Enterprise Ethos: Your secret ingredient for superior customer engagement

Great customer service is essentially the result of an attitude towards the customer. Everything else only enables

Jaisundar Venkat
Updated: Dec 2, 2015 02:40:00 PM UTC

A process professional with nearly 20 years’ experience in delivering business technology solutions to organizations, Jaisundar Venkat is Consulting Partner at Wipro Technologies where he leads Business Process Management (BPM) consulting. In this role, he helps global companies achieve benefits of BPM by empowering business through IT. Starting off with consultative selling of MRP II in India (yes, consultative selling of MRP II!) in the 90’s, Jaisundar has worn the dual hat of business and technology consulting in areas including ERP, SFA, CRM, Self Service, Online Payments, SCM and Corporate Performance Management. He has worked closely with large Indian firms formulating strategies for Sales Management, Field Service, Revenue and Corporate Performance Management. Jaisundar’s personal crusade for ‘applied technology’ – getting IT to deliver true value – led him to Process Management during the early 2000s and he has since been a self-confessed fanatic of BPM. He is recognized as a thought leader and industry influencer in business technology, specifically BPM. Jaisundar is active on twitter on topics related to BPM, Digital & Big Data and you can find him @bouncingthots He also writes for several online publications and at his own blog site, Bouncing Thoughts The views expressed in these blog posts do not reflect those of his employer.

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“Enterprise ethos” – a collective attitude towards the customer, a culture that permeates an entire organisation where every employee is eager to go the extra mile in winning over the customer

Image: Shutterstock

Nothing can make a person wince as much as a hungry South Indian who is served hard Idlis for breakfast.

One morning, few weeks ago in Delhi, I was that proverbial hungry South Indian wincing over one such a plate of sheer horror. My body shook. Sweat formed on my forehead. Dark clouds seemed to be forming over my head and the day instantly looked pretty gloomy.

Now, a seasoned South Indian does not lose his calm in testing moments like these. He always gets up, thumps his chest, and pushes forward. He knows how to adapt. And magically my S.Indian instinct kicked in and I swung into action. It was indeed time to dust the sand off the knees, take charge, adapt and march forward. So I had a sip of the filter coffee, took a deep breath to regain my composure and proceeded to consider the enormity of the situation objectively. In a matter of seconds, my mind was made up.

I rose from the table pushing the chair back, walked straight to the ‘live counter’ and looked right into the chef’s eyes with an intensity I did not know I could muster. He looked back at me, slightly uncertain.

I cleared my throat, holding steady with that gaze. I had made up my mind and was about to let him know that in no uncertain terms.

“Masala Dosa” I said. “One Masala Dosa, please” I said, maintaining eye contact and not for once blinking.

“Sure, sir” said the chef with a disarming warm smile.

“Please make it soft – I don’t fancy the crispy type”

“Yes sir” he said.

Having swiftly dealt with one of life’s ugly blows, I came back to my table satisfied with myself, yet apprehensive about the Dosa. In a few minutes the Dosa arrived. It turned out to be just perfect for my liking. In fact it was so delicious, that it took my mind off the anguish over hard Idlis.

Just as I finished my Dosa, the chef walked up and enquired if I liked it.

“Yes, I did. It was just right. Very delicious, thank you”

“Did you like the rest of the menu as much too?”

At this point, I just had to let it out. “Well, no, the Idlis were hard”

“I am sorry to hear that. I will ensure they are soft tomorrow”

“Thanks but I am leaving today to Mumbai”

“Oh. Ok. Give me a moment sir” It was clear he had hoped to see me the next morning.

A few minutes later, I get this.

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Almost instantly and involuntarily, the indignation and resentment over hard idlis seemed like a non-issue. I became less judgemental. Such things happen, no? Hard idlis occur once in a while even in the kitchens of the best South Indian idli specialist moms, don’t they?

Customer delight is seldom the direct result of a standard plan
The service industry, of course, tends to have several such examples where a poor customer experience is turned around dramatically into delightful and memorable experiences for customers.

This is probably because important customer touch points in the service industry are typically face-to-face and any mismatch with customer expectations tends to be fairly more apparent than in other industries. In my case, the approach of the chef in handling my feedback – both good and bad – told me that the he valued my comments on the dosa and also understood my indignation and that he ‘got it’ about the blasphemy of hard idlis. To me, that was more significant than my getting a free cake.

However, almost any industry could have such opportunities to spot such a moment of truth and fix it, face-to-face or not.

Many firms world over have tried to institutionalise superior customer management by defining processes and engagement frameworks to standardise customer handling so that they can provide an assured excellence in serving the customer.

The truth though is all that can only ensure that you satisfy the customer. Delighting customers is a different game and fancy tools, processes and statements of procedures become severely insufficient.

So what does it take to delight customers?

More often than not, it boils down to initiatives triggered by individuals to go that extra mile. It calls for a perceptive agent or a customer-facing employee to spot that opportune moment or that hint of discord – be it over the phone or over other channels, in fact any customer touch point – and do something about it. All the technology, analytics engines, workflows and SOPs come next.

And so here is the real challenge: How easy is it to institutionalise that?

The answer is: It is difficult, but possible through a culture, through a higher plane of involvement with the customer’s journey, by establishing an ethos towards customers. An ethos, that runs through the entire organisation.

Enterprise ethos – an attitude that will pay off big
One definition of a customer that was made over 60 years ago, much before globalisation or competition actually became the buzzwords they are today, is by far one of my favourites. It is a fairly well known quote from Mahatma Gandhi and here is how he defined the customer:

"A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption on our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider on our business. He is a part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so."

The idea I like about this quote is that it not just promotes the idea of customer centricity, but also suggests that any firm – small or big – has to wear a certain temperament and attitude towards the customer in order to be successful in business.

I like to call that temperament “enterprise ethos” – a collective attitude towards the customer, a culture that permeates an entire organisation where every employee is eager to go the extra mile in winning over the customer – just as that chef did with that special gesture towards me in Delhi.

When you have established that ethos, it seeps into the collective consciousness of not just every customer-facing agent but other employees as well, and fosters a culture that ignites a collective force of customer centricity in every task, and every activity that employees do day-in and day-out.

The result? Every interaction your customer has with anyone in the firm will naturally be one that has all the necessary conditions to create a sense of delight.

Tools and technology matter too
Enterprise ethos is like the skill of a synchronised swimming team. It is an exemplary state where every employee is joined and aligned by a common agenda and a common purpose – one that revolves around serving and delighting the customer. At the same time, there is no question about the value of process and tools and technology to allow their skills come about alive - those are really like the water in the pool that the swimmers need to have their skill play out.

The bottom line is that customer satisfaction comes from doing a job – a job that can be enhanced by data insight, tools, processes, SOPs and incentives. Delivering delight needs all that, and, additionally that element of attitude, of ethos – and that is really what defines every customer relationship in qualitative terms.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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