Inefficiencies are pardoned. Scarcity is not.
Some time back, a chief strategy officer of an Indian conglomerate told me that this organization hates the word ‘innovation’. I was surprised, naturally. He said, “Our Sethji (owner of the company) says, what is the need to be first? Always stay second but play it up on scale. Let the market leader do all the hard work of way-finding. You just follow that but on a super large scale.” As a practitioner of innovation and leading a Design led innovation company, I was aghast at hearing this. But I have an edit on that view now.
Those days investors used to ask the aspiring startups one golden question — “Has this model been tried somewhere”? If the answer was yes, and the scale was visible, the funding was assured. Untried, innovative, risky models usually did not find any favour. Flipkart onwards tens of startups which had an amazing run on the investors money, were primarily based on a tried and tested western model of services, coated with Indian colors and scale.
Change from physical to digital was so big a leap that customers usually lapped up whatever came their way first — Flipkart or Makemytrip or Bookmyshow whatever, without really looking for optimal quality in delivery.
Designers in the design schools were taught the essentials of designing for optimising the experience to the last detail which had its own trajectory and time. But the rate of change of market realities was much faster than what academia was oriented towards.
As recently as this month of lockdown, we all heard market lifting news of Facebook investing in the giant startup Reliance Jio — $5.7 billion dollars for a 9.99% stake. ~5 year initiative within the conglomerate now boasts of a customer base of 370 million (while India’s population is close to 1.38 billion and 1.3 billion of them have a mobile phone). So nearly 30% of India is commanded by Jio services. Reliance Jio was launched with a force of CHEAP and SCALE unprecedented, free sims, unlimited talk time promise along with a couple of gigabytes of free data per day on a 4G network. This was at the time when other mobile telecom companies were earning money out of the talk-time and the majority of subscribers were still using 2G. Recently, Jio broadband services have been making rounds with a lot of promise. My father installed Reliance Jio broadband at his residence in a tier-3 city in Rajasthan on my insistence and struggled with the installation for several days due to various anomalies in the promise and delivery. And this is not an isolated case. Similar was the experience long back when we all subscribed to Reliance CDMA phones (now known as Reliance Communications, part of ADAG), where customer services were unheard of. As Indians, we keep using IRCTC (railways), most banking websites in India, government of India’s various websites (taxes & compliance), municipal services online etc. with substandard UX and little to complain about. Shear availability of these online services to a common man in India, is a bliss, much less to talk about the UX.
Then I came across Kevin Kelly’s 12 rules for the network economy (dated but relevant still). Amongst others, there is an interesting one — Rule of Inefficiencies, which says that fortunes are made by training machines/systems to be ever more efficient. However, there is yet far greater wealth to be had by unleashing the inefficient discovery and creation of new opportunities. It is a telling insight into how the new age economies work where new tech and new business models break in everyday. Another rule in the same writeup by Kevin Kelly is the Rule of Plenitude — make things abundant and cheap. The new age economy is less about scarcity and premium. Reliance did this to internet data effectively.
Opportunity, which the Indian market and emerging markets in general offer, are far too lucrative to invest in optimizing the user experience. Early success is all about 3S — speed, scale and surprise. Just take the customers by awe, rather than by delight. Indian entrepreneurs know this intuitively, probably. Copy a formula from the leader, scale-up 10 times, make it super cheap and shut the critic who talks of customer experience as the overall package is still unique l. Because by the time they can parametrise customer experience, either the technology has changed or the business model has shifted or the company has shut down. Customers have very little time to react. This extends to emerging markets beyond India.
Here are some questions:
- How sure are you of improved world-class user-experience after Jio has tied-up with Facebook and planning a mother-of-all aggregator app?
- Have you experienced the power of Rule of Inefficiencies bludgeoning you with substandard experience and you didn’t really have time to react? By and by, you were okay with whatever came on the plate.
- Should we take this as an order of the day in the rapidly evolving technology and business scenario? Should the organisations stop striving for customer experience excellence as a short time goal?
- Is Customer Experience (CX), in the classical sense, dead?