricity' as the following anecdotes exemplify.

  • Which Indian hasn't faced service issues with her mobile service provider? From no network to excess billing, from being served valued added services that she never subscribed to a barrage of unsolicited calls despite registering on 'do not call' registry.
  • Who hasn't experienced slow computer networks that bring down the bank branches to a grinding halt as you keep staring at the service delivery norms signage in the branch?
  • Why must a customer get groped by clumsy security persons in full public view on entering a mall or wriggle through an 18-inch wide grill door to her favourite bank branch just because they can't install modern security systems?
  • How often do we need to get 'welcome back' notes from companies one has discontinued services or stopped using their products?

All these examples are a telling account of how Indian firms love to chase the customer for her money but shy away from addressing real customer issues. Companies come up with innovative ideas to enhance market access, often going a long distance to make it easy for her to buy. The product managers too love making changes to the product and invest in proactively offering new product designs and variants to suit changing customer needs.
Who owns customer centricity?
When it comes to enhancing customer centricity and addressing customer pain, the enthusiasm of the perky product managers wanes. The head of a large outsourced customer care centre said this is because Indians are culturally averse valuing 'people' in general. And the business leaders don't realize that the customer is a subset of the same group of 'people' that it chooses to ignore.
This attitude rules when these companies buy 'customer services'. While they hire the best sales and marketing teams, engage with the best advertising and branding agencies to look good in public spaces they engage the cheapest service providers for customer support thus damaging the brand.
How else would you explain multiple tele-callers from the same firm calling you for the same product on the same day? And 3 out of 4 times the tele-callers don't even know the name and age of the person at the other end. Will Tata initiative spur a customer-centricity movement in India?

The optimist in me tells me it will, provided the group commits itself to the consumer needs of today. Tata's have a good record of customer centricity through its hospitality business. Can they bring this experience to the services and commodity business?

Nirmalaya Kumar in a recent interview with Mint newspaper said that companies make liberal budget allocations for advertising and promotions as it is easy see the impact in rising sales. However, it is tough for them to commit marketing expenditures which are long-term-oriented-customer service, investing in the brand.

It is precisely the reason why customer centricity suffers. It is no use advertising a 1-800 number, a Twitter handle or a Facebook page or anointing a highly respected ombudsman or appointing a marketing legend as an independent director if the idea is solely to dress up your marketing show window. Likewise there is little point in getting a marketing head reporting directly to the CEO if she is still going to be measured on revenue per enquiry, billing per guest, revenue per passenger, or average revenue per user.

The challenge for Nirmalaya Kumar would be to scrap the current job description for all the Tata group marketing heads to one single goal around Customer Centricity. And follow this up with two simple steps. Firstly, encourage every marketing head to mandatorily listen to the "pain of the customer" each time she calls a call centre, tweets or walks into a Tata store. Secondly, sensitize all Tata employees on customer care and empower them to address customer issues at the first point of contact and resolve them on the spot.

A marketing head's success should be measured not by the absolute number of complaints but by the percentage of customer complaints addressed at the first point of contact. If Nirmalaya Kumar can help his boss Cyrus Mistry to agree to an entirely new global framework for bringing customer centricity to the Tata Group, he would have resurrected the revolution - for Indian firms to see Customer as the King!

The writer was a brand custodian for NIIT and Technologies for 19 years.
The views expressed are personal @sanjivkataria or sanjiv.kataria@gmail.com)

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