Hi Neeraj, tell us about yourself and your background.
Hi, I am Neeraj. I am a Sr. Program director at PublicisSapient, a one of its kind digital agency that has been leading the charge on digital transformation for almost three decades now. I started working with Sapient, which is now part of the Publicis Groupe way back in 2005 as a Project Manager, and since then have played a variety of roles such as Project Manager, Scrum Master, Delivery lead. My long Journey with PublicisSapient has taken me places (literally!) and I have had the opportunity to work across many of our offices such as London, New York, Toronto, Munich and Melbourne to name a few. Very often, I am asked if my growth has been impacted by staying so long in the same organization. My simple answer to that is if an organization gives you endless opportunities to learn new things, make mistakes, and grow and shape your career in a way you want in an environment which is truly empowering, why would one go elsewhere!
Over these last 16 years, I have had the opportunity to reinvent myself not once but several times. As the organizations evolve, so do the employees, in order to stay relevant. I am currently based in Delhi. I have done my MBA in International Business at IIFT, Delhi. I do believe in having great education. At the same time, it is important to understand that good education will only open the door to the outside world. What you make of it once you are out will shape your career and your life.
How did you start working in the customer experience space?
My entry into the customer experience space was not a planned move, but more about capitalizing on an opportunity that presented itself and where I thought the future lied. This goes back 10 years, when in 2011 I was on the verge of winding a long-standing client engagement with a European client and looking for a new opportunity, which would give my career a much needed fillip. Our business was transforming into an integrated digital agency business, offering enterprise customers the full range of services from creative to marketing to technology, under a single brand, SapientNitro, on the back of a recent acquisition done by the company. Our American business was looking for senior program managers and one such opportunity was to lead the digital transformation program for a large home products retailer, who were looking to modernize and scale up their digital commerce and marketing platform, recognizing the need for digital adoption much earlier than their competitors. In hindsight, this move to Cx and digital space was a pivotal point in my career and one that continues to shape my journey, even today.
Can you tell us a little bit about your current role?
I am part of the Retail industry vertical at PublicisSapient and I am playing the role of a Sr. Program Director. In my role as a Program Director, I get to work with large and small retailers across the globe as we collaborate with them in their digital transformation journeys. In today’s fast changing world, it is imperative for transitional business who have existed in the physical spaces for years, as well as for modern online businesses, to keep pace with the changing technology and customer expectations and adapt their business models to meet the constantly changing needs of the customers. We at PublicisSapient have been advising brands across industries in all aspects of digital transformation. My role as a program lead spans across the entire value chain of digital transformation. In some cases, we are advising clients in devising a digital strategy, whereas in others, we may be their implementation partners, helping them in their CX platform selection and implementation; and in still others, we may be their data platform partner, helping them in building a customer data platform. Each engagement is unique in itself and requires careful adaption of program delivery methodology, in line with the culture of the company and keeping in mind the organization maturity on several levels. My role is to ensure we understand customer objectives from the digital transformation level and are able to partner with them on this journey, creating successes along the way.
How can companies better listen and understand their customer base?
In today’s day and age, it will be an understatement if we only say that Companies ought to listen to their customers and leave it at that. That takes me to a famous saying from Mahatma Gandhi, which was so true back then and continues to be relevant even today, and I quote, “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him”.
The Digital Age has brought about unprecedented change in every aspect of our lives. If we talk about customer behavior and the buying lifecycle, it has undergone a complete change, to what it was a decade back. Not only has technology disrupted the buying lifecycle, but also the products and services. Better designed products have replaced the ones from yesteryears and the tide continues to shift. There are several examples of brands which were superstars in their own times but failed to listen and adapt with the changing customer expectation and fell by the wayside.
A name which comes to the top of the mind is Kodak, a brand that pioneered the digital camera, once considered a darling of customers and revered for its great quality and innovation by several generations of customers, is extinct today.
Technology today offers great solutions to enable companies to listen to their customers and better understand their needs. Whether you are engaging with customers through your own digital properties or those of your partners, it is imperative to analyze customer data not just to understand the buying patterns, but also to understand at a deeper level how the goods and services are living up to the stated and unstated needs of the customers.
Customer services is another critical business area, which is not paid as much attention by companies as other areas such as sales and marketing; however, a carefully crafted customer service strategy can provide invaluable customer information, which no marketing campaign can ever provide.
What are some companies that you think are doing an excellent job at customer experience, and why?
Every industry today is facing disruption from newcomers who are rewriting the rules of the game, and this seems to be the norm across all major markets. If you talk in the India context, two names come to my mind when I think of great customer experience.
- AIRTEL is India’s leading telecommunications brand, which was launched more than two decades ago in 1996, when India started with its Mobile Telephony journey. Over these last 25 years the industry has gone through so much disruption and has seen intense competition from both local and global players. It is nothing short of an extraordinary achievement for a brand to not only survive but also thrive in such an environment. None of this success would have been possible had the company not understood the importance of providing a great customer experience. Leading with digital, Airtel provides a great experience through its fully integrated Mobile App, which allows its customers a single interface to manage multiple services offered by the company from Mobile Phone to Broadband to Cable and Payments. To take this a notch higher irrespective of the channel that you engage with the brand i.e., mobile App, IVR or Desktop you get the same consistent great quality of service. What more can you ask for!
- CRED, a relative newcomer in the digital payments space, has carved a unique place for itself at the intersection of mobile payments and curated retail. Born as a digital native payments provider, the company started offering seamless credit card payment services, capitalizing on the unmet need of customers for faster & secure credit card payments, while offering great rewards and a loyalty program. The gamified customer experience has significantly elevated the appeal of the brand, which is reflected in company’s increasing market share in the payments segment. Here is a unicorn brand, which is leading with customer experience and taking it to new heights.
Many companies are currently undergoing digital transformation processes – what are your tips on a successful digital transformation?
Yes, every company today is undergoing a digital transformation and certainly needs to. It is no longer a choice, but an imperative, if you wish to thrive in this digital age.
However, given the magnitude and speed of change that we are seeing today, it is important that one develops a thoughtful digital strategy to deal with it, rather than responding with stop gap and Band-Aid approaches which may be faster to implement, but are unlikely to deliver on a company’s long-term objectives. For every successful digital transformation, there are ten we can find around us which did not deliver on the commitments made. Therefore, it becomes extremely important that companies and brands tread with caution.
Here are three foundational pillars of a successful digital transformation that will make sure that you are moving in the right direction.
- Establishing Clear Goals and Gaining Stakeholder Alignment – If there was to be one reason why most transformations fail, this would be it. We have seen most organizations spend way too little time on defining clear objectives of what they are trying to achieve through their digital initiatives. Different stakeholders have completely different and misaligned objectives when asked on how they would define success and in the absence of this alignment, the implementation partners are often blamed for a shoddy implementation, thus missing an invaluable opportunity for improving the business performance.
- Breaking Organizational Silos with a Customer-first Approach – Existing organizational culture is the next important hurdle that needs to be navigated carefully when one embarks on a journey of digital transformation. When we put the customer at the center, business functions need to be re-imagined and organization structures need to be redesigned to better align to the digital ecosystem. This can put immense strain on existing power dynamics. The organization culture will need to adapt to this new normal and top Management needs to lead the way.
- Embracing Agility Over Perfection – Many organizations are resistant to change. Additionally, many have established elaborate change management and risk management procedures. While these processes served them well in the past, in today’s uncertain, ambiguous, and fast changing world a new rulebook has emerged, where agility holds the key over perfection, and failing fast is the new normal.
What are some CX solutions or tools that you’re keeping your eyes on right now?
The technology is changing so fast that it is becoming increasingly difficult even for technologists to keep pace with the rate of change. Newer technologies are emerging each year, which offer better solutions to existing problems. However, given the rate of change, one also needs to watch out for technologies that do not provide real value and are built on more hype than substance.
Having said that, there are a lot of promising tools and applications in the CX space that are pushing the boundary on innovation. Coveo & Salesforce are two companies to watch out for in this space. Coveo through its AI & ML enabled Enterprise Search, Analytics and Recommendations offerings is leading the way in these segments and in a short span of just over 15 years has established a market leading reputation with leading retail brands relying on their solutions. Salesforce is another great company with a host of great solutions in the CX space. From eCommerce platforms to Digital marketing, Analytics & Data platforms, their arsenal of solutions seems to grow leaps and bounds with each passing year.
Did you read any interesting books this past summer that you’d like to recommend?
Yes, certainly. I enjoy reading biographies and memoirs immensely. Two books that I read last year and would strongly recommend to readers out there looking for inspiration, are:
A Promised Land by Barack Obama. Political memoirs can often be boring and present a lopsided view of the world, primarily from the point of view of the writer. However, this one stands out from the rest in several areas. The president opens up about his life from early childhood days to his growing up years, and his career in politics as a state senator to a congressional representative and finally being elected to the most powerful job in the world. The book is a very honest account into the life and happenings of an American president, and not only does it provide insights into the role of an American president, but also highlights the moral and ethical dilemmas involved in decision-making and the realities of a deeply divided nation.
Unfinished by Priyanka Chopra Jonas. Rarely do you come across individuals who are not only good at what they do but also have an unmatched the ability to tell a tale. Priyanka is one such individual. Having been an ardent admirer of Priyanka as an actor and having seen her evolution from a Model to an Indian actor to a talented singer and taking on the big bad world of American Soap Opera, I could not keep myself away from grabbing the book as soon as it came out. I am glad I did. This book is an eye-opener for many of us who may have preconceived notions around what is or is not possible in several areas of life. Priyanka’s life and journey is living proof that the world can be your oyster, if you have the belief and the courage to make it happen.
What is your favorite CX metric?
My all-time favorite CX metric is the Conversion rate. While all other metrics will give you valuable insights into what is or isn’t working for your brand or your organization, the conversion rate is your ultimate litmus test, whether your digital strategy is working or not. It is the ultimate goal of all marketing efforts to see an increase in conversion. If that is happening for you in a sustainable fashion, you can take pride in the fact that digital transformation is indeed working for you. As the old saying goes, the proof of pudding is in the eating!