In Conversation With Tathagat Varma, Founder & CEO, Thought Leadership

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In Conversation With Tathagat Varma, Founder & CEO, Thought Leadership
  • 09
  • September
  • 2021

Tathagat (a.k.a. “TV”) is a software professional by education, computer scientist by accident, HR student by interest, project management practitioner by training, curious by nature, learner by habit, teacher by passion, wanderer by choice, digital influencer by night, servant leader by conviction, and a first-time author… In short, someone who never managed to become an expert because he was always busy learning new things…

How will you define CX to a layman?
CX to me is that unequivocally superior experience for the specific purpose of a given product or a service every single time – even when sometimes I have to pay more for it. Let’s take an example of something that we are very familiar with – say taxi. In the past, we had limited options with mostly unprofessional taxi services, product discovery was difficult, the pricing was not very transparent, and it was difficult to trust the cab driver, especially for a lot of women passengers, and so on. Today, we have services like Uber and Ola, which not only deliver a superior experience in discovering the services, estimating the service lead times, etc. but even have a in-built trust and reliability in the services. Now, even between these services, because they are all beginning to look alike, there will be different levels of customer experience. For example, I have observed in Bangalore that one particular such service has generally very high level of cleanliness or the quality of upholstery, whereas the other one is much lower on that factor. On the other hand, when I have to take a redeye flight, I often can’t find any of these on-call cab services at that unearthly hour, so I end up using totally different (and much costly, I must say!) cab services because I need an assured service lest I miss my flight. So,”CX is not some universal constant but is very subjective”

not only to the type of customer but also on how a given product or service meets my specific needs from it, which could be very different for different purposes, and even vary with the time of the day.

Please share a real-life experience where customer experience management has provided an extra edge.
One incident that I still remember was many years back at MK Ahmed, a popular grocery chain in Bangalore. Once we bought our monthly groceries, and when we got home, we realized there was one bag less. We called them up and told them of the problem.

“The store was not only sympathetic to our complaint, it also urged very keen to resolve it.”

They asked us what time we were there so that they could look at the video footage to establish facts about the incident. They were able to confirm that indeed one of the bags was left near the counter, and perhaps got mixed up and was take along by the next customer. Having established the credentials of our complaint, they asked us to tell what all items were left in that bag (without doubting if we were telling the truth!), and then replaced them promptly. We were always impressed by their clean aisles and fresh stocks, and their staff’s helpful and courteous attitude, and after this incident,

“we became even bigger fans of their customer service.”

Needless to say, we don’t shop anywhere else!

Feedback is monotonous to provide. How do you combat this question from you customers?
The reason why companies face this problem with feedback is because they do such a lousy job of handling customer complaints. Most companies go on defensive when a customer raises an issue with a deficient service. Companies must remember that the reason they don’t get positive feedback is because they hardly address the negative feedback to the reasonable satisfaction of their customers. If you don’t your customers when they bring issues to you, why do you expect them to trust you?

Shall a company bother about every individual customer using their product?
Yes, yes and YES! You can’t discriminate among your customers – they have trusted to buy your product or service and depending on their circumstance or needs, that might be a big deal to them!

“By not focusing your attention to them, you are creating at least one dissatisfied customer which is bad enough”

and who knows, what he or she might be capable of! I am sure you have heard of the music artist Dave Carroll whose beloved guitar was broken by United Airlines and after running close to a year from pillar to post and still not being able to get his grievance addressed, he uploaded a musical “United breaks guitars” and took his sweet (and melodious!) revenge. Not only has the video been viewed millions of times (and yes, there is no “delete” button on the internet, so that song is there till eternity!), it is also very embarrassing for the airlines – in fact so much so that they decided to use that video for their customer service training. Surely some good sense prevailed ?

“Feedback is not necessary”. What can be your advice to a person with this thought?
You have to understand that from customer’s point of view, there is only one feedback that is important, and that is the negative feedback about a poor customer experience he or she had. And

“if you are not going to act on it in a timely fashion for satisfaction of the customer, you are only alienating them further”

– perhaps to the point where they give up on you and stop sharing any feedback altogether – which essentially means they stop shopping with you! When that happens, you should worry, because you are likely to become irrelevant to your customers very soon.

What is the most challenging task for CX Management?
I think the most challenging task for an effective and a memorable customer experience is actually changing the mindset of people inside the company. I think it is like this – people who are used to inferior customer experiences themselves can’t probably provide a superior customer experience, how so much we train them on it. And generally speaking, we are used to really pathetic customer experiences in our lives. So, it is not a surprise that people who are expected to provide superior customer experiences – and that includes everyone in the company – most people struggle and fail miserably because in their minds, they can’t think of what would be a world-class customer experience. I think hiring the people with skills is easiest but hiring the people with the right mindset is probably the single-most critical differentiator that you will ever have in order to become a great company.

How do you connect Customer Acquisition to the Feedback?
You should work on feedback not so you can acquire new customers but so you can meet the expectations of your existing customers.

“If they go home happy, they are likely to share positive feedback with their friends.”

If not, they will most likely share their disappointment on social media and chat forums, and there is a strong possibility that depending on their social credibility, their immediate circle of influence will be affected accordingly – certainly more than your paid media / marketing ever will! So, don’t worry about customer acquisition, simply focus on making it easier for customer to do business with you and to use your product or service.

What shall be done first when a product gets repelled by the market?
In an ideal world, you shouldn’t be launching a product without first listening to your customers and doing extensive amount of testing to ensure you are building what they need, and not what you think they should need! However, in the real world, most people seem to conveniently ignore this simple advice! And they are surprised when their product is rejected. My advice to them is to be as sincere, prompt, empathetic and honest as they need to be – in listening to the customers, in acknowledging the problem and in expeditiously resolving it. Don’t give the excuse of your internal problems – customers don’t care about them (and why should they?). Take the famous case of Pentium bug recall that Intel had to face. Intel was forced to change itself literally overnight, but they did what was the right thing to do and even though they had to write-off almost half a billion dollars, they were able to regain customer confidence and they continue to be a great company that is trusted by its customers.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is facing heavy anger and embarrassment from across the world. How you would have managed the situation if given the charge?
First of, I have every reason to believe that they have people far more competent and experienced than me, so I can’t really hold a candle to them! That said, I would probably create some public awareness campaigns as well as work with the services such as airlines and security to both understand the problem as well as apprise them of what we have done to rigorously test the problem. Even the Boeing Dreamliner had battery problems due to which it was grounded briefly, but once the problems were rectified, the planes were back in the air.

“People understand that problems happen, and they happen to the best of us despite all the right intentions and utmost care.”

What is important is how sincerely we listen to our customers, and maintain a communication during such crisis moments while the technical people work on solving the issue. I don’t think Note 7 was as much as a technical problem as it was a social media / public anxiety problem that quickly went out of hand.

Happy customers do not interact back to the company. What is the best way to connect them to the company?
At I wrote earlier,”The reason customers don’t interact with a company is because the company has stopped listening to them.”The way to make it happen is surprisingly simple – start solving their problems ?

Feedback culture is not yet prioritised in India. How will you initiate it at your end?
I won’t probably generalize it. On the other hand, I will surely reflect on it that by and large, companies don’t know how to create truly magical customer experiences and worse – when people complain thereby creating opportunities for improvement, the tendency of most companies to ignore or simply reject such feedback has actually led to the demise of a feedback culture. However, with more international businesses coming to India, more product awareness, more options to customers, symmetrical power of social media, etc.,

“We are now clearly in the age where the customer is the queen”, and if the businesses still don’t wake up and mend their ways, they will be left to bite the dust. So, if there is just one thing they must do, that would be start listening to their customers and act as if that customer was their most important customer, and very soon, they can change the entire climate.

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