Day 28 – The Fight Continues

It’s only been a few months since I took up a new role at Aegon Life. Just a couple of weeks after joining Aegon, India launched a strict #lockdown protocol in response to the #Covid19 pandemic. Originally meant to last 21 days, it has now been extended in its second phase.

When the office moved to a work-from-home setup, I began a series of emails to address the extended team every week or so. The idea was to engage with them, thank them (and their families) for their continued dedication and hard work, and share with them helpful information from time to time.

Covid-19 is surely making a significant impact on India and the world. And, will probably change dynamics for a long time to come. But it doesn’t have to be all bad news. Does it?

Here are a few links from my emails that you may also find useful…

Lessons from Covid-19 that can make the world a better place:

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/view-lessons-from-covid-19-can-make-the-world-a-better-place/articleshow/75130671.cms

5 critical money lessons taught by the Covid-19 crisis:

https://www.financialexpress.com/money/5-critical-money-lessons-taught-by-the-covid-19-crisis/1934945/

Last week, the world also saw a global virtual concert in support of the WHO that featured performances from multiple celebrities and has raised over $127Mn. You may be able to view it online if you missed the broadcast. Alternatively, try this link:

https://www.voot.com/shows/one-world-together-at-home/1/936639/a-global-salute-to-the-real-heroes/936885

And, 8 Lessons from the Army on Leading Remotely during a Lockdown:

https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/leading-remotely-lessons-from-the-army-120040200301_1.html

We are all learning to navigate the “new normal”. And it’s hard to stay cooped-up inside the house (especially in the India context), deal with daily home needs, and continue to deliver on work.

If you can find some ways to make it easier for the folks you interact with, I’d strongly urge you to do so.

We could all do with a helping hand, especially in times of crisis. Let’s do our best to help out those we can. Shall we?

The Say-Do Gap

Life is filled with examples of the Say-Do gap. And, work life is no different.

Take the case of wanting to improve on existing standards. Most organizations – and senior executives – would ‘say’ that they would like to see an improvement in the status quo. Some would even argue that significant improvement is the only way to beat the competition – after all, change is the only constant. However, most avenues of feedback and improvement are often ignored by well-meaning folks.

No, I am not talking about Customer Satisfaction surveys or NPS numbers here. There is only so much that a ‘formal’ system of feedback from a select set of customers can tell us about how, where and when we need to improve our products and processes.

Let me take a few examples that may seem strange to entertain at first…

  1. Subtraction

    Take any business conference you’ve attended in the past few years. Most will hand you a docket at the registration desk that is filled with sponsored content, marketing collateral and white papers on topics of industry relevance. Each item is carefully crafted by Sales and Marketing folks who do this for a living. Yet, at the end of the conference, the tables will be littered with leaflets and brochures that were left behind by the attendees – material that was not relevant enough for them to carry all day, or take back with them.

    Imagine how insightful this information really is – your target audience telling you by the end of the day what doesn’t really work for them! But almost every conference organizer (or client) ignores it.

  2. Addition

    Take the case of the auto accessories industry. We buy cars, and then we buy accessories that fill the gaps that the new vehicle didn’t already address. Nowhere is it more apparent than in India which is famous for its jugaad approach.

    The accessories industry fills these voids on many different levels, from basic elements like floor lamination (hygiene in monsoon-affected markets) and leather-like seat covers to luxury elements like parking cameras and Android Auto enabled touchscreen infotainment systems. In each of these examples, either the equivalent does not exist with the original dealer, or is only offered as a bundle when you buy the next variant, or is available at a price point that is unacceptable to the customer.

    Each element is an example of what the customer really wants – and is willing to pay for it, if the price is right. But, almost every auto manufacturer (or dealer) ignores it.

What is ironic is that, in both these examples, the enterprise in question spends a considerable amount of resources in collecting ‘Customer Feedback’ through formal systems that hardly ever yield such insights.

As I said before, Life is filled with examples of the Say-Do gap. If you really want to do something about improvement, there is plenty of opportunity all around us… All we need is to open our eyes and minds.

Balance is the Key

Matt Watkinson seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest on LinkedIn recently when he posted…

“No business should be customer-centric.”

He did attempt to clarify his position with a more detailed explanation, but it seemed to have struck a raw nerve in many that probably spent a good part of their lives in the pursuit of Customer Centricity.

Here’s what Matt meant (in his own words)…

The term implies that the customer is at the center — the focal point of decision-making — and by virtue of that fact, other things are orbital or of lesser importance. 

Imagine an F1 team saying they are engine-centric, tyre-centric, driver-centric, or aerodynamics-centric. They’d never win because the real challenge is combining these elements into a single package. Great engine and bad tyres? Back of the grid for you.

I couldn’t agree more.

Sure, there are many who would argue that Matt’s post is clickbaity or that he is being semantic. After all, every organisation prioritises different aspects at different points in time. But, I’ve also seen many organisations just pay lip-service to being customer-centric (or -focused, or -obsessed) without really tackling the problem at the grassroots level. So, maybe, we do need to examine the semantics a bit more closely.

By and large, if you were building products or services in isolation (of customer needs), it would do you a whole lot of good if you focused on your customer, and not on the highest paid person’s opinions (inside your organisation!).

That said, CX (or Customer Centricity) is a tool at your disposal – to be used appropriately, and in relevant situations. It can address specific problems, but is not a cure-all.

There are many, many moving parts to running (and scaling up) a successful enterprise. Employees, Products, Revenues, Costs, Profits – all need to work in harmony to make music. I would submit that a good business leader’s role is to conduct the orchestra in such a way that the result is a great business (not cacophony).

As with most things in Life, balance is the key.