Is The Customer Really King?

Way back in 1941, Kenneth B. Elliott, Vice President in Charge of Sales for The Studebaker Corporation, remarked in an interview:

“The customer is not an interruption of our work – he is the purpose of it.

The customer is not dependent upon us – we are dependent upon him.”

And yet, organizations all around us seem to go about their business as if the “customer” was entirely optional to their success. We may not be doing it intentionally, but many of us are guilty of this crime. Let me explain…

When we roll out bad design in a product or service, we disregard the customer. When we up-sell or cross-sell irrelevant offers to our customers, we disregard their wants. When we include a plethora of unnecessary terms and conditions hidden away in fine print, we disregard their needs. Muraleedhar Pai writes about this malady in his post on the Indian Unicorn, including offering some solutions for those who are willing to pay heed:

On what, how, when and why tell the customer, Indian e-businesses have long way to go. Most of them know content is king and do a good job – some very good. Context is built properly by one or two of them. But when it comes to relevance, they have a long long way to go. In the name of engaging the customer, most e-commerce players waste customer’s most important resource, her time.

Subroto Bagchi, in his advice column to a young (funded) entrepreneur, also found it fit to remind him of what matters most:

Since you are an internet company (well, who isn’t?), do not shift your eye from a fundamental reality: customers may interact with the business you are setting up in a virtual world, but always know, they live in the real world… spend time with your customers with religious regularity, immerse yourself in their world in which they use, not just buy, your product or service.

Put your “customer” hat on, and think back to all the times you struggled with any product or service. More often than not, it wasn’t because the organization didn’t work out the chinks in a highly complex offering, but because the fundamentals were lacking. Customer Service, Customer Engagement, Customer Delight – call it what you may; It doesn’t do much if your organizational culture is focused on internal workings and challenges, and loses sight of what they are working for.

Design matters. UX matters. So does listening to customer needs and trying your best to deliver on those needs. Finally, it helps to remember that your brand is lived, and experienced, in a hundred different moments of truth – from the payment gateway to the delivery boy.

Map out the process, and identify all the ways in which your customers interact with your brand. Then, look for the weak links and go about fixing them, one by one. It’s not that hard to do. And, the efforts will pay off significantly.

We are all human, and want similar things. Good products and services, at appropriate value, in a good experience. It’s not that hard to do.

Powerpoint vs Presentation

We live in an age where, no matter what function or department you work with, you will encounter the need to deliver a presentation on a topic of significance. And that means creating a “PPT” from scratch, and often, presenting it yourself. Now, I’ve spent two decades working with Powerpoint and know, first hand, that it’s not nearly as easy as it seems. Yes, any one with a mouse and a copy of Microsoft’s PowerPoint software can start “building slides”.  But, creating a presentation of Quality – that’s a different matter altogether.

Some argue that addressing an audience is an art, not a science. That you need charisma to make an impact. That leaders and speakers are born, not made. Others argue that they have, in fact, benefited from the countless resources on the Web (and in the real world) that offer the promise of making you a better speaker.

Be that as it may, how do you deliver a good presentation?

First of all, you need to accept that there is no substitute for “clarity of thought“. Just as knowledge of Photoshop does not make you a Van Gogh, knowing how to make a PowerPoint slide deck does not necessarily result in an impactful presentation. So take the time to study the topic before you, and jot down your thoughts (preferably on paper) on what you want to share with your audience.

Remember, presentations are about communicating an idea in the most effective manner possible – not about fancy fonts, packing your slides with a lot of data, or using animated transitions.

Here’s my list of points to keep in mind, the next time you face a Blank Slide template…

  • Keep it Simple : Less slides, less text, less data
  • Divide the content in the form of a story : Have a Start, a Middle and an End. (If you want to make a stronger impact, begin with the end!)
  • When you present any data, do mention its source
  • Use a lot of white-space and a large text size: Content should be readable from 20 feet away
  • While creating the presentation, don’t start each slide from scratch. Instead, take the slide with the most similar looking layout, copy-paste, and use that as the starting point. That way, all formatting will be consistent across your slide-deck.
  • Prepare for possible questions that may come up… and their answers!
  • If you display images/pictures/screenshots in your slide, post them prominently against a full-black or full-white background to make the graphic stand out without any distractions
  • If, inspite of good advice, you make a loooong presentation, summarize key points/conclusions at the end
  • If you’re going to present in a new room, get acquainted with it beforehand to reduce presentation stress
  • Check all audio-visual settings, seating arrangements, handouts, etc. well before the scheduled start
  • Lastly, keep your sense of humour!

Read PresentationZen’s Top 10 Slide Tips and Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule, before you even double-click on the PowerPoint icon – they both have some great tips for you to follow, regardless of the topic you’re presenting on. You can also bookmark AllTop’s rich resource on all things related to communication, here.

Simple is Hard

Inc. featured an excellent write-up on the design secrets of Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs entitled ‘Simple is Hard‘, and we couldn’t agree more. In it, Jim Schleckser argues that, “When it comes to designing our business processes and systems… When we don’t do the necessary work up front to create a design that is simple and elegant, we end up building products and services that are complex and cluttered. Put another way: Simple is hard.”

The fact is: What seems like a simple and elegant solution is often damn hard to design.

As a customer, you know exactly what we’re talking about, since it is certain that you have experienced many times, the frustrations that accompany badly-designed user interfaces on websites and apps, or even the way products are packaged for transit. Spend hours, or minutes, or even precious seconds dealing with “bad design”, and it rapidly takes the joy out of the equation, making the entire experience unpleasant.

On the other hand, when we encounter a beautifully-designed product or service, we thoroughly enjoy the process of interacting with it. And, want to share it with others we care about. And, keep coming back to it for more, resulting in the ultimate benefit for those who created it in the first place – customer loyalty.

Yet, when it comes to putting resources where they matter, most organizations do not show an appreciation for “good design”, or seek help where they need it the most – hiring an expert to improve the User Experience of their shiny, new product or service. Sadly, “design” is often an after-thought on the project – a layer that (you think) you can slap-on to make the thing look pretty. That is a far cry from espousing the philosophy of Steve Jobs that, “Design is how it works!”

So, if you are in a position to influence the process even a little, the next time you get the opportunity to work on a project/product/service, take the time to reflect on your own experiences as a customer, and invest the effort (and resources) required to create something that will be a joy to use. It’s not an easy journey, but it’s worth the effort it takes.

Leonardo da Vinci nailed it when he remarked, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Three Choices

In the era of The Long Tail, new business enterprises need to make some key choices to succeed.

A post from Seth Godin highlights the choices involved in offering higher education:

Should this be scarce or abundant?

Should this be free or expensive?

Should this be about school or about learning?

As it turns out, all you need to do is replace the last one with its generic equivalent:

  1. Should this be scarce or abundant?
  2. Should this be free or expensive?
  3. Should this be about what used to matter or what really matters today?

Think about it. Three choices. And, the answers will make all the difference.

Built to Last

A trail of links from LinkedIn led me to an excellent essay on FastCompany entitled ‘8 Rules For Creating a Passionate Work Culture’. In it, the author – Paul Alofs – profiles the rules on the foundation of which an empire can be built:

1. Hire the right people
2. Communicate
3. Tend to the weeds
4. Work hard, play hard
5. Be ambitious
6. Celebrate differences
7. Create the space
8. Take the long view

The rules seem simple… maybe too simple. But, there is a lot of wisdom in those paragraphs. For instance, most of us know that hiring the right people is critical to success, but don’t exactly know how to go about it. Alofs offers many helpful hints…

There is no shortage of impressive CVs out there, but you should try to find people who are interested in the same things you are. Asking the right questions is key: What do you love about your chosen career? What inspires you? What courses in school did you dread? You want to get a sense of what the potential employee believes.


If you had a dozen straight-A students who were from the same socio-economic background and the same geographical area, you might not get much in the way of interesting debate or interaction. Great cultures are built on a diversity of background, experience, and interests. These differences generate energy, which is critical to any enterprise.

Read the entire post. And, make an attempt to put it to action.

How To Be A (Great) Client

If you’ve never worked with a consulting firm, you may not know that Consulting success depends as much on the quality of the client, as the caliber of the consultant. Is there such a thing as a good, or great, client? Can that formula be replicated by others who seek to improve the effectiveness of their engagement with consultants, or with vendors of any kind?

This post by Seth Godin lists most of the essentials. Here are the points that resonated most with us:


Simplify the problem relentlessly, and be prepared to accept an elegant solution that satisfies the simplest problem you can describe.

After you write down the ground rules, revise them to eliminate constraints that are only on the list because they’ve always been on the list.

Pay as much as you need to solve the problem, which might be more than you want to. If you pay less than that, you’ll end up wasting all your money. Why would a great innovator work cheap?

Cede all issues of irrelevant personal taste to the innovator. I don’t care if you hate the curves on the new logo. Just because you write the check doesn’t mean your personal aesthetic sense is relevant.

Celebrate the innovator. Sure, you deserve a ton of credit. But you’ll attract more innovators and do even better work next time if innovators understand how much they benefit from working with you.


There are a number of valuable insights in that list, some of which require a great deal of maturity to acknowledge and accept. On our part, we would also like to add the following…


Do your homework on the “canvas” and what your specific need is, before you meet prospective vendors.  e.g. If you’re out to get a website for your business and know “nothing about website design”, at least spend some hours surfing the web and noting down the sites you like and the ones you don’t, including the Why.

Know the kind of customer you’re trying to attract, and how they are likely to behave. There is just no substitute for that clarity, and only you can bring that clarity to the table.

When you ask someone for a recommendation of a vendor, specify that you’re looking for someone you can trust not to cheat you, nothing more. The evaluation of their competence in relation to your need should be entirely up to you.

There will always be a way to get all of it (or some of it) done at no cost or low cost, but every approach has its limitations. For example, the code/design you used may not scale with your evolving needs. Understand the tradeoffs involved, and go with a low/no cost, only if the tradeoffs are acceptable.


Print the list out and check against each item.  You will surely be better off, no matter what your endeavor.

Digital Marketing, Done Right

If you have always wondered how to tackle the basics of “Digital Marketing”, this should help you get started…

First things first – Do you have a good sense of your target customer? What does he or she look like? What kind of phone do they use? What would their education levels and sophistication with Technology be? Where would they likely spend most of their time? So on, and so forth…

Marketing is, essentially, about addressing customer needs in a relevant manner. And, digital marketing is no exception. You need to go where the customer is, and offer your product or service to them in a manner that they can identify with. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your customers look like you and behave like you do. The key is to understand their needs and wants, and try to offer the solution that best matches those needs.

Digital may not be the answer you’re looking for. If your target group shows poor adoption of online media, you may only get limited results from spends on digital avenues. For instance, if your customers get most of their information from a newspaper, advertise there (or post an insert if you’re on a budget).

Once you’ve established that Online is the right vehicle for you, here’s how you can go about it.

The digital modes of communication available at your disposal include:

  1. Email
  2. Mobile
  3. Social
  4. Web

Each of these modes may exhibit dimensions of Own, Rented and Bought.

For example, Own Email means email ids of your own customers and prospects (filling your lead forms), whereas Rented Email refers to email campaigns you can run on other databases (if you have the permission to reach them). Similarly, Own Social means your very own Facebook fans or Twitter followers, whereas Bought Social includes paid advertising on Facebook.

Don’t try to be everywhere at once. Instead, choose one or two modes that you think you can manage well, and run carefully-thought experiments on them. Think of the metrics you want to focus on, so you can capture relevant data from day one. Before you begin spending, you should have some sense of what success (or failure) will look like for your promotion or lead generation exercise. Rinse and repeat for every new mode of promotion.

If all this is too overwhelming, or you simply don’t have the resources for it, hire a professional who understands this space and the objectives your business is trying to achieve.

A word of caution: It helps to have a sense of how your suppliers’ business model works. e.g. If your agency or platform of choice makes money based on the throughput of emails on your behalf, it may put a premium on increased email deliveries, and less on privacy, customer engagement, efficiencies, etc.

Remember, the mode you choose to promote your product or service on, should depend on your understanding of the target customer behavior. As always, go where your customers are. And speak with them in a language they follow…

Real engagement is built brick-by-brick with each honest interaction – not through a spray-and-pray campaign.

The Disconnected Truth

We’re all familiar with the term brick-and-mortar, and its new-age avatar: click-and-mortar. The Internet has been around for decades. Search queries run in billions per day. And, most of carry a device in our pocket that is more powerful in computing power & functionality than the one used to send man to the moon!

And yet, for all the interconnectedness that Technology offers, in many ways we have merely scratched the surface.

The truth is, there is a significant gap between how a brand is experienced online versus how it behaves offline. It’s not enough to have a simple & elegant website, if your mobile app is clunky or non-existent. It’s not enough to have a state-of-the-art digital experience, if your offline channels are not in sync. It’s not enough to reward new customers, but not retain and delight the ones who have been loyal to you through the years.

And, it’s not just the “brand” – service levels vary widely too, further impacting how we perceive the brand. As a customer, your moment-of-truth in a specific branch outlet may be vastly different from other outlets, and may be completely out of sync with what you experienced on their website or mobile app or their twitter account.

If you spend hours on the website of your favorite electronics store, and then walk into its nearest outlet, is it unreasonable to expect that the store “recognizes” you and tries to cater to what you need, instead of you defining your need all over again?

Which experience is more accurate? Which one should you rely on? The answers are not easy, but the questions are certainly worth pondering.

If a business has to succeed, it must take into account all the ways in which it interacts with its customers, and strive for a consistent “customer experience” across these spaces. After all, User Experience is not how the Technology behaves, it’s how the customer experiences it. In the immortal words of Steve Jobs, “You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.”

World’s Biggest Challenge – a brilliant, new startup – is attempting to solve what it calls “the world’s biggest challenge”!

Frustrated by the media?  Disillusioned by our seeming inability to come to grips with difficult issues?  Us too.  We think improving the credibility of the information we encounter is key to solving this problem.  In fact, we think it’s humanity’s biggest challenge. will be a distributed, open-source platform for the collaborative evaluation of information. It will enable sentence-level critique of written words combined with a sophisticated yet easy-to-use model of community peer-review. It will work wherever you are – as an overlay on top of news, blogs, scientific articles, books, terms of service, ballot initiatives, legislation and regulations, software code and more – without requiring participation of the underlying site is a non-profit effort built on strong principles, and a clear vision of what it wants to achieve.  When I first discovered it via Twitter, I was stunned by its clarity on the subject, from the concept video by its founder – Dan Whaley – to the FAQs that ask hard-hitting questions and answer them.

The project has been self-funded till now, but to deliver a working prototype, has joined hands with Kickstart to help raise $100,000 via crowdsourcing.  Your pledged amount will not be charged unless they hit the goal.

Every dollar counts, and all of us will benefit from it. I’ve pledged my support, and hope you do too.

As on 13 Nov, 2011, has raised over $230k from donors across the world!

Thank You, Steve

On 5 Oct 2011, the world lost a creative genius and visionary – Steve Jobs.

Steve was not a spiritual guru or a political leader, but a force to reckon with… someone with both the determination and the talent to change the world.  And, change the world he did. 

Tomes have been written already on the man and his legacy, and a lot more will be said in the years to come.  Sure, he gave the world the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad.  But he did much more than that.  Steve’s work touched millions of lives in more ways that even he could have imagined.  I just wanted to take this opportunity to pen down what he meant for me, and to thank him for the contribution he made to my life…

Thank you, Steve, for teaching us that “Design is how you Think!”

Thank you, Steve, for demonstrating that you can follow your dreams and change the world, without compromising on one or the other.

Thank you, Steve, for proving beyond a doubt that Less is More.

Thank you, Steve, for the learning that we don’t have to choose between Form and Function.

Thank you, Steve, for showing the world that it’s possible to raise the bar so high that you touch the sky.

Thank you, Steve, for having the courage and the conviction to go with your instincts and not ask us – the consumers – what we really wanted.

Thank you, Steve, for making a dent in the Universe…

You will be missed.