Henry Ford famously said, “The customer pays the wages.” What he ultimately meant was that customers’ experiences determine whether or not an organization stays in business. When I look back, I observed that the importance of customer satisfaction was a hot business topic in the 1980s, as it was considered the best window into loyalty. However, as I progressed in multiple roles and positions, I started questioning whether customer satisfaction actually impacts overall performance. I have come to realize that the link between customer satisfaction and higher profits, ROI, or share of market is dubious. In my multiple conversations with various CIOs and employees from across the strata of the industry, I often share my experiences of how by actually owning the challenges and pains of our toughest customers, we very successfully converted them from ‘challenging clients’ to ‘trusted partners’’! Initially, it was as simple as modifying the solution, and try and meet the customer requirements partially. The customer not only provided inputs on the solutions but also gave honest, and at times, unpleasant feedback. It might seem like a very simple step, but, it helped us avoid developing into an organization which could take an easy route out with an appeasing approach. A straight and honest approach, made us not only transparent with the customer, but also strengthened our relationship.
“Employees First” is enmeshed into the very fabric of the being of HCL. Our core values of trust, transparency, and value centricity are entwined into ways of working, which empowers every employee to enable an unforgettable experience for a customer. In fact, I can proudly state the fact that today; most employees would have interesting anecdotes of how employees first approach helped them deliver an unparalleled customer experience.
The best ingredients which build trust are the demonstration of competency and being transparent with customers. The practice of open communication in a business relationship right from the beginning, not only brings out the best in the customer, but also helps us in delivering much beyond the expected. And the effort behind this practice should be doubled during any crises. There is a lot of trust and respect gained out of if transparency and it goes a long way, in keeping the business relationship on firm ground.
In early 2002, when HCL’s Infra division entered global business, customers were aware that we were new to the game, and did not have a track record of handling many global clients. What helped us garner trust was the simple fact that we never hid the fact, that we were new and naïve. On the contrary it helped us position ourselves much better and helped enable a lot of differentiators:
- Our new approach (co-sourcing, discrete out sourcing), gave customer more visibility on operations, previously denied by multinational vendors.
- Our willingness to listen and offer tailor-made services
- The hunger and passion of being an entrepreneur.
Trust and transparency, did not just define a differentiator, but being a core aspect of our culture, it helped in developing a strong bond within every business relationship. This was demonstrated by multiple customers of ours like a leading semiconductor company, a global consumer transaction technologies company which immensely contributed in building our nascent services. While escalations are inevitable, but nothing goes out of control when it is kept in check with trust, and open channels of communication. The increase of our customer portfolio is testimony to the strength demonstrated by this core value.
At HCL, we use the CSAT (Customer SATisfaction) framework to measure customer sentiment and feedback. It covers the complete customer life cycle - from commencing a business, to transition and steady state. The CSAT process enables understanding customer expectations and also gives us insights into the business challenges. It allows us to benchmark performance vis-à-vis competition.
Over the past three years, our CSAT scores have consistently been high, with over 70% responses. We take this not only as a validation of the trust that our customers have reposed in us, but also of our attention to delivering value and focused customer advocacy. At HCL, employee commitment and senior management sponsorship helps drive customer focused programs such as the Customer Advisory Council (CAC), Value Portal, Customer On-boarding, and defines the very birth of Ideapreneurship in our culture.
All of these initiatives serve as multiple channels to build trust, transparency and help in delivering value. The CAC enables to get input and feedback from customer CXOs on key business propositions and plans. The Value Portal helps enable value delivery through continuous improvement and garner business-impacting ideas at operational levels. Our customers are our best partners for growth and competitive advantage, hence we ensure that every new customer is on-boarded with the HCL culture, ways-of-working, and our key solutions and offerings, using our customer on-boarding initiative (COB).
Every year, HCL receives more than 5000 unique feedback. These are analyzed and the engagement teams address all customer inputs, especially those where HCL has missed delivering. All functions collaborate to enable these actions, and most importantly, we keep communicating with the customer.
While what I have discussed is a very outside-in perspective, let us observe how this works from inside-out. It is my belief that entities do not do business, but it is the people-to-people connect that keeps the world thriving. I believe that HCL is one of the very few organizations in the world which provides the right environment for an employee to realize their dreams. The determinations to go beyond the contract and deliver the best possible solutions, these young people are waiting to prove themselves. This empowerment to offer services that are aligned to customers’ expectations is enabled in the various platforms that they use and help in forming lasting customer relationships.
In my tenure, I strongly believe that all long term customer relationships have been built on the basic principles of trust, transparency, staying relevant, and continuous communication and the same is expected from the next generation entering this industry.
Customers are our most important stakeholder. They are why an organization exists and what keeps it going. In order for an organization to achieve long term sustainability, it must build a strong customer focused culture and great customer engagement processes. The result is a highly engaged community of customers with great levels of satisfaction, loyalty, retention and advocacy.
I began my post with my dismay about achieving customer satisfaction, all it means is that HCL has met the key requirements of customers and the customers will probably continue their relationship with us unless something better comes along. Customer satisfaction gets us by, in the short term. Customer engagement is what extends beyond the contract. Achieving customer engagement means an organization has built great relationships that result in committed customers who strongly advocate for our brand and service offering.
Trust, Transparency and Value Centricity helped by Ideapreneurship helps in forming Relationships Beyond the Contract. That is where HCL jumps from mere customer satisfaction to customer engagement, and we become more than just service providers.
This is our differentiator which helps in exceeding customers’ expectations by constantly amazing them.