Understanding Cryptocurrencies

This post first appeared on MyStory

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock lately, there has been a whole lot of talk around Libra – the new cryptocurrency announced by Facebook.

Libra is a permissioned blockchain digital currency proposed by Facebook. The project, currency and transactions are to be managed and entrusted to the Libra Association, a membership organization founded by Facebook’s subsidiary Calibra and 27 others.

Wikipedia

If you could not make much of the above paragraph, you are not alone. If you’re new to the world of digital (or crypto) currencies, this post will help you understand the basics.

What the heck does “cryptocurrency” mean?

Cryptocurrency is best thought of as digital currency (it only exists on computers, not physically) that uses cryptography (encryption) for security. Bitcoin is one of the most well-known examples of a cryptocurrency, though there are many others in circulation.

Cryptocurrencies represent an alternative form of payment (to cash, credit cards, etc.), and all transactions are recorded on a digital ledger (called a “blockchain”). Since both the Transaction data and the Ledger are encrypted using cryptography, it is called “crypto” currency.

A distinguishing feature of it is that its underlying technology allows you to send payments directly to others without going through a third-party (like a bank).

Is cryptocurrency the future?

There are many different views about cryptocurrency, ranging from ‘it will replace everything we do’ to ‘it’s nothing but a fad’.

Here are some problems associated with it…

  • The (semi-anonymous) nature of cryptocurrency transactions makes them well-suited for a host of illegal activities, like money laundering and tax evasion. This is one reason why several countries have made it illegal to own or trade in cryptocurrencies.
  • Since cryptocurrencies are virtual and do not have a central repository, a digital cryptocurrency balance can be wiped out by a computer crash, say if a backup copy of the holdings does not exist, or if somebody simply loses their private key information (used to access their account).
  • While blockchains themselves are highly secure, the entire cryptocurrency ecosystem is not as secure. Over a ten-year period, millions of dollars worth of ‘bitcoins’ have been stolen due to hacking and theft.
  • Since prices of cryptocurrencies are almost entirely based on supply and demand (and not rooted in any material goods), the rate at which a cryptocurrency can be exchanged for another currency can fluctuate quite wildly. Cryptocurrencies are therefore considered by many to be speculative at best.
  • Cryptocurrencies also involve significant energy use. Mining – which is its validation process – is an integral part of cryptocurrencies, but very energy intensive. According to some estimates, Bitcoin mining consumes as much energy as Switzerland, which is an environmental disaster.

Here are some unique benefits of cryptocurrency…

  • Its underlying ‘blockchain’ technology provides us with the means to remove the middleman in financial transactions, as well as strengthen security. Many major financial institutions see tremendous potential in its ability to lower transaction costs by making payment processing more efficient, thereby making such transactions significantly faster and cheaper for consumers.
  • In a world where the value of “fiat” money (government-issued currency) is directly dependent on actions of national governments, some economists argue that cryptocurrencies can serve as a “stable store of value”, offering an antidote to excessive inflation. This is because no single country or government has (undue) control over its price or supply.

Is India ready to embrace cryptocurrencies?

Not quite…

Finance minister Arun Jaitley, in his budget speech on 1 February 2018, stated that the government will do everything to discontinue the use of bitcoin and other virtual currencies in India for criminal uses. He reiterated that India does not recognise them as legal tender and will instead encourage blockchain technology in payment systems.

Wikipedia

Also, according to a recent story in Business Today:

The draft of Banning of Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill 2019 has reportedly proposed a 10-year-long prison term for people who “mine, generate, hold, sell, transfer, dispose, issue or deal in cryptocurrencies”.

Business Today

Finally, Mint reported in July 2019:

A high-level government panel on virtual cryptocurrencies has recommended a ban on all virtual cryptocurrencies in India. The ban on virtual currencies comes along with a fine of ₹25 crore and imprisonment up to 10 years for any activity related to virtual currencies.

LiveMint

For all practical purposes, it looks like India is not likely to embrace any form of cryptocurrency in the near future. That said, blockchain-based tools are only just beginning to establish themselves, and many more exciting use-cases are yet to emerge.

Here’s to living in interesting times!

Also Read: Libra, Explained, The Verge, June 2019

Building a CX Culture

As a consultant or employee, I’ve contributed to ‘Culture Building’ in dozens of organizations, spanning small startups to large enterprises with more than 10,000 employees. Building a culture is challenging in the best of circumstances. However, it doesn’t have to be harder than necessary.

Most organizations are “Sales” focused. That’s how they survive in the worst of times, and thrive in the best phases of growth. Therefore, when starting on the road to Customer Centricity, it is not a surprise to encounter the argument:

“We are a Sales organization, and have been for the past 10+ years”.

What’s wrong with that observation? Why is Sales focus perceived as being in the way of customer-centric behavior?

Here is what typically happens…

If you have any CX-related metrics in place, a few folks in the central/enterprise team looking at CX seriously will review the available (or newly created) reports that are coming in, seek more info from customer touch-points if needed, identify problems that emerge from the data, design solutions (in their head-office based ivory towers?) and roll them out as new policies/processes for all to follow.

In more evolved teams where the CEO or Business Head is directly engaging with the workforce, and is passionate about CX, a periodic email will often go out from his/her desk stressing upon the important of the “customer” and how this new ‘Customer Focus’ will shape our winning strategy in the months to come.

Even more evolved organizations may institute a “Customer Council” – the official custodian of all things customer. This will be the seat of all the action from where above-mentioned priorities, need-gap analyses and new projects & improved processes will roll out.

Is it any wonder that building a CX culture (or any culture) is an uphill task?!

Yes, having your CEO or Business Head define priorities is important for the team, but who stands guard against too many “top priorities” being rolled out too often?

Yes, customer-centricity is an important ingredient in staying competitive for any business, but why not co-opt the ground forces in building the vision for what it means to be customer-centric? Why not collaborate with them to help identify problems and their solutions? After all, aren’t they the ones that are closest to the customer?

If you are a Sales focused organization, why alienate the team with a new vocabulary? Why not call it “Sales Council” instead of “Customer Council”, and make a genuine attempt to have your Sales leaders understand why Sales and CX are on the same side?

Why should Sales be at loggerheads with CX when an improved customer experience and enhanced customer service leads to increased Sales? Why should any function, for that matter?

Senior folks often assume that functional skills and training programs are meant for the rank and file… that they have little need to learn themselves. But, senior leaders in every function can also learn – from their field force as well as from their customers. Personally, I have always gained significant insights from conversations with customers and those on the front-line that service their needs. They know what’s broken and what works. Really.

Awareness is a two-way street. It is only when we embrace that truth will we begin to understand what’s really needed – both, within and outside the organization. And, only then can we contribute towards shaping the culture of the world we inhabit.

Customer Retention is the new Acquisition

We have been hearing it for years… It takes significantly more effort to acquire a new customer than it does to retain one.

In fact, current estimates suggest that it can cost 5X to 25X more to acquire new customers, as compared to retaining them. Yet, a large majority of organizations are focused on “new business” (as in ‘customer acquisition’), constantly pouring resources into a leaking funnel. But, what they ought to focus on is retaining their customer base and engaging with them in a meaningful manner.

Here are some ways to do just that…

  1. Improve Relevance – Understand your unique “tribe” and get to know them better – their needs and wants, what they want from you. Establish mechanisms to listen to your customers – not just an annual C-SAT survey but on an ongoing basis. Then, work on providing relevant products and services that satisfy those needs and wants.
  2. Build Engagement – Is your customer buying a home loan or a home? Is he/she in the market for a medical insurance policy or for peace of mind? How can we make their journey easier? No, engagement does not equal spending big bucks on media buys, or counting likes on a social post. It takes effort to figure out what really matters to your target audience, and even more effort to give it to them. But the reward is worth it.
  3. Develop Partnerships – Build partnerships with distributors, channel partners and even other service providers. The world is one large ecosystem, if you’re willing to see it that way. If you are a ride-hailing app (Uber?) your scope of service doesn’t just include matching a driver with a passenger. Wouldn’t it be far more delightful if your regular customers popped inside the vehicle and had the option to play their favorite playlist (Spotify?). Partnerships are a great way to extend your base offering in ways that are meaningful to your audience. Again, relevance is key.
  4. Build Category before Brand – I can’t recall the number of times I have encountered organizations getting this wrong. Even in a category that is nascent, every brand rushes to build their own brand presence, instead of first building the category. Handhold your customers to help them understand what’s involved. Avoid jargon. Think from their point of view. Test your theories. Validate all assumptions. Simplify. Then, simplify some more. Now you’re on the right track.

The 5 Ps of CX

“Customer Experience” (CX) is quite the buzzword, these days. In corporate meeting rooms, and on industry panels – every one seems to be talking about it. However, many of the folks I meet grapple with how to prioritize their efforts around improving customer engagement.

Over decades of helping clients and employers bridge the gap between Business and what their Customers really need, I have come to understand that there are 5 Ps that impact CX. These are the levers at your disposal. These are the elements you need to influence, so you can strike the right balance…

  1. Product (or Service)
  2. Platform (or System)
  3. Processes
  4. People
  5. Pricing

Product/Service – Define your Target Audience clearly. Don’t build your product or service around what you think they need. Find out what they seek from you, then build your offering around their real needs. No more, no less. Competition does not matter. Customers do.

Platform/System – We are surrounded by Technology, and it’s here to stay. Your customers are probably embracing it faster than you are able to keep up with it. Don’t resist: Embrace it without excuses. Invest in what matters to your customers, be it Mobile or AI. Invest in creating a friction-less User Experience (UX). Good Design matters.

Processes – Customer Experience is built on a foundation of consistent delivery (of promises made), not found in pockets of excellence. Processes, therefore, form the backbone of a good CX. Stay away from ad-hoc and discretionary management. Strive to build an organization that outlives you and your key managers. Process Excellence is the key.

People – In any enterprise, people are an essential factor of success. Research shows that happy employees drive a 2x improvement in CX. Employee engagement matters. Hire right, then provide them with a clear vision of your business goals. Once they have understood what is needed of them, empower them to take actions that help them meet customer needs.

Pricing – Customer expectations change as the price changes. We expect much more from products and services that are sold at a premium. So if you plan to charge a premium for your brand, make sure you justify the outcome. In every case, think hard about the relationship between Price (you charge) and Value (you provide). Every Moment of Truth matters.

These 5 Ps are how you can ultimately impact the outcomes your customers experience. Of course, you can ignore this list if all you want to do is pay lip-service to the cause.

P.S. If you look closely, you will find that this doesn’t just apply to CX – these are also the attributes that can help you build a robust enterprise – one that outlives you.

What Really Matters

Every business acknowledges that the reason for their existence is the Customer. Every business wants to design products and services that are meant to address their customers’ needs. Yet, almost every business struggles to understand what their customers really want from them.

Is it any wonder that billions are spent worldwide in trying to gauge the truth of the matter, via interactions driven by focused groups and metrics like C-SAT and NPS? To make matters worse, in this Age of Digital and A.I., the “Customer” is also ever evolving!

How do you make sense of it all? 

Yes, customers do exhibit different personalities and needs. But, there are a few insights and common traits that can help most businesses get going.

Here are some of my learnings…

In the India context, it helps to keep in mind that the first 100 Mn Digital Consumers were Younger, More Urban, More Men, More Desktop, while the last 100 Mn are relatively Older, More Rural, More Women, More Mobile.

That said, customers all over the world are figuring out how they can leverage the abundance of Technology that now comes embedded in most platforms, products and services.

They want more and more to happen via Digital channels, so they can access it On-The-Go.

They want lesser clicks, faster page loads, shorter queues, reduced turnaround times, smaller forms.

They want more self-service options (Starbucks?), and want less IVRS interactions (Your call is important to us…?).

In other words, they want their interactions with your brand to be relevant, useful and enjoyable.

Oh, and thanks to online forums, reviews, ratings, and social media exchanges, they probably know more about your product or service than your Sales agent does!

Keep these factors in mind when trying to improve relevance of your offerings, instead of simply believing “you know what’s best for them”. And, don’t leave any opportunity to talk to a real customer – to listen to what really matters to them.

After all, there is just no substitute for a real conversation.