Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A short story on Customer Centricity

There was a famous training centre in Delhi that produced leading gymnasts for India. Coach Wise had run this training centre for decades and had a reputation of producing talent for the Olympics. 

A journalist from Mumbai called Ms. Exploratory from the popular publication, Chimes of Bindiya decided to visit Coach Wise to investigate and write about why his camp was so successful.

On a cool Friday morning, Ms. Exploratory arrived at the training centre.  Coach Wise took all morning to walk her through the physical training facilities, the six-day disciplined regiment (Sundays were off), the selection process and several sophisticated computer programmes that tracked the progress of his students. 

When Ms. Exploratory and Coach Wise were having lunch, a young student called Girl A walked to them and asked, “Coach Wise, I need to attend a family wedding on Saturday.  May I please train at our centre on Sunday instead?”

Coach Wise was polite but firm and short.  “No Girl A!  I am sorry, but the centre is closed on Sundays.”

Girl A walked away a little disappointed.

Ms. Exploratory wanted to ask about this interaction but bit her tongue.

Over tea in the evening, another young student called Girl B walked to them and asked, “Coach Wise, I have a family puja at my home on Saturday.  May I please train at our centre on Sunday instead?”

Coach Wise was polite, warm and generous.  He replied, “Of course Girl B.  I will keep the centre open on Sunday and personally come by with Ms. Hema and Ms. Rohini to help you through your 3-hour routine!”

Now Ms. Exploratory was aghast.  “How could this famous coach be so discriminatory?” she wondered.  She wanted to blurt a remark and ask about this contrasting interaction but bit her tongue. She was after all an investigative journalist and decided to do a little finding-out first.

That night, when everybody was asleep, Ms. Exploratory used her hair pin to break the lock into the room with the computers and all the student records.  With her vast experience in investigative journalism, she was quickly able to hack into the performance of all students.  She quickly pulled up records for Girl A and Girl B on the screen.  She discovered that both were top performers – regular in their practice Frequency, no Recent gaps or holidays and disciplined in their Values.  In other words, both had great RFV scores on the student tracking system. 

This discovery irked her even more.  In rage, Ms. Exploratory spent the balance night writing a stinging article about the discrimination she had seen at the centre by Coach Wise.

Over breakfast the next morning Coach Wise noticed Ms. Exploratory was unusually quiet and asked, “Is everything okay?”

“No! Nothing’s okay!” snapped Ms. Exploratory.  “I saw how you discriminated against Girl A when she asked for a Sunday favour for a wedding but went out of your way for Girl B just because it was for a puja.”

Coach Wise was silent for a while.  Then reflecting upon her comments, he asked, “Are you a frequent flyer with the airlines you took to get here to Delhi from Mumbai?”

“Yes!  Platinum on Jindigo Airways. Why?” asked Ms. Exploratory.

“Did you get to board before the other passengers then?  And get a free meal in the lounge?  Would you agree that the airline discriminated against other passengers when giving you that special treatment?”

“No!” snapped Ms. Exploratory. “They did it because I have high RFV scores – I fly Frequently, I have given Jindigo Airlines a lot of monetary Value and I’ve done this all pretty Recently.  Anybody knows higher RFV scores warrant better treatment.”

Coach Wise started laughing, “So why complain when I treat one of my students better than the other?  Surely you appreciate not all customers, or students are alike.” 

“You don’t fool me Coach,” shouted Ms. Exploratory.   “I’ve check their RFV scores on your CRM system.  They are the same!”  Ms. Exploratory went a little red – she realized she had just admitted to hacking into Coach Wise’s computer.  He would now be angry. So, she continued, “I think you made the exception for Girl B because she wanted to take off for a puja and did not for Girl A because it was a wedding.  I think you’re moral policing!”

Coach Wise nodded understandingly.  Then replied, “Come with me.”

He led Ms. Exploratory to his computer lab.  He saw from the records that Ms. Exploratory had already gone through the folders of CRM.  He explained, “Sorry you had to hack into my computer. You could have just asked me, and I would have shown you.”  He then brought up a folder which she had not seen.  It was called Future Potential.

In this folder among other things, she learned two startling facts. 

Girl A had recently applied to Cornell University in America for a sports scholarship.  Coach Wise had also given her a recommendation for this application.  Girl A was likely to depart for the USA in another six months and would possibly never represent India. 

Girl B on the other hand was deeply in debt and had borrowed against her home for fees for the camp. Girl B’s family had taken this risky debt with the hope and commitment that Girl B would make it to the nationals and hopefully represent India at the next Olympics. Losing was not an option for her. 

Coach Wise spoke slowly and in a grave tone, “Ms. Exploratory, my job here is to produce winners for India.  My job is NOT to fall in love with my own services nor my processes.  Being nice to all my students is NOT an option for me.  While Jindigo Airlines rewards past performance, I look at past performance and future potential to fulfil my mission!  And in that, I serve my country.”

“In producing winners, I cannot accommodate all – I cannot be fair in the sense you understand it,” continued Coach Wise.  “I need to be loyal to my mission.  And in that, I need to be loyal the highest potential.”  Ms. Exploratory stood by and listened speechless.  Her mind was having this raging battle between morality and effectiveness.

The Sunday morning edition of Chimes of Bindiya carried an article explaining the secret of Coach Wise’s success.  The article was titled, “It takes Courage to Discriminate

Key Takeaways of the Story

1.      Many organizations have products and services just like Coach Wise had his training camp.  However, many forget why their products, services and processes exist in the first place.  Just like Coach Wise had a mission of producing “Olympic competitors for India,” organizations have goals that they need to be honest to.  In meeting those goals, one emotionally challenging realization is that an “average customer” doesn't exist.  Customer valuation and future potential across multiple segments must be computed and understood. Only then can a business decide if it can afford to extend special treatment or accommodate exclusive requests from members across various customer segments. 

2.     Any organization will find it impossible to give outstanding experiences to all customers always. Coach Wise would never allow for rest for himself or his colleagues if he was willing to be open every Sunday.  But if his highest potential athlete needed accommodation, he was willing to be flexible.  Customer-centric organizations identify customer segments with high potential and disproportionately focus their energies on these segments.  This potential can be in terms of either their own future cash-flows to the business or value of their potential referrals.

3.     Many organizations launch loyalty programmes to be able to track and score customers based on behaviour.  RFV is a common scoring framework.  These CRM systems are a useful front-line tool.  For customer centricity however, one needs to go beyond CRM with forward-looking optimization of customer interactions across all touch-points.  This helps safeguard and possibly enhance value of high-potential segments. Coach Wise was not only willing to be open on Sunday for his star student but also called in two other instructors to ensure her experience was outstanding.

4.     Optimization of touch-points requires synthesis of insights from customer analytics, market research and knowledge of the competitive offerings. Coach Wise knew of his star-student’s routine, her potential and her personal challenges.  He had combined all these to take an informed bet on her and his training centre in the interest of the country.

While this is a simple story, may I request your observations on two questions about your organization and journeys in customer-centricity:

1.       Do your platinum customers experience platinum treatment across all touch-points?

2.       Does your synthesis of research, analytics and market conditions empower you to recognize your platinum customers before they achieve platinum tier?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Art of Leadership vs. Skill of Management

There once was a very famous horse-breeder and racer in Arabia called Ben Hur.  He provided fast horses and splendid chariots for the most famous races in the world.  He was especially famous for the four-horse chariots.

Ben Hur had three sons whom he had trained well in the art and science of racing horses.  As he grew old, Ben Hur had to decide which of his three sons would lead the family business after him.  So he called his three sons into his room and announced.

“Dear sons, I have taught you well. And each of you is an expert in horse breeding and racing.  Only one of you can eventually run this family business while the other two will have to find other challenges in life.” 

“In order to decide who is the best suited to run this business, I have decided to hold a contest.  In one month from now, the three of you will race your four-horse chariots against one another.  The winner will inherit my business!”

The three sons were very excited to hear what father Ben Hur had to say and readily agreed to the challenge!  The father continued, “I also have one special gift I want to share with you!” 

“Besides being able to select from among the finest horses in our stable, I will give each one of you, one wish from this magic lamp of mine.  Mind you – one wish only!  Use this wish wisely to empower you to win the race!”

The eldest son, Stick Manager was the first to respond. “I will take the four dark angry horses from your North Stable father!”  He then went alone into the room with the magic lamp and wished, “I wish to be blessed with the sharpest whip in the world!  They will drive fear into these great black stallions and surely help me win the race!”

The second son, Carrot Manager was the next to respond. “Father Ben Hur, I will take the four happy brown stallions from Bhutan.”  He then walked alone into the room with the magic lamp and wished, “I wish for the ability to have an endless supply of the tastiest carrots in the world! My happy brown stallions will do anything to get them.  I will bribe my brown steads with delicious carrots and keep them happy to win this race for me!”

Both sons had left and the father looked at his youngest son whom he loved the most.  “What about you Leader Judah?”   “Which horses will you choose and what will you wish for?”
Leader Judah thoughtfully explained, “With your permission father, I would like to work with our four white mustangs.”  His father was surprised.

“You do realize our mustangs are new and from foreign lands Judah.  I’ve heard great stories about them but we’ve not worked enough with them,” continued Ben Hur.

“That’s okay father! Great potential is all that interests me,” said Leader Judah.  He then went into the room with the magic lamp and uttered these strange words, “I wish for the ability to turn into a white mustang anytime I will!”  The magic lamp flashed bright and Leader Judah’s wish was granted.

The next month proved interesting for each of the three sons.
The four dark angry horses started to develop fear from the Stick Manager’s whip. Every time he mounted the chariot, they ran in fear of getting their backs stung with the sharpest and most painful punishment they had ever experienced!  Stick Manager drove them hard every day in practice to prepare for the race.

The four brown stallions on the other hand were having the time of their life!  Every time they needed a delicious carrot, all they needed to do was slow down a bit.  Carrot Manager would produce the tastiest bribe they had ever experienced.  So while the brown horses ran and practiced every day, they were putting on some weight eating all those goodies.

Leader Judah began on day one by turning himself into a white mustang and walking into the stable of the other four mustangs.  They were quite surprised to see him!  He introduced himself as Ben Hur’s son and told them of all the stories how his father and his grand-father and great grand-father had won chariot races with the finest steads from all over Arabia for nearly a hundred years.  The mustangs listened in rapt attention to the tales of the great Arabian horses. 

Leader Judah then went on to describe how over the last ten years, he had seen mustangs in Jordan brought in by the Americans and Spaniards, winning several races - many beating his father’s Arabian horses. He was fascinated and intrigued by how good and fast they were! Leader Judah went on to describe how his father had added the mustangs to Ben Hur Stables to try and improve services to horse racers and continue the glory of being the best in the world. But he also admitted that his father was not getting the results he expected. 

Then Leader Judah told them all about the contest between him and his brothers and how he had wished from the lamp for the ability to turn himself into a mustang, any time he wished.  The mustangs were intrigued and asked him why he asked for such a strange wish?

Leader Judah took a deep breath and said, “This is the only way I would be able to speak with you directly.  And learn from you how we can together win this race and make Ben Hur Stables great again! How I can win with mustangs for the next hundred years, just as we have won with Arabian horses for the past so many years!”

The mustangs were impressed and motivated with Leader Judah’s sincerity and transparency. They were also quite flattered and overwhelmed by his faith in their abilities. The mustangs realized that if Leader Judah inherited Ben Hur Stables, he would be supportive of them and import more mustangs to join them.  They quite liked the warm Arabian climes as opposed to the cold West.  They now really wanted him to win the race as much as he did!

The mustangs slowly began to describe the secrets of their success in races such as the ones in Jordon.  Unlike the Arabian practices, it was sounded like a much more scientific and disciplined regiment.  Judah was fascinated at their description of preparation.

The preparations included a multi-pronged approach - ranging from a diet rich in proteins and low in carbohydrates, to a different kind of rubber on the wheels of the horse-carts to reduce friction, to a training routine which alternated between long cardio routines on one day for stamina and several 200-meter dashes on the other days with short breaks to develop speed.  They also described to Judah how their old masters made special horse-shoes which were lighter and made from a special metal. 

Judah worked with them to work on all of their suggestions.  He also enjoyed the routines and often turned himself into a mustang to race and exercise with them.  He began loving racing as a horse, as much as a charioteer.  Over time, Judah also earned their trust and learned of all their little secrets.  One of them that two of the mustangs were a couple and had been secretly married only a few days ago!

The day of the big race arrived.  A few minutes before the start, each son walked to his horses. 

Stick Manager boldly announced to his four black angry (now quite afraid actually) stallions, “If you don’t run fast today, I swear I will tear your skins apart with my magic whip!”

Carrot Manager lovingly coaxed his brown (now quite overweight) steads, “Win for me my dear team and I’ll give each one of you as many delicious carrots as you can eat!”

Leader Judah turned himself into a white mustang and walked into the stables to find out if his team was rested and ready for the big race.  They seem well-exercised, well prepared and mentally fit.  However, he sensed tension as he trotted into the room.  He candidly asked, “We’ve been friends for a month now.  And we all want to win this race as much.  If there is a problem, tell me now!”

With teary eyes, the prettiest mustang walked up to him and said, “I’m pregnant.  And I’m afraid that in my health condition, I will let all of you down!”  There was a stunned silence in the stable.  Leader Judah took a deep breath and said, “One for all and all for one – I will run in your place!”

“What?” yelled the other mustangs, “You’re not even a proper mustang – you can’t race!” 

“Yes I am a mustang, even if only for a month.  And yes, I can race – You’ve taught me remember?,” declared Leader Judah coolly. “I agree I am not as powerful as the rest of you. But I’ve been working out with you as much this last month.  Moreover, if I’m not on the chariot, we will have less weight to pull.  Most importantly, you’re my friends, and if anything happened to our pretty mustang or her unborn foal, we would never forgive ourselves.”

“With God’s grace, if we win – which we shall I’m sure – then we shall name this baby foal, Judah Ben Hur!!”

All five mustangs neighed a loud cheer that shook the heavens! And they marched confidently into the race-track.

And so it came to pass.

Chariot One with four black horses ran fast.  But their exhaustion and overwork of the last one month with their fear had caught up with them.  They did not perform to their full-potential.

Chariot Two with four brown stallions from Bhutan worked together as one happy team. But they were overweight and slow and kept slowing down for carrots from Manager Carrot.

Chariot Three had a team where all four mustangs had one and one shared goal only – To win the race, to gain glory for mustangs and get more mustangs into Arabia!  They were proud to be led by someone who had sacrificed himself to protect their own.  They raced with a passion rarely seen in the desert sands of Arabia – the father was amazed to see the mustangs perform as one committed team.  He was filled with pride when he saw his dear son leading from the front.  He prayed secretly for their victory – and they did win!  With the lighter weight of the chariot, with the new motivated mustang who led from the front and with a common vision of shared success, there was no way in the world anyone could defeat them.

And so it came to pass – Judah inherited Ben Hur Stables.  Many mustangs were imported and the story of the foal Judah Ben Hur was often repeated to show how leadership always trumps management using carrots or sticks!

Lessons Learned:

1.      Leadership involves deep anticipatory thinking – about taking calculated risks based on potential as opposed to being more efficient with the tried and tested.

2.      Effective Leadership is impossible without strong character – Leaders have deep empathy and often walk in the shoes of their teams to truly understand what motivates them!

3.      Managers buy time and skills.  Leaders engage passions towards a common dream.

4.      In times of crises, Leaders put themselves at risk even if it means leading from the front – this confidence earns them the unswerving loyalty of their teams.

5.      Leadership is much more about relationship building skills than fear and incentives. In sum, LOVE is a Leadership Strategy

Do you agree? Would love to hear reflections and views!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

New Business Development for Selling Professional Solutions

A short story to illustrate Principles of New Business Development for Selling Professional Business Solutions

Once upon a time, a mother and her school-going daughter went to the marketplace to buy oranges.  
At the marketplace, they saw 4 shops selling oranges. 

  • The first shop was called LOW COST.  This shop had black-board with a chalk message that read, “CHEAPEST ORANGES SOLD HERE!

  • The second shop was called CREDENTIALS.  This shop had a flashing neon signboard with a long list of all the fancy equipment they used to harvest the oranges and to pack and transport the oranges to the shop.

  • The third shop was called CLIENT LIST.  This shop had a big bill-board at the entrance with photographs of a number of pretty Bollywood actresses!  The bill-board read, “BOLLYWOOD ACTRESSES BUY THEIR ORANGES FROM HERE - SO SHOULD YOU!”

  • The fourth shop was called EMPATHY.  This shop had a neatly designed message board that read, “FOR FREE CONSULTATION ON HOW ORANGES CAN MAKE YOU HAPPY, WALK IN NOW!”

Mom was obviously intrigued.  She had a limited budget but did not want to risk buying bad oranges at the LOW COST shop. “Why else, would someone sell at low cost?” she wondered.

She was quite intimidated with all the fancy equipment described at the second shop.  Frankly, she didn’t understand half of the list.  And wasn’t sure if this would help her buy tasty, healthy oranges.   

She didn’t want to appear dumb by asking too much about what she didn’t understand so she decided not to walk into CREDENTIALS. 

The Bollywood actresses’ pictures at the third shop looked gorgeous! She was quite tempted to walk into store CLIENT LIST.  Perhaps the oranges in shop 3 were organic and healthy which is why all the Bollywood actresses went there and looked so good!  

But then the invitation of a free-consultation at shop 4 was tempting.  So she walked in, intrigued, to find out how oranges could make her happy.  She decided she would take a quick look at shop EMPATHY and then perhaps go back to shop CLIENT LIST and buy her oranges.

In shop number 4 called EMPATHY, she found a number of options neatly laid out in counters.  The first counter had a jolly old man demonstrating how a simple juice extractor could serve up a fresh glass of orange juice.  Just adjacent to that was another counter manned by a short, stout lady who exuded so much energy!  She was efficiently taking the orange rinds left over from the orange juice counter and demonstrating how to make marmalade and jams from the rind of the orange.  A bunch of happy teenagers, keen to learn seemed to be enjoying the demonstration.  A third counter was manned by this pimpled boy who neatly pealed the oranges, removed the seeds and put them in small boxes with a toothpick making for an easy snack.  And right beside this boy was another counter serving orange ice-cream with scores of recipe books on how to make sorbets and ice-creams.  And guess what? A pretty Bollywood actress was actually standing there licking an ice-cream at the counter too!  Guess some actresses came to EMPATHY too and relished oranges and orange ice-cream!

The lady noticed her daughter skipping lightly to the light-hearted music playing in the store as a well-dressed man called Mr. NBD walked up to them and began describing the wonderful ways in which oranges could share happiness with all.  He then attentively listened to why the lady wanted to buy oranges.  The woman explained how she was looking to buy them to prepare fresh juice for her family at breakfast. 

The well-dressed man suggested that she should then consider the Valencia variety which was sweet and ideal for breakfast juice. In fact, he suggested that she should use a metal juicer (vs. plastic which is not good for health). 

He then also added that ideally, the lady should consider serving some orange fruit for breakfast on alternate days since the fruit has a lot of fiber that the juice misses out on.  The woman found that very informative.  She knew orange juice has vitamin C, but did not realize the fiber had such health benefits.

The man also described how the woman could actually save some money and enhance her family’s health – by making her own fresh marmalade and jams at home as opposed to buying expensive jams from supermarkets (which are loaded with preservatives to increase shelf life).  “Sodium benzoate is used liberally in bottled jams and that can play havoc on your health you know! On the other hand, fresh orange rind is awesome for you!” he explained.  “The leftover rind from the orange juice can easily be used.”  He wisely pointed to the mother to observe how the short stout lady expertly made the fresh jams and marmalade.  The mother watched with rapt attention as did her daughter.

The recipes looked simple and the book would pay for itself in less than a month the mother figured.  Besides, her daughter may have fun trying to make Jam!

In about half an hour, the lady walked out of EMPATHY STORE with a bagful of oranges, two boxes of freshly pealed fruit with the fibre for the next day’s breakfast, and a recipe book for making jams and marmalade.  She had also taken Mr. NBD’s telephone number to ask him for help if she got stuck when making the marmalade.

Moral of the Story:
Most of us tend to sell solutions predominantly using either or all of 3 C’s – Credentials, Client List or (low) Cost.  These are important, but not sufficient.  They at best demonstrate technical competence. The 4th C in solution selling is the most critical – (instilling) Confidence.  The buyer must believe that she can trust you with not just her fees, but also her reputation.   And that your input is not from a self-serving need to “sell” but a sincere attempt to “help.”  This is so obvious because typically most professional sales have financial and business impacts  several times larger than the fees involved. 

A sincere attempt to help is not possible without investing the time to comprehend the problem at hand, helping the client think through proposed options and then suggesting a solution that reduces uncertainty for the client.  

Closing the sale once both competence and trust are established... is merely a formality!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

National Governance (Over) simplified

There once was a King called Governance.
He had three sons:

  1. Son one was called Capitalist
  2. Son two was called Socialist
  3. Son three was called Pluralist

The king wanted to find a successor to rule his kingdom called World after him.  So he called his three sons and posed them a riddle.

The riddle was this:

3 men are lost in a desert. They are 2 days away from the nearest oasis.  They have only one can of water. 

  • Man one is called Weak - He is so weak that even if he drinks the one can of water, 50% chances are he will die before he makes it to the oasis.
  • Man two is called Average - If he drinks the one can of water, he has a 75% chance of surviving the two day journey to the oasis.  However, a 25% chance he could still die of exhaustion and thirst.
  • Man three is called Strong. He has a 50% chance of surviving the 2 day journey and making it alive to the oasis, even if he has no water.  However, 50% chances are he will die in those two days.  On the other hand, if he consumes the can of water, there is almost a 100% chance he will complete the 2-day journey to the oasis, alive and fit. 
The wise king asked each one of his sons, "If you could choose, whom would you give the water can to?"

Son Capitalist was very logical and clever.  He was the first to answer, "Both Weak and Average could die even if they consume the can of water.  And so could Strong without any water. So I would give the water can to the Strong.  Better to save at least one life with 100% guarantee than risk all three with no certainty!"

Son Socialist was kind-hearted.  He said, "Life is a gift from God. And hope is all we have.  So I would try to keep as many people alive for as long as I can.  Who knows?  Some help could come along the next morning, and by then we would have let one person die, is that even acceptable?"

"I would give the water to the weakest man.  At least that way, we know all three will most likely remain alive till the next morning.  And with some luck, help will come in time and ensure all 3 continue to remain alive.  It is wrong to favour the strong against the weak. My duty as ruler would be to be a safety net for the weakest."

The third son, Pluralist was quiet and in thought.

When the king looked at him, he humbly began, "Obviously any choices we make will be imperfect. And will result in death.” 

“But as human beings, are we in it only to survive?  Do morality, intelligence and creativity have no play here?”

Everybody was now listening to him.

“In my view, water is a common wealth of all three citizens,” Pluralist continued, “So I would consult with all 3 men and ask them if the following would work:

Let half the can of water be given to Strong.  BUT ONLY UPON the condition that he will carry WEAK on his back on the journey to the oasis.”

“Of the balance half can, I would divide it equally among the other 2 men - Average and Weak"
"What would you achieve by that?" asked his brother Socialist.

"A number of things," continued Pluralist.

  1. Everybody gets water - it’s a common resource that everybody has a right to 
  2. With more water comes more responsibility - so I would give more to Strong with the responsibility of helping the Weak
  3. I foster a bonding and mutual responsibility for life and survival among all 3 men
"But what if they all die anyways?" asked Capitalist.

"We will all die one day brother," said Pluralist.  
"With this formula, everybody will certainly have a higher chance of surviving as a community as opposed to as individuals.  Moreover, even if they die eventually, they will die with honour and probably with happiness.” 

”Isn't that what life is all about anyways?"

Everybody was quiet.

The king was not sure whom to handover Kingdom world to.  So he divided his kingdom into three provinces.

  • His eldest son, Capitalist, he handed over America
  • His second son, Socialist, he handed over India
  • His youngest son Pluralist, he handed over Canada
(the purpose of this fictitious story is only to provoke thinking and reflection as opposed to making any judgements about any country or political systems)