Great Customer Experience is not Just the Responsibility of the Brands

Yesterday, I went to a unisex salon for a grooming session. I was attended by a young stylist. I started to engage him in a conversation. I asked his name (Sohail) and the place from where he came from (Chandigarh).  I asked him about how long he was in Bangalore, how did he end up here in Bangalore. He said how his uncle had come to Bangalore in search of work and he got him a job at this salon (owned by someone in Delhi). Apart from the salary he was drawing, he also had a paid accommodation provided by the salon.

Then he asked me about how I ended up here in Bangalore, how long have I been here and where do I stay. We shared a few laughs about how almost everyone we meet in Bangalore is not from here but is from somewhere else.

We then spoke about his dreams (he wants to save enough money to own a salon in his home town and travel the country). We then spoke about dreams in general. He offered me some tea, which I graciously accepted and enjoyed. While we were having this side conversation, he had finished my grooming session and it was time to part ways.

He asked me when would I be back and requested that I book an appointment beforehand and specifically ask for him by name to do my grooming. He also thanked me for taking interest in him and talking to him. He said that not many people take interest in people like him.

I came back home and did not think much of the conversation.

Of late, I have been thinking and reading a lot about customer experience. One thing that stood apart for me in my reading, especially after my experience at the salon was how one sided our conversations regarding customer experiences are.

We are only thinking about what can brands do to improve their customers experience with the brand. In doing this, we forget that in any given situation, there are two sets of people involved – the customer and the brand.

While all brands should definitely work towards improving the experience they provide to their customers, it is not the be all and end off customer experience. It is in their best interest to do so.

The question is what role do we play as customers or consumers in how we experience the engagement with the brands. Do we want to be passive and demanding that the brands go all out to improve our experience or can we do something that can improve our experience irrespective of what the brands are doing on this.

We as consumers can take it upon ourselves to have a great experience in every interaction we have with any given brand. We just need to understand that every experience is powered by humans (at least till now) and if we take a little bit of interest in them, they will take a lot more interest in us.

Some things that we all can do as customers to ensure that we have great experiences in our interactions with our favourite brands could be:

  • Give respect: Treating people with respect (whether it is the stylist at a salon, a retail assistant in a mall or a customer service assistant in a call centre) has a direct impact on the interaction we have with them.
  • Take Interest: Being genuinely interested in the people who are serving or interacting with us enables us to have a much richer interaction. All it takes is for us to ask some questions so we get to know them a little bit. For example, do we know the name of the person we are interacting with, where are they from, what are they doing here, what are their aspirations, etc.
  • Smile: We will be surprised when we look at ourselves in any given interaction with brands. Most of us never smile when we are interacting with people (or brands). Just smiling increases our chance of having a good interaction.

When I sit down and think about all the time that I’ve had good experiences in the past, I can always trace it back to having had a good conversation with the people engaged with me. I remember having interesting conversations with air hostesses, cab drivers, retail assistants and clerks, bank tellers, call center employees, customer service representatives at service centers, receptionists and auto-mechanics.

Every single time I’ve had these conversations, I remember going back with a good experience.

Given that this the case, the question then is the following:

  • Why are w(m)e not doing this more often?
  • Why aren’t more of us doing this more often?
  • Why aren’t brands encouraging this behaviour?”

I think it is time that we as consumers also take charge of our experiences.

Finally a Mixed Reality Tool That Has the Potential to Bring MR in Mainstream Use

 

Disney Research recently released a white paper on its experiment with Mixed Reality and Augmented Reality. They address the one challenge that was stopping the widespread adoption of Mixed reality in everyday business scenarios – the requirement that the user wear an expensive device on his self and thereby literally get transported to a different world and it was an isolated experience for this user.

They say:

We create a solution for multi-user interactions in AR/MR, where a group can share the same augmented environment with any computer generated (CG) asset and interact in a shared story sequence through a third-person POV. Our approach is to instrument the environment leaving the user unburdened of any equipment, creating a seamless walk-up-and-play experience. We demonstrate this technology in a series of vignettes featuring humanoid animals. Participants can not only see and hear these characters, they can also feel them on the bench through haptic feedback. Many of the characters also interact with users directly, either through speech or touch. In one vignettŠe an elephant hands a participant a glowing orb. ŒThis demonstrates HCI in its simplest form: a person walks up to a computer, and the computer hands the person an object

You can have a look at the video that was accompanied with the white paper here:.

As you can see, the experience with this “magic bench” is not only simple but also has the possibility for multiple people sharing the same experience.

Once the Disney team is able to build this to scale, I can see many applications of this in the real world.

Some of them could be:

  1. Customer Service: Augmented reality customer service engagement at different retail stores. This experience can give the consumers a reason to visit the store rather than buy everything online.
  2. Movie promotions: This will allow Disney and other movie franchisees to allow their customers to have an interaction with their favourite movie characters.
  3. Book Promotions:  Just like there can be an engagement built with the users favourite movie characters, people can also interact with their favorite book characters and maybe the authors themselves.
  4. Mass personalization of Brand advertisements:  Brands can use these benches to hyper-personalise their by immersing their consumers as part of the advertisement itself, there by creating stronger bonding with the brand.
  5. Stories abound: Add to this an AI bot that can engage with the user and have an improvisational dialogue and co-create a story with the user. This would just be amazing to see. We could have a “Whose Line is it anyway” with a virtual character in play (played by an AI bot).

These are just a very few ideas that I can think of.  I am sure you can think up a lot more uses for these magic benches.

I see enormous potential for this technology if this is developed and opened up to entrepreneurs to play with.

The question is will Disney make it available for developers and entrepreneurs learn and play with their creation?

Simple Things That Could Hold You Back in Your Transformation Journey

Simple Things by Mukesh Gupta

Do we still need policies

I do a lot of travel as part of my work and one of the side-effects of this kind of travel is for us to submit our expenses to get the expenses reimbursed. One of these expense request got rejected with the reason that this is not according to policy and if I need to get the same approved, I need an approval from my CFO as an exception approval. I wrote to the CFO and he approved the request as it was a valid expense that I had incurred for a business reason.

This made me think about the so many policies that we create and enforce on our employees and customers all the time. I know for sure that not many people read all the policies of their organisations. I certainly dont.

Do they make sense? What kind of behaviour do they encourage? Why do we have these policies and why so many of them?

I think policies are made in good faith and with the right intentions. We have seen from various research that, we humans are emotional beings and act irrationally in predictable ways, as Dan Ariely and other researchers have proved so many times. So, policies are written so that someone, in the organisation knows what is right, what is allowed and what practices are acceptable and more importantly, what is not acceptable.

These policies make it easier to bring in a semblance of order and also create a sense of fair treatment to all who are equal. But rarely, do two circumstances are similar in nature and if most employees do not know all the different policies, do these really help. Also, I know that most of the times, people do not follow policies and exception approvals are never exceptions. So, what could be a better alternative?

A good combination – Policies & Guidelines:

I think what would be a better way to achieve our goals with policies is to have a mix of policies and guidelines.

Some starting points to think about policies:

  • Policies should be about what is definitely not acceptable (either due to the law of the land or due to the culture that we want to set in our organisation).
  • Policies should not be longer than one page in length.
  • Everyone in the organisation should know about these policies.
  • Exception approvals for policy breaches should be rare and only in extra-ordinary circumstances.

Some starting points to think about guidelines. For everything else, that depends on the judgement of the people in a given situation:

  • Create guidelines for everything else & keep them simple to understand and easy to implement.
  • Guidelines could show the way and let the employee or the customer make a judgement call on whether to follow the guideline or deviate from it.
  • Just like we have tolerance limits in manufacturing projects, we could have tolerance limits for most guidelines and only when someone goes above and beyond the thresholds, do we request for an exception approval.
  • Empower the people who are the gatekeepers to understand the relevance of these guidelines and the power to take a judgement call if a specific instance is fine or if it requires exception approval.

These are potential starting point for the teams to sit down and discuss and decide in which areas of business do we need policies and in which areas of business do we need guidelines.

There are already a lot of organisations that have done away with most of their policies and expect their employees to own up the situation and expect them to do what they think is right in that specific context.

Simple yet Profound:

This might seem like a trivial thing that doesn’t deserve a lot of thought by the business leaders and is best delegated to the HR function. But small little detail plays a significant role when we are in an environment, where change is all around and we are trying not only to cope up with the change but also in some sense trying to bring about this change.

This little detail has the potential to either hold your employees or customers to the ground or allow them to be entrepreneurial, take risks and do what is needed to be done in a given situation without having to constantly check back with their managers or the gatekeepers.

This is the small little step that signals employees that it is ok for them to bring their full adult selves, along with their judgement, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and trust that their organisations have their back as long as they do what is in the best interest of their customers/business.

It is these simple things that build one on the other and build the culture of being entrepreneurial and taking ownership for our part of the business. It is these simple things that form the seeds for creating organisational agility, that is so precious in a time that we live in.

Its the simple things that make a profound impact on our businesses.

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Loyalty Programs and Building Loyalty


One of the biggest challenges that brands face today is to find and cultivate loyal customers. Most brands have some sort of loyalty programs to reward loyalty from their customers. Most of these loyalty programs that I am a part of, totally miss the point of loyalty itself.

In general, the expectation from enterprise customers or consumers have significantly increased and they now expect brands to not just deliver great products and services but also acknowledge them as individuals and engage, excite and/or woo them to become loyal customers. Add to this, the fact that we are today also living in a world where switching costs are going down and its become easier for customers/consumers to switch products and services that don’t match or even exceed their expectations.

In this scenario, it is critical that brands have a good loyalty program that works for the brand and also for their customers.

HERE ARE MY 2 CENTS FOR MAKING YOUR LOYALTY PROGRAM MORE EFFECTIVE

1. Loyalty Programs should be for Loyal Customers

Today, I am part of at least 25 different loyalty programs, each with a different retailer or a business. Does that mean that I am a loyal customer to all of these businesses. Definitely not. Just like millions of others who enroll in a loyalty program, I was also auto-enrolled by the billing clerk while getting my purchase billed. I understand that businesses need to collect information about consumers and then track their purchases and affinity towards their business, to make many tiny decisions.

However, getting everyone part of the loyalty program indicates to me that you don’t value the loyalty but just the business. By doing this the business is also setting the expectation that you will get some discounts by being part of the program and maybe there are levels in the program which entail a lot of benefits for you as a loyal customer. What this tells me as a consumer is that if I want better discounts from the business, I should enroll in the program. Nothing more and nothing less.

In my opinion, instead of enrolling every customer into your loyalty program, businesses, should be very selective about who gets invited to their loyalty programs and as the next logical step, what benefits should be offered to this elite list of consumers to keep them coming back for more. As Eddie Yoon defines, the loyalty programs should be defined for the SuperConsumers.

These class of consumers can not only help your brand grow but can also play a significant part in your product growth strategy, new innovations and even help your brand become a lot more relevant. For more information about Superconsumers and how businesses can find them, engage & learn from them, read the insightful book by Eddie YoonSuperConsumers.

2. Engage people with exceptional experiences.

One of the most diffucult things to do for marketing is to engage people and do so en masse. However, Creating engaging experience does have a significant impact. They elicit emotions which make your brand memorable and makes people eager to share.

When it comes to eliciting emotions, the best emotion to go after is positive surprise. If you are able to positively surprise your customers, most other things can and generally do take a back seat.

Everyone still remembers the KLM surprise act where they spontaneously gave relevant presents to customers based on their social profiles.

3. Create Rituals or traditions! And not just your annual Christmas card. 

As humans, we have always been creatures of habits and evolved using rituals or traditions. Think about what kinds of habits would you like to instill – in yourself, in how you engage your customers and in your customers themselves. Habits create traditions; traditions turn into values. One need to be cautitious here so as to not be selfish in this activity, as it will most certainly backfire. You need to keep your customers life and ambitions central when you are thinking about creating rituals or traditions or habits. This is how cultures are built. One habit, one ritual, one tradition and one story at a time.

4. Give them a voice & Connect them. 

Nurturing a great relationship between your brand and your customers is as important as creating opportunities for your customers to discover other similar customers with similar interests. It is an important pillar that most brands forget when they are building the loyalty programs.

Some Common Mistakes to avoid

  1. Most times, the way loyalty programs are designed are dictated by the technology they use to manage the program rather than the other way around. It is critical that we understand this and not make this mistake when one designs a new loyalty program.
  2. It is important to not hide behind customer sat numbers (yes, I’m talking about the NPS or any such customer satisfaction measurement program). Averages don’t tell you the full truth and can at times be out-right dangerous. So, Go out and meet your customers so you can create meaningful experiences AND traditions. It’s all about people because, in the end, they make up the numbers.
  3. Loyalty programs are for loyal customers and not the other way around. You can’t build loyalty among your customers by enrolling in a loyalty program. Loyalty needs to be earned.

If you are planning or working on creating a new loyalty program, and would like to bounce off ideas, reach out to me and I would be more than happy to share my thoughts and ideas with you. You can reach out to me on twitter @rmukeshgupta.

Its Always The Little Things that Matter

If you take care of the little things, the bigger things take care of themselves.. Click To Tweet

I realised this yet again, when I was invited to the Hexa Experience Centre recently in Bangalore. 

This was an event run by Tata Motors to promote their new SUV Tata Hexa. I was invited as a member of the blogging community – IndiBlogger. I also happen to be on the verge of looking for a new car for myself. So, on a hot Christmas day, I found myself driving to the Hexa experience centre.

First things first. I did love the car and the off-road experience of the car. I would have really loved to experience the off-road version by driving myself, but i understand their concerns and only chauffeuring customers on the off-road track. The car was extremely stable, sturdy and drivable across all kinds of terrain. I think Tata Motors could potentially have a hit on their hands, if they do everything else well.

It is well known that having a great product doesn’t guarantee market success. Its everything else that you do with the product in the market that determines the success of the product. It is elements like pricing, positioning, customer acquisition, customer service, managing the expectations of the right kind of customers, etc.

I would like to share my opinion based on my personal experience at the Hexa Experience Centre and also share my views on what could they have done instead. Let me share my experience in terms of what was good and what could have been better.

Little Things Done Well:

  1. Taking Care of the Kids: The experience centre was not just about experiencing the car. They had a play area where children could play, so that the parents could explore the car in peace. This is such a simple thing and goes unnoticed when done well, but could be a big hassle if not done well at all. Children could at times get cranky and demand attention – exact same thing that the brand wants on their product. So, by creating a space where the kids could play by themselves, Tata Motors created the option for the parents to experience the car with or without their children – but with full attention.
  2. Taking Care of the elderly: They also had a lot of chairs around, where parents of their customers could simple sit down and listen to some live music, eat or have some beverage. This again gives the opportunity for the customers to give full attention to the product at hand and not worry about anything else.
  3. Taking Care of the un-interested Spouse: It is not very uncommon to find that only one of the spouse is most interested in the car, its specifications and finer details of the car. The other spouse is only interested in the comfort that the car provides them and some features which are basic necessities. By the virtue of being a part of the large Tata group, they were able to bring in interesting products from their retail businesses to the experience centre – we had Chroma with interesting mix of electronic gadgets, Tanishq with the Mia brand of jewellery, Tata Global beverages with their options of beverages. This created opportunities for the group companies to create at least brand awareness and at most get some sales. This also provided the spouse not interested in the technical specs of the car to go around and spend sometime (window) shopping while the spouse interested in the technical specs get deep into it, with complete attention.
  4. Design of the Off-road experience: The way the track was laid for the off-road experience was very thoughtful and made sure that the customers experienced the biggest strengths of Hexa – stability, sturdiness & drivability in all kinds of off-road conditions.

What could have been better:

  1. Registration: I had already registered via IndiBlogger and was hoping to have a smooth way in and out. However, I was informed that I had to register on the spot. Again. This was the first little thing that Tata Motors could have been done differently. Since I was already registered and had a code from IndiBlogger, they could have skipped the registration for me again. This is something that i had expected as a customer and so by not doing this, they already fell short of my expectation. Once the registration was completed, I was asked to first take a token for the off-road & on-road driving experience. At a different spot. When I went there, I was told that I would have to wait for about 45 mins to get my chance to experience the off-road drive and about same time to experience the on-road experience. Now, anyone who visited the centre was there to experience off-road and/or on-road drive of the car. So, it would have been very simple to avoid queuing up at two different places. Even better would have been to get people to pick the time they would like to experience each of the experiences (off-road & on-road) online or while doing the off-line registrations. By doing this you are setting up the right expectations, avoid building up queues at different places and also allow the customers to experience everything else that they had put together.
  2. Digital Experience: The digital experience of the car was lame. It was just point and click animations, which explained the different features of the car. I did not have to be there in person to check that digital experience. What would have been better would be to create a virtual reality app, that allowed me to simulate the feeling of sitting inside the car and even play a racing game or a driving experience of the car. When you are selling a premier product, the experience needs to be premier as well.
  3. Parting Ways: Once I experienced the car, there was no one from Tata Motors who connected with me to ask me about what i thought of the experience and if I am interested in a follow-up conversation. Even if I am not planning to buy the car, could I give a feedback (in the form of a video or a tweet) about the car. Here was a prospective customer and all that the Tata Motors team wanted to do was to give you the on-road and off-road experience of the car and pack you off. Not a good idea.

Aside from building a great product, Tata Motors also needs to understand it is equally, if not more, important to design a great experience for their customers under which they experience the product. The metaphor that comes to mind here is that, the entire thing needs to be thought of as a staged theatre production with the customer playing the part of the Hero or the protagonist.

I am wishing that Hexa does really well in the market and for Tata Motors. And thanks to the IndiBlogger team to have invited me to the Hexa Experience Centre.