July 29, 2010

"Embracing Technology" - Article by Sanjay Anandaram

A German-Croatian friend narrated this incident earlier this morning. On a recent trip to India and upon checking into his hotel (a grand and most well known Indian hotel around the world), he tweeted “checked in and am now at the restaurant waiting for my chicken biryani.” A few hours later, he got a message from the hotel not only enquiring about his experience with the chicken biryani but also informing him (via a message on Facebook) about the various restaurants at the hotel, the chefs and their particular specialities. Needless to say, he was completely floored. The hotel was tracking the responses and explicit experiences of its guests, almost in real time, and making serious efforts to reach out to its guests making the most of new technologies. And this hotel is part of a century plus old staid corporate group.

Contrast this with another experience. Some years ago, I had a series of horrible experiences (including being let into a room late at night that was already occupied by another guest!) at a top hotel in India. I was tired and frustrated at the lack of customer orientation at the hotel. Being in a hurry, I had no recourse but to fill up a customer experience card and drop it off. About 3 months later, I received a letter of apology from the hotel. Needless to say, I haven’t patronized the hotel since. But I’ve talked about my experience in detail with several people since.

I’m now writing about his experience as I’m about my own. Several people will read this and wonder about the hotel and its customer orientation. The cost of delivering such the message is close to zero when compared with the goodwill and positive image value it generates. And it is far more effective than any of the traditional modes of customer outreach. Word of mouth publicity and marketing is now possible thanks to the availability and smart usage of technology. More and more companies (and indeed individuals) are attempting to understand and use these so-called social media technologies. And remember, bad news travels faster than good news!

Contrast the above scenario with another involving several senior officials I met recently. Their business cards were either devoid of any email address or, where there was one, showed a generic email id such as generalmanager@.......... In some cases, the officials had displayed their “gmail” or “hotmail” email accounts on official organization issued business cards. Apart from demonstrating that the organization in question wasn’t aware or conscious of the need to use technology as vehicle for marketing and for interaction with customers and partners.

Some years ago, a top venture capitalist was doing the due diligence on a company that was seeking to raise funds for its growth plans. The office was impressive, the market opportunity was large and growing and the people seemed knowledgeable and sincere. Yet this top venture capitalist did not invest. The reason: he noticed that the company still used type-writers and inter-office memos to communicate. According to him, this betrayed a particular mindset and management style that wasn’t conducive to building a next generation global mindset! One can debate the merits and demerits of the decision, but the fact remains that this company wasn’t able to grow at all in the years since.

Technology enables transparency, better access to data and therefore governance and decision making. Young companies today don’t need to spend truckloads of cash on building infrastructure, sales, marketing and customer support. They can use widely available and generally free technologies to build out their offerings, identify and reach out to customers, market their products and services and render effective customer support. Suddenly, the world opens up as a market and as a supplier. The message therefore for companies and entrepreneurs is to embrace these technologies before their competitors do!

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings close to two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.