Chief Customer Experience Officer

img src: seriousstartups.com

Follow-up to a mini post on a very pleasant customer experience with Bigbasket. I strongly feel that, any company which is interacting with customers on a regular basis, should have a Chief Customer Experience Officer.

Penning down some thoughts on the same below.

  • I did think for a little while, that this should be a major responsibility of the product leader, but on hind-sight, I do not think so. It is a large responsibility on the product leader to think about the customer and evolve the products/services of the company towards that, but there is much more that the product leader does.
  • I strongly believe that, a role focussed solely on the customer is much more beneficial than, it being part of the role, of another executive. It demands and deserves a separate role.
  • The CCXO (sure, it is a four letter acronym, and overlaps the generic CXO, but this is purely hypothetical) should have far ranging powers that span cross-functional domains.
  • The CCXO should be comfortable with tech, marketing, business, field, operations, and most importantly with the consumer landscape.
  • The CCXO should be the person who knows the most about consumer environment, pain points, and behavior.
  • The out reach of the CCXO evolves over time, because the environment, pain points, and behavior evolve over time.
  • The CCXO should have be the voice of the customer and be emboldened enough to argue against any/every other function in the company and fight for them.
  • The CCXO and Product Head should work very closely in planning out current features and future roadmap.
  • CCXO should have his/her own data sets and inferring mechanisms to make sense of the customer base, and impacts being made.
  • CCXO should also work closely with customer support and ensure delight and redressal happens without fuss. Processes and exception mechanisms, and empowerment of the team are important here.
  • End of the day, the CCXO is charged with creating beautiful customer experiences that are worth remembering.

Big Basket – Morning Cheer

img src: livemint

Is Big Basket doing any form of soft skill training to its delivery staff, or was my today morning delivery an exception?  The delivery person smiled a cheerful smile and said Good Morning.

Came in. Stacked the 9 items that I had ordered neatly on the floor. Read it out. Checked it. Collected the cash. Smiled.

And said, “Thank you. I hope you have a great day Sir.”, again with a very genuine smile. 

Wow. That sealed it. It goes to show how such a simple upgrade to the mundane delivery process, can affect the customer, in a good way.  Good going Big Basket. I hope you are doing this as a process.

How many of you would agree that, this should be the differentiator for such experiences?

What are we shipping today?

Ask any of the PMs who have worked with me, they will say that this is my favourite statement. I ask this statement at least once a day to them.

I was talking about this with one of the PMs who works with me, and I thought I would share some of the conversation highlights here.

  • Shipping is the most important outcome that any PM needs to aspire towards, at any given time. The more you ship, the better you are.
  • The primary reason for existence for a PM (in my humble opinion) is to ship. Sure, programmers code. Designers make the product beautiful and usable. Business folks give their requirements. Marketing folks get out the word. Customer support teams are on standby. But what is the use of all of this, if you do not ship. The PM is the glue that enables all of this to come together and ‘happen’.
  • Example of ‘shipping’ being considered a real (and an important) thing — the famous ship-it awards in Microsoft. Every stakeholder who was part of a release used to get a Ship-it award (a tiny trophy kind of thingie). MS folks proudly display these ship-it awards on their desks.
  • A lot of PMs that I know (including yours truly) come into this field from Engineering, Marketing, and various other fields. In most cases, we have boarded this ship, as a leap of faith. As a matter of fact, the best PMs are the ones who learnt on the go. It is incredibly hard to ‘explain’ to someone, or to ‘teach’ someone about ‘PM-ship’ (no puns intended). In these cases, the only way to ward off self-doubt (which is bound to happen) whether you did the right thing — is to ship. You keep shipping. And the spiral is always upward.
  • Shipping creates tangible outcomes. And it reinforces.
  • Ship incrementally. If this is not an option, get your devs to at least commit incrementally.
  • Lastly, you are known by what you ship.

The original conversation was a very free-wheeling conversation during our 1-1. And so, was this recollection of thoughts. The above is in no particular order.

 

(Cover image source)

 

Affiliate Programs in Travel

img src: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1133475

This idea just came fleetingly to me today morning. Large ecommerce companies like Amazon and Flipkart have affiliate programs. You become an affiliate, and the platform lets you create a special URL to advertise products on their platform. You make a sale, and based on the product, and current ‘schemes’, you earn a % of the revenue. This is almost like a micro-store-front.

Large OTAs such as goibibo and yatra have b2b platforms, which they open up to travel agents. They also have APIs which third party platforms can consume and create their own booking interfaces. But these are complicated interfaces. Only a serious large player can invest in these. For instance, in the case of goibibo b2b interface, the travel agent would need to create a “wallet” like interface within goibibo, deposit a certain large amount (depends on the client – but mostly a few lakhs to begin with). Transactions that happen through the travel agent interface (or API) would consume money from the wallet (after deducting the % commission due to the travel agent).

The other class of “agent consumers” are of course, the travel agents who pose as individuals (create regular goibibo accounts) and book through these accounts. These are smaller operators, and tend to do all kinds of circus tricks such as referring their own accounts, playing with the go-cash between the accounts etc. And the OTAs hate these guys. Incentives are given, assuming, these are individual accounts, but they are not.

My question is – why haven’t the OTAs yet brought in the affiliate model for selling flight tickets and hotel rooms yet? This would have two major advantages:

  1. Bring in the above latter set of small scale travel agents to formalize on their transactions. Since they are not a separate class of consumers (affiliate partners), incentives to these guys can be controlled and distinguished from the other individual consumers.
  2. Bring in a whole new set of consumers, multiple thousand micro-store-fronts, who are not really booking tickets, but proliferating links to your deals with their affiliate codes on them, so that they can earn their commission.

The OTAs keep talking about how the online travel agent market has just touched the tip of the iceberg, and how there is a significant majority of our populace who have not even been exposed. This might be one of the ways, by which the net can be widened.

Oyo Airport

img src: https://www.flickr.com/photos/derekskey/7656182704

It has been a while since I wrote a product feature post. A friend and me were having a conversation about the accommodation industry near airports. The Delhi airport has a neat strip of Airport hotels at the AeroCity area – mostly standard chain hotels such as Ibis, Lemon Tree etc. This is not quite true of all metros. Chennai has a couple, but mostly high end. Mumbai is slightly better, but the others just do not cut it. Bangalore has very few.

When it comes to Tier 1 cities, there are at least options in the city, but when it comes to Tier 2 towns, the need for a standardized hotel near the airport is much more. These are places, where the business traveller needs to fly in, stay, finish his work, and fly out, quickly – sometimes the same day.

So, I envisioned a chain like Oyo starting a vertical called Oyo airport. Let me attempt to list down the specific features that such a property should have.

  1. Proximity to the airport. This should be extremely close to the airport. It should be close enough that, at the end of the day, the traveller, having checked out of the Oyo Airport, should be a few minutes away from the airport.
  2. Shuttles to the airport. This is paramount. It should be a brain dead simple thing that the traveller should not even think about. When booking an airport oyo, the traveller should have an affordance to enter his incoming flight number (and outgoing, if he has already a return ticket). Technology should enable the concierge at the airport hotel to send the details of the cab/shuttle/van to the traveller. The same affordance stands for his return trip back to the airport.
  3. Flexible check-in times. People fly in at all kinds of hours. The check-in policy should be 24 hours.
  4. Flexible stay durations. There should be options to be able to book a room for half a day or other intervals. There are many a time, when the traveller would be arriving at a very late night flight. He needs a few hours shut-eye, and a shower, and he would be off for his work. The traveller might not return to his room at all. So why pay for 24 hours.
  5. International flights. Most international flights have long layovers. So the same point as the previous should hold good. Check-in at 11PM and checkout at 4AM. Why would I have to pay for 24 hours. Technology should also be able to help in allocating ground floor rooms for these travellers, so as to not disturb other guests. Room accessibility should also be taken care of, since these travellers would be travelling with large suit cases and bags.
  6. Food. Considering the uniqueness of timings of this kind of a hotel, there should be available a 24 hour cafe – serving light eats at all times, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner at specific times.
  7. Concierge cab services. Given that, folks are flying in, and mostly for business, these travellers would most likely need cab bookings done. An integration with a service like Ola b2b services, to be able to make cab bookings in advance.
  8. Oyo Airport vertical should ideally be in the premium segment, given the fact that, most people staying here are flying in, which is a higher spend demographic.
  9. Tie-ups could be made with airlines for check-in kiosks in the lobby as well.
  10. Tie-ups with flight+hotel deals with LCCs such as Indigo and Spice, could result in very high intent customers, leading to win-win for the airline and the hotel.

Why not Store Trucks?

(image source: http://decisivecravings.com.au/grocery-shopping-for-good/)

The food trucks are slowly showing up on Indian streets. People are opening up to eat gourmet or exotic (or sometimes even normal) street food out of a truck.

There is one thing that I have not seen yet on Indian streets, which I am thinking, might just work. The daily staple/grocery value chain is growing on a fairly healthy rate. The unhealthy or unplanned players have fallen (or falling). The two or three giants are innovating and moving forward.

The value chain started off with hyper-local. Guys like Grofers or Amazon Kirana, take orders from customers, purchase the goods from your local kirana shop and deliver it home. People did warm up to this idea, but was not that wildly successful. Then of course, the concept of Amazon Pantry is slowly taking shape in the country as well. You can buy everything from your tooth paste, to mustard seeds online through either of the big online retailers – the key mindshare is on Amazon and BigBasket now.

My proposal is somewhere in the middle, is where the Indian market place can really boom. This is where you will understand why I mentioned food trucks at the beginning of this article. Why not trucks with store-branded staples strategically positioned at different points. I have seen this with pop-up trucks selling vegetables, but this could very well work for staples as well.

Reasons why this might just work:

  • Online grocery ordering is a very planned activity, where you sit down and think, and look at your pantry, and decide what to top-up for the month. In my personal experience, invariably, every time after I have finished ordering from big basket, I always end up with 2-3 items that I might have missed.
  • There are always staples that might last you until half of next month, and you end up buying more stuff ‘just in case’. “Just-in-time” inventory would be perfect here, but we do not want to do this online thing at the last moment. What if, I do not get the immediate slot. What if, the item I am order is not available in Express delivery (90 min).
  • With the urban household in India, there is a significant population which travels using company provided transportation. A significant portion of this (and the rest of the) population living in housing societies, apartment complexes and the likes.
  • “On your way back from work, please get …..” is a very oft heard phrase in India urbania.
  • Store trucks with the most basic staples such as rice, wheat, lentils, spices, instant foods, would be the right middle point to be able to achieve the above task.

I wonder if BigBasket or Amazon is listening?

The flip side of convenience

(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)
(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)

I had earlier written about how hyperlocal grocery delivery folks were affecting the ‘other folks’ who were actually shopping in the super markets. Some of these ‘delivery’ experts were super aggressive in picking up items before us and were trying to beat the lines etc. So while folks who found it convenient to order through them, there were some inconvenience to the others who actually did shop physically.

While one might think that this is an isolated industry and incident, two similar incidents happened to me recently involving two separate companies/industries.

Food delivery: Last week, I stopped by Taco Bell (Sony world, Koramangala, if you must know), to pick up something on the go. I had ordered from the cashiers. There was hardly any crowd. But I waited for a good 15 minutes, because there were three swiggy orders queued up asynchronously in front of me. Yesterday we went to Anand Sweets (Purani Dilli, Koramangala 5th block, again, if you must know :)). We went to eat in. We had ordered just chaat. The food pick up here is by token. I was token number 52, and the running number was 49. Usually, this would have been about 5 mins, but again, it took me a good 20 minutes. Why? Two swiggy ordes again. And again, because it was delivery, it took time to pack. And to ‘beat’ the minimum order for free delivery threshold, folks typically order more. Boom. Double Whammy.

Radio cabs: Today evening, a radio cab almost ran into me. Why? He was busy trying to talk to a customer on the phone trying to understand where to pick him up, look up the same on his map on the phone app, and steer the dang car. Quite naturally, he was doing all three actions sub-optimally.

So now what? Now I am not being the luddite cribbing against technology advances. All I am saying is, are these companies thinking enough about this problem. Should the companies care only about their direct customer satisfaction? Or should they also look at their impact on society, as a bigger picture.

I am sure there are solutions. For the radio cabs problem, this is a solved problem in the US. The geo- problem is solved beautifully there. You call, and the uber is in front of you. No hailing. No telling landmarks. Nothing. I am sure our guys can improve this too.

As for the food delivery problem, one thing that I noticed was that, the guys started preparing the food only after the guy came to the restaurant, while they actually had gotten the order much earlier. Could they do some form of predictive start? I, as a consumer, know where the delivery guy is and how close he is to reaching the restaurant. Can’t swiggy share this out to the restaurant also?

What does everyone think?

Feel the pain – Customer Service Insight

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Some of you guys might know that I have been working in the ecommerce space for the last few months. I work as a product manager in one of the top travel sites in India. One thing that has struck home hard is the importance of effective customer service. Every day, there are a handful of customer experiences that would escalate up to me.

  • Some of these would be customers who have made errors by themselves.
  • Some of them would be UX ambiguities because of which the customers made mistakes.
  • Some of them would be truly bugs in the system.

But at the end of the day, there is one key tenet, that my team and I try to follow. If it has been analyzed as either of the last two buckets – which means, we were responsible, in some way or the other – be it directly or indirectly, we process the customer first, with the least pain as feasible.

We then, go and root cause, and analyze the bug or improve the UX to make it less ambiguous. The customer should never be left hanging. The customer would never have to write back to us (or call us) unnecessarily again and again. Well, some of these happen, but we try really hard to avoid these situations.

Why am I writing this post, out of the blue, now? I had a really painful customer service experience a couple of weeks ago. This was with one of the self drive cab rent companies (yeah, the one with the burgundy cars). Let me tell you the story, and you figure out yourself.

Saturday afternoon: We have this idea to rent an XUV for a ride. I have never driven one, and my six year old also was super excited about this. So we decide to rent one the following day (Sunday) evening. However, instead of booking for Sunday evening, I mistakenly booked for Saturday evening (same day) – entirely my mistake. The pick up was from SonyWorld Signal, Koramangala.

Few minutes later, after I get all the SMS and email confirmations, I realize my mistake. From experience, I know that, calling customer service up is the best way to make amendments.

I call up customer service. The gentleman on the line was very helpful. He said he would definitely be able to move it to the next day. However, he ‘regretfully’ told me that, an XUV was not available in the Koramangala lot, but is available in the Garuda Mall lot. I was ok with it, since it is barely 2-3km from my home. And I thought, that was the end of it.

Sunday afternoon – a few hours before the rental time. I get an SMS stating that my XUV was ready at the garuda mall lot, and is waiting for me. I was, ofcourse, super excited.

We drove down to the Garuda mall basement. The attendant over there saw my SMS, which even had the vehicle number, and ‘regretfully’ said that, the booking does not show in his ‘app’. He added for good measure, that the vehicle number mentioned did not even belong to his lot.

This was when it struck me to open up the app and check the booking history. And lo, behold, the booking history said – Koramangala lot.

I called up customer support again and explained to the gentleman on the line that I got an SMS for a different lot, and the app says a different one, and the attendant says he cannot give me a car. He says that he needs to escalate it to a different team and he will call back.

By this time, 20 minutes had rolled past. The wife and kid were uncomfortably seated on 2 moulded plastic chairs in the humid basement of the Garuda mall, with me pacing like a lion which had been fed nothing!

5 minutes past, another gentleman calls me from customer service, and ofcourse, I had to relate the entire story to him. And now comes the exact moment, when ‘he gets my goat’! He tells me, to screenshot the sms and email to him.

I got furious by this time (and ofcourse, I am reminded of all the emails I get from our customer service team about how irate a customer is!), and ask him very politely however, how anyone standing in the middle of a road (or in the middle of a basement ramp, in my case) would be able to screenshot and send something. And what if the customer does not know how to screenshot in an android phone (which I had only learned just recently!).

The person on the other line listened patiently, but had no response. And then he says, a car has been despatched from electronic city lot to here, and should reach me in 5 minutes, and that there were no others cars in the lot.

  1. Unless you are air-lifting the vehicle, there is no way in this city, where you can get a car from Electronic City to Garuda Mall, in 5 minutes. Be practical.
  2. I saw 2 XUVs standing right ahead of me.

I resolutely held on, and asked him to give the phone to his manager. I asked him why he could not transfer one of the XUVs in front of me to my reservation, and change the electronic city XUV to someone else. Here, I was trying to solve a problem for them. Pch.

45 minutes later, I get an XUV, and we ride out, thinking, we will never use this service again. That is the power of ‘bad customer service’.

With that story out of the way, I have reinforced to my team, and to our CRM team, that in no way, should we, as a company, ever put the customer on hold, if there is even a slightest problem from our end. We should resolve the issue at the customer end, move him on, and then later debug, fix, or whatever.

The Supermarket experience

(pic courtesy: yourstory.com)
(pic courtesy: yourstory.com)

Ever since the online grocery guys came into the picture (read as bigbasket in our home), one recurrent topic at my place has been – “would we miss the supermarket experience?” Some common points that would typically come up were:

  • It was a nice once a month outing that we may probably miss out on.
  • We would miss the new product introductions
  • The supermarket experience was always a mind-hack, where you usually went to shop with a 5 item shopping list (which would have totalled to about Rs500), but invariable came out with a cart full of groceries (which would have totalled to Rs1500). This part would not be missed – especially by my wallet.

Yesterday, I went to Nilgiris and Reliance fresh (for two different items that could be got only in these two places), and I realized that, perhaps, I may not even miss the shopping experience. The experience was far from optimal. I noticed that there were more grofers (and other hyperlocal delivery guys) grabbing stuff from the shelves than regular shoppers.

Instead of seeing new products, I saw new hyperlocal delivery company names – I saw a company named Ninjacart. These guys were in a mad rush to get stuff, billed and run out, so that their SLAs with their demanding home delivery customers could be met.

My dad tells me that this is often the story in retail supermarket chains in Chennai too. I do not yet think, this has caught on with larger chains such as SPAR. But it will not be too long, I think. Are we becoming lazier? Are we going to lose out on that one enjoyable outing? I do not know. But time will tell – since we will only know the true picture after the VC funding dries out.

IoT in the Kitchen?

This idea just struck me today evening. This is in close heels to the IoT usage with the gas cylinder post that I had done a few weeks ago.

Problem to be solved: Get an accurate state of groceries that is stocked in the kitchen and potentially order them (online?). This is a very common task that is done on a fairly regular basis in most households (typically on the day when ‘monthly shopping’ is done,

Initial setup/infrastructure:

  • All grocery items to be stocked in identical pre-calibrated clear jars.
  • Item stored in the jar is bar-coded.
  • Threshold for ordering is to be set initially – by a sticker or using marker pens.

kitchen_iot

UX:

  • User invokes a smart phone app.
  • Snaps a picture of the shelf with the stacked clear containers.
  • App automatically figures out the jars with groceries lesser than the threshold set by the user.
  • The details of what is stored in the jar is obtained from the bar code.
  • User either adds the list of items to buy to his to-do list (Google keep? Wunderlist?) – or – directly adds it to his grocery list on the Bigbasket app.

Bigbasket? Zopnow? Anybody listening?