Changes in Customer Engagement

ciel blog - changing customer experience

Businesses exist because there is someone out there who believes in them and buys their promises. As technology has been transforming our lives, it is bound to impact the way a business communicates its promises to the outside world and engages with it. It was not too long ago that many businesses did not have a website. They relied on yellow pages and word of mouth. Many of them did not have a phone and email for the prospective customers and existing customers to interact with. Currently, a website, social media pages, emails and phones are not enough!

Quick conversation and decision

Customers do not have the time to read descriptive reviews and peruse emails. They need personalized attention and response. Service-providers asking for a turn-around of 24 hours and a week are looked down upon. Until a couple of years ago, customers accepted a complaint number or a ticket number over the phone helpline and waited through the promised turn-around time. Now the customer expects to be recognised by the company as soon as he or she waves at them. Companies have to not only recognise them but extend a warm welcome, anticipate their intention and offer solutions instantaneously. They do not want to talk to helpdesk executives if their problem is going to be just registered. Quick action is essential. Companies have to innovate!

Single window servicing needed

Customers are reaching service-providers on their Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and so on. They might write emails, call on the phone number, enquire with a dealer, discuss with their contacts about the service-provider. The service-provider may be a school. Hospital, grocery store, local government body, broadband provider, washing machine manufacturer, Car Company, software maker or a cloud service provider.

Any of these needs to provide one single window to the outside world for all interactions. Customers should get all the information that they may need, clarify their doubts and get their problems addressed without the need of further follow-ups. Organizations have to be listening across a range of media, connecting the dots seamlessly and responding fast. Customer convenience has to be the passion!

Technology has been evolving. Customer experience cloud solutions are available from a variety of providers. These help companies establish a plethora of communication channels with their customer, communicate to them in a focused manner and seamlessly interact with them. The potential inefficiency of a human in juggling across multiple channels and dealing with a range of issues is being addressed by these new solutions.

Leadership intent

There are hundreds of companies in any industry sector. However, the companies who produce significantly better results than the others have leaders who are committed and passionate about delivering superior experience to their customers. They drive the customer agenda hard within the organization. While recruiting talent for themselves, they look for people who have a customer mind-set. They focus on customers and hence, the internal dialogue in the company prioritises customer needs over the others. The action plans and programmes within the company has a significant component around attracting and retaining a customer. They look at customer life cycle and evolve methods of winning a large share of customers’ wallets.

Customer focus of the leaders results in sustainable practices around product development, customer engagement and operational efficiency; hence, growth in revenues and market share.

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Watch out if you are the boss’s Favorite!

Image result for boss's favorite

We all know, bosses have their favorites. They are human beings and so do the people who work with them. It is natural that the boss likes and trusts someone more than the others. You become first among equals, the go-to-person for prestigious project, a critical decision or a crisis. You enjoy his proximity and often become a part of the inner circle that has the knowledge of classified information. You feel privileged and start enjoying a special status in the team. Is life a bed of roses for you?

Are you able to drive Change programs effectively?

Since you are the go-to-person for your boss, your plate remains full all the time. You are undoubtedly important for your team and the organization. You get to work on challenging assignments and can potentially learn a lot from these assignments. However, there is a catch here!

Problems in the organization are solved not by just one person but by a team and often by a cross-functional team, especially if you are in a role that has a significant strategic bent to it. The boss’s favorite is a spotlight in the organization and is looked upon with a range of emotions such as jealousy and awe. When you are in the situation of getting things done by collaborating with people from other teams, you experience bottlenecks. They do not open up to you; some of them start sabotaging your intent in a stealth mode. You start feeling frustrated and shooting from the shoulder of your boss. It often back-fires especially when you are talking to people from other teams who do not report to your boss.

You are unable to get the things done as per the plan. Often, you do not get the complete picture of the ground reality because people are not forthcoming with you. You are unable to identify the root cause of the problem you are supposed to solve or give those critical inputs to your boss. You fail to deliver the business impact. So, do not oversell your clout! Stay modest and do not take advantage of your special status.

Are you developing your career?

You are protected well by your boss, enjoy a big elbow room in many things related to work and get to solve the meaty challenges. Does that mean that you are developing your capabilities and increasing your worth? Your boss could have a rough patch in your organization and might fall out of the main stream. Your boss might become cold and distant suddenly. The peers of your boss could come to the lime light and might have opportunities which are better for you. But, your deep loyalty to your boss could come on the way of you being trusted by the front-running leaders in the organization. What happens to you in that situation?

Secondly, as you work through the maze of your organization, you being the boss’s favorite tend to be the spokesperson of your boss and his ideas. This happens unconsciously; over a period of time, this leads to you being branded as someone who toes the boss’s line, lacks the depth and confidence to form opinions and speak one’s mind. This kind of an image harms your future prospects and potentially compromises the kind of recommendations that you are likely to get from the others in future.

Each passing year, you must analyze if you are increasing your experience by a year or strengthening your abilities and deepening your expertise. Staying as a sidekick will not necessarily enrich your abilities unless you are delivering on assignments which have increasingly greater impact on your organization. Your title might change and rewards might increase; you might deepen your roots in the organization. However, the most critical factor to analyze is to check if you are producing greater impact each year. If not, you must look out for career options within or outside your current employer!

Are you hungry for approval?

Many a times, we have noticed the school kid in us want to be in the good books of the teacher. We look for the pat on the back, the stars on our books and so on! We want to be the apple of the teacher’s eye. We behave well by following all her instructions and do our best to shine in the tests that she takes. Are we carrying the same to our workplace?

It is important that we introspect and understand who we are. In case, we look for the praise or the abrogation all the time, we fail to stand on our own feet. As a professional aspiring to break into the higher echelons of an organization, it is important that we learn to think independently and present those thoughts firmly. At the same time, we have to learn to stay modest and sensitive so that the bosses do not feel hurt to hear another perspective rather welcome them.

Being the favorite of the boss puts us on a pedestal. However, we must make sure that we are growing well by increasing the business impact that we deliver and build the social equity in the organization at the same time.

Annual Performance Appraisal is Passé

ciel blog - performance appraisal

Organizations all over the world believed that performance appraisal promotes competitiveness, objectivity, transparency and fairness. Over the years in the 90’s and the following decade, organizations invested huge amount of energy in this process right from designing the system, training people to implementing it. Each year, this internal process of the organization consumes a huge amount of energy of the HR team, leadership team and the supervisors. The time of senior folks is significantly higher than that of the juniors and hence, the appraisal process is a huge cost to the organization.

Our workforce has become a lot younger with the entry of millennials and accordingly, the leaders and supervisors have been learning to adapt to the new realities of the workplace. They are learning to offer quick feedback to their teams, positive as well as negative. Given the new developments at workplace and the costly nature of the appraisal process, leaders have started evaluating the returns on the investment on the process. A couple of years ago, large organizations in technology and consulting domains kicked off the revamp.

Let Performance Appraisal happen each day!

Today’s employee looks for fair assessment of the performance output and is open to suggestions for change in his style and behaviours. The supervisor must have the intellectual bandwidth to observe these and the necessary ability to articulate them. And most importantly, these need to be communicated at the appropriate time so that the feedback is received and acted upon. Annual appraisal process creates the setting for a discussion, but one cannot wait for the particular event to offer the feedback. Rather, it has to be a part of day to day work. Organizations must reset the expectations of their workforce to seek feedback and discuss possible changes in behaviour every now and then. Hence, the new normal on performance appraisal makes it an integral part of day to day conversation with the boss.

A typical performance appraisal discussion is a hurriedly-convened meeting by the boss. S/he normally comes ill-prepared for the discussion, offers a few generic inputs to the employee, ticks off a task on the to-do list, finds no time to record the discussions meaningfully and the employee has no means to know what gets recorded on his or her career records. I wonder if this helps the employee in his or her development; if it helps the organization in improving the performance levels at all.

Organizations do well in moving away from the half-yearly or yearly ritual of holding this process all over and spending a huge amount of energy. Rather, make it a day to day practice where the discussion is not limited to the tasks but the process, the behaviours and possible development opportunities. Employees and their supervisors have to learn this new way of engagement.

What about Measurements?

One of the most wasteful activities that happens in Performance Appraisal is to re-certify the goals of the review period and the actual achievements. And of course, many a times, the goals are not set in time and hence, there is a confusion. Sometimes, the goals are revised along the way due to several factors. Who keeps the records and digs into the past to determine the correct figures? With the advent of technology, digitization of work processes is on the rise. Hence, measuring the actuals and keeping a record of the goals is getting easier with each passing day. Organizations need to wake up to this possibility and free the performance discussions from the wastefulness. The discussions have to achieve what they are meant for – recognise the achievements, make the employee feel proud and agree on the opportunities to improve further.

Goal setting process is rigged?

The bosses set stiff targets to stretch their teams and drive higher levels of ambition. Organizations in their zest to be transparent and objective, prescribe performance scores, salary hikes and bonuses linked with achievement of targets. So, employees aggressively push for a low target to maximize their salary hike and bonus. How counter-productive it is for the organization when the negotiation of the target is not around the possibilities of achieving an ambitious goal rather on an individual’s earnings! Annual appraisal process cannot achieve this. The HR fraternity and the business leaders are trying to find a way by which the goal setting process is not rigged, rather is anchored on thinking of possibilities and ambitions.

What about salary hikes and bonuses?

Typically performance appraisal processes end with salary hikes, bonuses, promotions, new roles and goals for the next review period. Since many of these are centred on the appraisee’s personal gains, they hinder an objective discussion on performance. The employee’s mind is fixated on knowing the performance score, salary hike, bonus etc. The days from the start of the appraisal process till the final results are given to the employee are quite busy in water-cooler conversations. The organization loses momentum. Why should there be annual appraisals then?

Employees are quite alright to hear about their performance. However, the method of comparing theirs with the performance of the others in the team brings uncertainties and anxieties in their minds. Hence, organizations are moving away from the method of force-ranking performance levels and fitting the scores into a bell curve.

The new practice is to link Salary hikes, bonuses and promotions with the assessment of the individual’s performance against targets, benchmarks and potential. And appraisal discussion is not a customary annual conversation. It is a part of day to day work where the boss recognizes good deeds one to one as well as out in the open; opportunities for improvement are identified and worked upon as a matter of regular life at work. Let there not be a specific event called annual appraisal discussion.

How important is EQ for career growth?


Organizations get the senior managers to sit together for talent review sessions and decide who goes further. The HR team rolls out the results and managers often are anxious while dishing out the letters one by one. The grapevine keeps churning various theories to explain why someone got a bigger raise or a promotion. Some celebrate openly; some sulk yet put a brave front while the rest openly protest and revolt. Water cooler conversations keep churning out various theories to explain the results.

In any case, there is a certain amount of subjectivity while judging the potential and the future promise. One uses several instruments and methods to make the process objective. However, the common theories which do the rounds as well as the discussions in talent review sessions have many things in common!

They review the outcomes delivered and the behaviours demonstrated by the person. And hence, they decide how the person is likely to behave in future and what value the person brings to the table. Every organization outlines a set of behaviours which are important for them and assess the talent along those aspects. There are a set of capabilities such as applying financial acumen, thinking strategically, making rational decisions, selling, public speaking etc. can be developed with relative ease in comparison with capabilities which are softer in nature.

Softer skills hold the key!

Leaders need to be fearless, adaptable, collaborative; consider the big picture in their day-to-day work; build a culture of excellence. These are examples of softer capabilities which one needs to grow over a period of time. Often we learn these by observing our seniors. Each of these have multiple elements : establishing trust with people, being flexible about one’s ideas, listening to the others, applying intellectual bandwidth and acting with integrity.

This is way different from what we do in the initial part of our careers. We have well-defined tasks to complete, clear methods to carry out the tasks and transparent methods to measure outcomes. We have very limited grey zone. However, as one gathers experience and takes on tasks which are strategic in nature, the unclarity increases and several uncertainties come up. So, it is obvious that one should be able to sail in choppy waters keeping the troop focused on the goals, enthusing them along the journey, monitoring the state of affairs, making course-corrections on an ongoing basis and planning for the future! So, you need a strong emotional quotient.

Patience is a virtue!

Given the times that we live in, all of us get used to quick results. Fast food and quick service restaurant are the order of the day. Round-the-clock television, Internet, Emails, Chat services and Social channels have transformed our lives. We want action and immediate feedback.

Unfortunately, leading a team and learning these skills does not happen this way! Members of a team do not develop trust on their leader based on an email or a video call. Results of the team are observed hourly or daily, but the performance over a period of time determines if the team is doing well. Often many projects take a few weeks, months or at times, quarters to show results. Sparks of brilliance win us applause but they are transient. What matters is steady glow of the lamp! That calls for staying power which is nothing but emotional intelligence!

It is hard work!

Most often what we know about us is way different from what the others know about us. Secondly, there are many aspects of our own personality, knowledge and beliefs which are unknown. So, one has to first invest energies to discover and unravel oneself. We act in a certain manner because we hold certain ideas and philosophies in a certain way. Conflicts in a team take place because we fail to appreciate the perspective of the other.

This is easier said than done. One has to be at it and keep practising the skills of understanding the perspectives of the other, use them while influencing a group’s thinking and resolving conflicts.

All the way up, what matters is Emotional intelligence!

Engaging Millenials at Work


Millenials are the biggest part of the workforce now and this will remain the trend for another decade. Gallup study shows that the millenials are the least engaged with their employers. The attrition rates is higher for them compared to the other categories of employees. And the same trend continues when we compare these against the data a decade ago. Though attrition rate is an outcome of a complex interplay of several factors, we cannot deny the fact that today’s youth have significantly different perspective than what their managers had ten years ago. Needless to say that the managers are at a loss while forming policies which impact the young employees in an organization and implementing them.

What differences?

Firstly, they have not seen a world without computers, telephones, television and real-time communication systems. They are well-informed of various events in the world and have the advantage of forming their own opinions on a wide range of subjects. Secondly, due to the economic development in the most parts of the world, many of them have had the luxury of not struggling for the basic necessities such as food, shelter, basic education and healthcare. Hence, they are able to go beyond fulfilling the basic needs and explore the higher order of social needs. This is giving them the avenues of finding the sense of purpose behind various events around them, be it music, art, sport, governance, technology, environment, ethics, leadership and so on. They are able to develop and apply a moral compass while making a choice. Last but not the least, the social changes such as nuclear families, no siblings, demanding work environments for the parents have delivered their impact as well. Many millenials grew up in a social environment which had high levels of competitiveness, aggressiveness, determination and goal-orientation. All of this shows up at work in the form of hyper-competitiveness, silo-working and need for quick results.

Can you really engage them?

It is a tough ask for the manager to relate to the way of thinking of his or her team members. Most of them know a lot about many things and believe that they know what is the ‘right’ way of being managed. Most of the time, they know what appeals to them and hence, they decide if they want to work just for the financial earnings or they relate to the bigger purpose of the firm and hence, they love going to work each day. Given this context, it is clear that the employee decides the terms of engagement and the manager tries to adapt to the situation and fulfil their needs. It’s Servant leadership by design!

What can work?

Firstly, the leader has to be aware that the bunch of employees is different in terms of knowledge, belief, style and aspirations from what it was ten years ago. They have strong perspectives, immense knowledge and deep beliefs about many things in life. Secondly, she has to discover these beliefs and think how to align with them in full or in parts. Last, but not the least, a workable model has to be worked out so that the outcome at organization level is positive.

What could work well is to create multiple platforms where the employees get to discover and explore the organization severally, discuss openly about the status quo, involve them in crafting the future. It is intent listening, adapting the style, designing the work in such a way that the employees find it interesting as well as inviting enough to particpate in the overall purpose of the organization.

This is not very easy to do; neither it is a common practice for a company with 5000 people to be able to involve all the employees in these discussions, debates and workshops. However, the mould has to break and the new order has to be established!

How important is the Agony Aunt or Agony Uncle at your workplace?


Organizations understand group dynamics and the grapevine. It is natural that there is someone in a group who is popular and the ‘go-to person’ when someone is stressed, unsettled or disturbed. Such Agony aunts or uncles are there in every organization. You see them in action when salary hike letters are given, big bosses visit an office, annual events happen, team meetings take place, business reviews are held and so on. I have noticed, many HR teams do not have clear norms to deal with such dynamic situations at their workplace.

Who is the Agony Aunt or Agony Uncle?

As I think about such characters at various workplaces, I see a few common factors in them. They are often good listeners; take interest in the others and tend to go out of their way to help people especially when the other person is in an emotional trough and goes through a dilemma. Also, I find that they tend to apply coats of their own perception on the person’s mind in liberal quantities. They fancy themselves as counsellors and mediators. It is often that they play roles involving multiple stakeholders.

Agony Aunt influences the workplace culture

Nobody can wish away the dynamic behaviours of people in a group. Grapevine and small talks are part and parcel of organizational life. People who tend to take interest in the others, listen well and love socializing are likely to have an influence over the thoughts and action of the others. Hence, popular belief can be shaped by these influencers. When most of these people fan a similar kind of idea within the firm, it turns into a widely held belief and hence, the culture. For example, an organization growing fast could have leaders on the top who push for higher levels of performance, set ambitious targets, demonstrate stretch in everything that they do. In such a case, many employees, especially in junior levels might not relate to the overall purpose and the speed; hence, could feel the stress each day. Agony uncles and aunts listen to these signals; they drive an opinion amongst the distressed. If they see the larger picture and relate to it, the people think that organization is going through growth pangs and start relating to the larger purpose. Else, a message goes around that the leaders are inhuman, irrational, slave-drivers, away from reality sitting in some ivory tower. Wide-ranging possibilities!

The leaders need to find ways of establishing a positive culture.

Ignore her at your own peril!

It is important that leaders communicate often to the organization and encourage two-way interaction. With the advent of multiple methods of communication, multi-way dialoguing is easy. In the absence of this, pent-up emotions, unclarities and questions stay in the minds of people. And subsequently, these get vented to the Agony aunt or uncle who the leaders in the company cannot manage directly. The role of an Agony aunt is a reality; and, it is not easy to control the informal channels of communication. So, proactive communication from the leaders is a must.

Secondly, the managers at different levels in the organization need to demonstrate adequate leadership skills in their day-to-day interactions with their team members, other people within the organization as well as external stakeholders. Their behaviours speak a lot about how the organization  lives its life – deals with its own employees, customers, vendors, partners, media and government. The purpose and mission of the firm comes to light through its behaviours – the way they work transparently, ethically and fairly; the way they balance interests of multiple stakeholders. So, it’s a lot about the consistency with which leadership behaviours are demonstrated.

Agony aunt or uncle is a reality in every group. The leaders hold the key with them to limit its potential negatives and leverage its potential positives!

Start-up bubble?

startup bubble

In the last few days, the book ‘Disrupted: My Misadventure in the start-up bubble’ by Dan Lyons, an experienced tech journalist, has created a lot of discussions across the globe. Back at home in India, we see e-commerce players facing heat from their investors for the value that they create. Many companies have been acclaimed successful though they are yet to make profits. Some have been disrupting the market by providing their products and services below the input cost. They do this because they want audience or customers who are going to lead opinions and hence, consumption. Is this all for real? Are we on the cusp of another melt-down?

Any business needs a business plan which is an idea that delivers value to its customers and generates cash for its owners. In the dotcom age, many businesses had great ideas that created value for their customers but they did not have the ability to generate cash for its owners. So, beyond a point, the owners could not keep it as a one-way traffic. Even now, we could have situations where the cash flows are not sustainable. Sustainability of cash flow is dependent on how you do your mathematics well, how prolific the foresight is and how well the economics is executed. It calls for experience in running a business and a powerful vision. Every start-up might not have this!

Secondly, it is the execution which makes one firm different from another, even if the idea is the same. Business has a number of repetitive and tedious tasks which need to be performed every day with finesse. The leaders need to be operationally strong while they need to have a burning vision that inspires the employees and the investors. It is not often that you find a person who is a great visionary and at the same time, great in operations. So, getting the right rhythms in place is critical. In the amorphous, fun-loving, youthful environments that most start-ups pride themselves about, it is not easy to run work processes in a rigorous manner. While the start-ups attract a lot of youth and the norm is energy and fun, it is important that the leadership channelises these energies towards the deliverables of the organization. Do all the start-ups consciously drive this?

Last but not the least, most start-ups aspire to grow fast and do everything that is possible to drive growth.When growth is the only constant in the organization, several motions tend to go out of control. Inefficiencies develop, customer focus drops down, employee productivity see-saws and many such undesirable phenomena spring up. The leaders stay busy in pumping more energy and fuel to the organization ignoring some of these vital statistics of the firm. The danger in pushing the pedal harder is lack of stability and compromise in long-term strength. Many start-ups suffer from these as their growth rates remain high over a few of years in succession!

If you know a start-up, evaluate its health along these 3 aspects!