CX Speak

Being In Service To Customers: An Exclusive Interview with Mr. Shekhar Kulkarni, Head, Supply Chain Management, Saint Gobain India Pvt Ltd – Gyproc Business

At Customer Guru, we believe that Customer Experience (CX) should be the number one priority for all the Indian businesses so that they become more sustainable and successful globally. Thus, we are on a mission to spread this awareness, inspiring and guiding professionals to adopt and inculcate a customer-centric approach. We are certain that this is a first step to help organizations WOW their customers and create raving fans for themselves.

Continuing with our initiative of sharing experiences of top-notch CX experts, we have another gem of an interview with Mr. Shekhar Kulkarni. Mr. Kulkarni has been working with the Saint Gobain group for the past 13 years. As a Finance professional, his primary work domain has been Finance, Business Controls, Accounts & Costing. He has worked in various roles within and outside India for the SG group. Currently, he heads the Supply Chain function for the Gyproc business of Saint Gobain group and is responsible for Planning, Purchase, Logistics and Customer Service. Prior to this, Mr. Kulkarni has worked in diverse industries like Livestock, FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) and Chemicals. An MBTI (Myers–Briggs Type Indicator) certified practitioner, certified in Appreciative Inquiry and a Certified Professional Coach – Coaching for Transformation, he is immensely passionate about People Development and Coaching.

In this exclusive interview with Customer Guru, Mr. Kulkarni discusses how customer experience has become one of the most important aspects of his life along the course of his journey as a professional. He also shares some amazing insights into building a customer-centric system and providing a differential service to all the customers.

We invite our readers to comment and ask questions on challenges they might be facing in their organizations when setting up a customer-centric culture. We would be more than happy to help. This article is framed in a question-answer format; please feel free to share your feedback on the article too.

What was that moment of epiphany when you realized that customer experience is your calling and that this is the field where you would want to contribute?

I think it has been an evolution for me. I would be lying if I say that I was a customer-centric person right from the beginning of my career. As I have evolved as a financial professional within the country and outside, I have realized that it was all about the people. Education and experience opened up opportunities for me, but these opportunities were not all functional or technical ones. At the core of it, these were always people opportunities, which were about creating experiences. For instance, if I meet a person, it is not just about what I speak with him; it is about how I connect with him and the kind of experiences that we create for each other. This instilled interest in me to look into each and every aspect of creating such experiences.

So what was the reason behind that thought? Did you see that changing the outcome?

What I realized is that whenever I had great experiences with people, I was happy. It was as simple as that. And I would want to believe that I have shared that happiness with whomsoever I have met. That took me on a different journey altogether. While finance and the functional expertise helped me in having a financial stability and gave a churn to my brain, I realized that I wanted to work on all those experiences that made me happy. My journey started with a very self-centered kind of reason, as I wanted to make myself happy. In the process, if someone feels happy, there is nothing like it.

When I came back to India, I was the finance controller for three years. In 2014, I decided that I wanted to be in another function. I thought that supply-chain would be a good area for me to enhance my people experience as it involved all sorts of people – customers, vendors, sales, and operations. All these people come with their own mindsets, patterns, and processes. I realized that it would be a great learning ground to learn about myself, to learn about the people, their thoughts, and needs. In the process, I wanted to carry on that thought of creating happiness for the people and for myself. If I am in service to someone, it is my responsibility to make them happy. If this becomes my core belief, then it becomes a way of life, rather than a job.

It is believed that customer centricity is not relevant in a B2B business setup; it is widely considered an idea that is mostly pursued by B2C businesses. What would be your answer to that thought?

Whether it is B2B or B2C, it is a transaction that takes place at a very basic level. The two parties that are involved in a transaction would definitely want a win-win situation. That win-win is no longer a win because of the product, as there are a lot of competitors in the system. The kind of service that one provides would make a difference. For instance, if I go to a saree shop to buy a saree for my wife in her absence, there are two things that could happen. One is I could quickly choose a saree and buy it. On the other hand, someone could offer his/her assistance, asking me about my wife’s features and complexion. After gathering all the data, he/she could put a few pieces on display and even demonstrate those on him or herself. That is an experience that gets created. Whether it is a B2B or B2C transaction, the person receiving the service will always appreciate the experience. These kinds of experiences will stay and be remembered irrespective of the kind of business one is in.

Which is the one initiative you have driven for creating a good experience for your dealers that you are really proud of? What was the idea behind it and what were the results that you received?

The initiative that I’m really happy about is the iCare initiative. iCare is a dream that was seeded into me by Subramanian Venkataraman, the CEO of Construction Products Sector, well before I entered into the supply-chain industry. Venkat was of the view that in this industry, the only way to always be ahead of the curve is through a differential service. For this, we needed to have a team that was actually interacting from within the office, providing services with the same level of attachment, and expanding the base, instead of having a sales team contacting the existing customers again and again. In order to do this, we needed to have technology in place. So, with help of Darshan Kumar, the IT Head, we created a platform whereby we bifurcated the order processing team into two sub-teams. One was for interacting with the customers and the other team was at the back end, which was only for documentation. The technology was developed such that the orders that would come through e-portals would automatically get allocated. No one would have to worry about whether the order was getting processed. With this, immediately, the need for customers to call our teams to check whether their orders were processed declined. The front-end team was responsible for answering the customers’ queries – order status, availability of stock, and the like. This means that all the routine tasks for the salespeople were assigned to the front-end team. When we started this, we failed miserably. However, today, we have reached a place where each regional iCare team handles around 1-1.5k customer calls on a monthly basis. The epitome of this is that the Bangalore iCare team managed a sales process in absence of the sales team recently. All of this became possible because of the systems in place, the processes in place, and the attitude of the employees in creating an experience. We aren’t sure whether we have reached the level of excellence; I think that is a continuous process. However, what I can clearly see is that the seed is nurtured; it’s not a sapling but it’s not even a tree. It’s somewhere in between right now.

Our journey started as a product company and ours is not a B2C company. Over the past few years, we have believed in providing a differential service to our customers. Apart from having a technical team, a design team, and the like, we also need to have a CX team. The employees currently appointed at the front end were earlier the ones who would just process the orders. So, we have done some soft skills training and desktop selling for them. However, the training is going to be an ongoing process.

When I look at the word “service”, what comes to me is selfless. The kind of experience that can be created would be of an entirely different level. The challenge is that not all people would get onto it. This is exactly where the opportunity lies – in making people realize that it is an investment.

Considering what you are today and what you have been able to achieve, where do you think you and your business would be in a year’s time?

If these initiatives continue, there’s no looking back. I think Gyproc’s position in the market today is undisputed. I believe the customer experience will make the organization more sustainable because experiences will connect people to the organization and create loyalty. As far as I’m concerned, I will be in service whether in Gyproc or outside.

Please share your word of advice for a business owner or an entrepreneur who is embarking on this journey of customer centricity.

I am still learning about CX and do not have an advice but I can share what has been my experience so far and what has worked for me. Firstly, being curious about customer experience has really worked for me. The second thing that I believe in is that creating an experience starts with me – not just the physical me, but also the inner me. Thirdly, it is all about the core belief of being in service. When making a transaction, along with the product, I would be bringing myself to the table – mindset, beliefs, and values will create the entire experience. Products largely can be replaced; service can largely be imitated. What cannot get created is ME. So, the major kind of ingredient to this entire experience creation is ME.

Connect with Shekhar Kulkarni on LinkedIn

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