I, as a kid, always used to get excited about what people mean when they talk to you. What’s going on in everyone’s head when they’re having a conversation with you? That excited me the most about the kind of jobs that I have taken up.
I was always looking for that one thing I could do differently and which I could create. I will never forget this experience factor. It then got me to the future-proofing of Digital Transformation. Every organization and every industry is talking about Digital Transformation because Covid-19 has done many things to us.
It gave us a fantastic opportunity to work from home. However, it also put a lot of pressure on traditional businesses to transform quickly, to keep up with what was happening in the business space.
Let’s imagine this is; this is also by the way what my grandma used to tell me. When it was 1930, and I had to go shopping, a warm guy would sit next to the counter, ask me what I wanted, talk to me, have a conversation with me about my buying behavior, and then give me the product I wanted to buy. All of this is happening next door.
It is called mom-and-pop stores today. It still exists in many countries. In fact, these kinds of stores are coming back in Singapore, as with Covid, we could only travel a little. So, social distancing rocks. Mom-and-pop stores are coming up everywhere. Then what changed, and what will change in 2030?
I’m a big fan of Star Trek. I have watched every possible series, and everything you see is bound to come true. If you have seen the first Star Trek of 1967, the first time travel they refer to is 2024.
It’s fascinating. I saw that, thinking that 2024 is right around the corner. How much of that has already come true? What else is going to happen? The newer Star Treks are already referring to things where you have a smart home that predicts your behavior.
They’re predicting the behavior and helping you make the decisions fast. Is anyone already using smart voice assistants at home at this time? You’re probably already having the conversation with your voice assistant at home and asking, “Hey, Google” or “Hey Alexa, just put this on my shopping list.” And then the voice assistant asks you, “Last time you did this, do you want me to do this as well?.”
That’s already happening, even when we say the real deal will happen in 2030. The question we have to keep asking ourselves is, how ready are we for this transformation?
Many organizations are still operating traditionally, the ones that got hit the worst by Covid 19. If I have to tell you one story, which stayed constant, it is a handed-down story from my grandparents to my parents to me. The moment of truth is still the same. The moment of truth was, in 1930, when my grandma went shopping, the storekeeper was doing precisely this. They would ask you what you were looking for, and then they would ensure that whatever experience you’re delivered, they keep checking in with you. How do you feel about it? If you’re feeling good, are you telling your neighbor?
Today, we do the same thing. We call it word of mouth, influence marketing, and online reputation management, but it’s still the same. It’s precisely the same thing that we ask you to do. The moral of the story for me was that 100 years ago, the hero of the story was the customer.
The hero of the story is still the same. So if the story’s hero has not changed, how can we not put the customer at the story’s center?
I am a customer-centric evangelist. Without a customer, no business can survive. If you want to future-proof yourself, whether digital transformation or a business, the only way is to be customer-centric. Ask the customer what they want, deliver against their pain point, and you’ll be okay.
If I had to sum this up in a couple of things, I genuinely believe and promote this — value exchange was necessary then. Whether we call it value for money or value for experience, the outcome that we are looking for is at the center of the story.
Personalized — if I am giving data, which will become even more critical with the zero-biggest data policy that is all coming up. In that case, the customer will have the right to stop the organization’s access to my data. As a customer, I can prevent consumer brands from accessing my data. However, with that kind of policy, personalized services will become the center because if they don’t, consumers will have no reason to give you their data. If you can’t deliver personalized experiences, there is no reason for customers to provide you with their data.
The other factor is convenience. How are you making the consumers’ life convenient and easy? If you can’t, you’re just another product, and there will be no loyalty. So, if you want to stand out, put the customer at the center of the story. Understand them and then start answering these questions, and you’re good to proceed.
Here are three steps I keep in mind when doing these exercises: start by asking the customer. I’m shameless enough to go and sit on the other side of the counter, even at the billing desk if required, at the customer service desk, or the concierge. I converse with the consumer to understand what’s happening in their head.
What is the pain point that they’re trying to solve? I love doing that because I learn much more when engaging with them. Not just about what they’re saying but what they’re not saying. More often than ever, consumers don’t understand what they’re looking for, so we need to help them express themselves better.
Of course, then the service. Don’t just deliver a product; the era of product is over. We have to provide a good service. Every product solves a pain point – the experience of the service the consumer is searching for. Focus on that and make that the center of the story again. I have nothing against the CIOs, but technology is overrated.
Technology is there, and MoEngage, nothing against you. I love you guys and our work together, but Tech is overrated. Technology is here to solve a problem. Look at everything MoEngage is trying to solve. They’re looking at our pain points and trying to solve them, and that’s what technology has to do.
It has to enable the experience, and we must understand the pain points to convert it into an experience and find the right technologies to help us deliver those experiences. These are some of my favorite stories. I only have the time to go through each of them, but this presentation will be available if you want to take it from the team and go through it. The links are already in there.
The only one I would like to talk about, which is very inspiring for me, is the first one. A rikshaw-wala who was invited for a TedTalk. He’s called Annadurai, and his beautiful story is about how he converted his rickshaw into an experience center.
Many people are talking about how it is fantastic, how simple things matter, and how his entire rickshaw is now an experience center. The one question I get a lot is: How can my organization take this approach?
Three-step approach. Listen and ask, and you shall receive, which means listen to your consumers. Make the organization aware of it and see how they’re responding. The biggest challenge with this kind of thing is taking small steps.
Most organizations respond with – “I need a lot of money for this.” Money is never a problem if you start small. The startups have taught us this very well. It isn’t about money; it’s about the idea. If you have a great idea, you can figure out how to start small and scale from there. So believe in testing and learning.
Start small, and go from there. Most importantly, this journey is not easy. Just like our life, there are going to be enough failures. Be kind to yourself and the organization. Create a culture around yourself so that your team, your people, your bosses, and everybody understands that you will test and learn from failure.
I would call DBS here because DBS runs an Annual Failure Award, which is fascinating. I’ve been diving into that. We also need to start embracing that. We embrace failure because with failures, we now know what not to do. Otherwise, we’ll still keep making the same mistakes again and again.
Lastly, I often get asked how I stay relevant to this approach. How do I ensure I am the kind of person my organization seeks to set up the same three rules?
Keep the right attitude. It is about taking small steps by self-learning. I do a lot of self-learning, I go out and shamelessly ask my boss, I want to learn this. Please see if you can fund it. If they can’t, I try to figure out other ways.
My journey has been full of failures and more so than successes. However, those failures help me understand how to get it right. Even the Einstein story is all about that, where he had 9,999 failures before he got the 10,000th one right.
Embrace failure and ensure that you start small, even for yourself. Everything is a milestone approach. Listen to yourself. Most importantly, understand your passion point and how you want to bring yourself with this journey. This is again, bringing you, the customer, to the center of your story.