When I sat down to pen my thoughts on the status of the burgeoning Rs.85,000 crore ($19 billion) Business Process Outsourcing industry (loosely referred to as BPO, Call Centers, ITeS and now BPM), I was confident that I would be able to complete my 800-word comment well before the deadline.
I was dedicated to the job, but sadly my day flew past with only a few lines to show. It wasn’t the lack of time for sure, but for a series of interruptions from pesky strangers wanting to help me navigate my life a little better:
* I got a call from an international roaming phone service provider asking if I had finalized my plans for travel aboard;
* And then popped an email from an auto major inviting me to visit their dealership to experience the new car range;
* A few hours later I was rudely woken up from my weekend siesta by a caller selling an attractive health insurance package;
* The cake went to a grumpy telecom techie wanting to determine the exact nature of the complaint I had logged in on the PSUs online fault repair service.
My day would have been more productive if the roaming service provider had empathised with my feedback about a previous unhappy experience: the health insurer knew that his company had refused to insure me because of my special medical condition; the car salesman’s tablet reminded him that I had already given advance for the car; and the grumpy techie from telecom service provider was trained to read the details in the online complaint.
I know that I was not singled out for this especially nasty experience. Of late, instead of being rude to the tele-callers or the e-mail pushers I just hang up as I know that they are making a living by hustling the harried consumers and cold prospects in an effort to own goods and services a few could dream of in their growing up years.
Instead I hold marketers – from Indian FMCG companies, white good makers, utility companies, e-governance services et all – guilty of pushing their teams to adopt this “hit and sell” approach.
As part of a growing economy the focus of Indian marketers was to sell. India offered them far too many takers for too few goods. From HMT watches to kerosene, from milk to text books, from Bajaj scooters to Janata stoves to Janata dhotis, the list spilled the whole nine yards.
The obsessive focus on selling, called customer acquisition in the teak panelled board rooms, has continued even in the post-reforms era. Today times have changed. The customer has a choice and the concept of brand loyalty is becoming all too fragile. Marketers can ill-afford to live in the short-sighted make-believe world that has a huge untapped market waiting to be “sold to”.
Nearly 90 percent of Indians who needed a mobile phone and could afford one have bought one. The next level of growth will be spurred only by superior customer experience. Marketers must realize that superior customer experience alone can lead to customer retention, repeat purchase and higher consumption.
The 16th annual global CEO survey 2013 by consultancy firm PriceWaterhouse Coopers among 1330 CEOs in 68 countries brought out customer experience enhancement among the Top 3 priority areas – something that never featured among Top 3 priorities in the previous 15 annual surveys.
A deeper look at marketing budgets will show allocation skewed heavily in favour of customer acquisition. Customer retention, like a foot note, gets only 2-3 per cent of the overall marketing spend.
A change is on the horizon with companies beginning to step up spends on customer retention to 5-8 percent using it for multiple services like analytics and social media tools.
They are engaging the BPO industry, as the belief now is that a customer’s talk to a call centre provides valuable feedback on less than happy customer experience. One Indian company Airtel, recognised this almost a decade back and chose to outsource their call centre business in a Rs.1,000 crore deal between four BPO players in 2004-05.
However, most of the other Indian CEOs have failed to tap this resource – “back office of the world” – to listen to customer chatter and improve customer retention.
The Indian BPO industry, responsible for order fulfillment, customer service, technical support, claim settlement and complaint resolution, has nearly quadrupled from Rs. 20,000 crore in 2004-05 to an estimated Rs.85,000 crore in 2012-13, mainly on export business. The share of domestic BPO business still hovers at less than one-sixth.
Those domestic companies that have outsourced their work to BPO centres – mobile phone service providers (50 percent), banks and financial services companies (35 percent) and the rest 15 percent – admit the dramatic change in their view of the call centres after they discovered critical insights from customer chatter.
A hundred million hassled consumers join me in looking forward to the day when companies really listen to what the customer is saying and their experience turns from pain to pleasure.
(Sanjiv Kataria, who served as Brand Custodian of two large IT services brands, can be reached at Sanjiv.firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Daily News Post India(tdnpost)