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Customer Centricity has to be an Intrinsic Principle: an Exclusive Interview with Mr. Rohit M A, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Cloudnine

We, at Customer Guru, are on a mission to spread awareness of how Customer Experience (CX) should be the number one priority for Indian businesses to become more sustainable and successful globally. Thus, we have taken this initiative of sharing the experiences of successful CX leaders across India to inspire and guide professionals in adopting and inculcating a customer-centric approach in their organizations.

In continuation of the series of interviews that we have had with top-notch CX experts across India, we have another gem of an interview with Mr. Rohit M A. Mr. Rohit is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Cloudnine Group of Hospitals – India’s leading chain of maternity, women, and childcare service hospitals. Having worked with various tech conglomerates in India, he has successfully learned the nuances of managing operations of large business houses. With over 18 years of entrepreneurial experience, Mr. Rohit is actively involved in several core areas of Cloudnine including strategy, digital revolution, public relations, employee engagement, and development of new business models for the company. He has also been listed amongst the top 100 customer service professionals through PaulWriter Cx100.

In this candid interview with Customer Guru, Mr. Rohit talks about the entire journey of the hospital, from a single unit to a multicity-chain across India. He shares his lessons of how a customer-centric approach to every process played a crucial role in establishment and growth of the company. The core value of Cloudnine is “We strive to provide the highest level of service to our guests. Our aim is to ‘Wow’ them and to give them an enjoyable and memorable experience. This is our guiding principle in all our decisions.” He also shares some insights on the need of and the way for every organization in the healthcare industry to become customer-centric.

We invite our readers to comment and ask questions on similar challenges that they might be facing in their organizations when it comes to setting up such projects in order to deliver a great experience to the customers. This article is framed in a question-answer format; please feel free to share your feedback on the article too.

How did the transition from a gold medalist in Computer Science engineering into a healthcare leader happen?

Coming from a family of doctors, the entire concept of Cloudnine is very close to the family. Our Chairman and Founder, Dr. Kishore Kumar, a highly qualified and globally felicitated doctor and a specialist neonatologist, saw that maternal mortality outcomes, newborn health policies, and consumer satisfaction were very poor in India. The gaps in service standards were huge. 55 babies are born every minute in India (almost one every second), and with statistics like that, it becomes very difficult to exert quality control by any government or such agencies, especially in our country. Stemming from his passion for quality healthcare, he took this as an opportunity to make a difference and it has been this rolling juggernaut ever since. Dr. Kishore was always the clinician and I joined as a non-clinician, bringing my experience and focus on organization-building and process-orientation.

I realized that the best way in which a company can actually grow is to unify processes and be super diligent about it. When we started the journey of Cloudnine in 2007, we did not have any great ambition of growing beyond one unit. Back then, there were about 400 deliveries a day in Bangalore. For our business model to succeed, we would have had to cater to 4 deliveries a day i.e 1% of the actual market available. As per the business plan that we had put together, we aimed at achieving this from the thirty-sixth month. Interestingly, we started hitting this number in the ninth month of the operation itself.

From being a startup to then trying to scale up, we had to figure out a way to arrange the capital for our highly capital-intensive units. We had to invest a lot in infrastructure and had to become attractive for investment. Banks were not willing to work with us because we could not provide enough collaterals for leverage. So, we had very limited options for capital being available. That’s when I went on to do a year-long intensive course in IIM Bangalore to acquire the right kind of skills and to get guidance. Things changed dramatically after that.

The next lap of the journey began in 2011 when Matrix Partners made its first investment with us. This helped us grow into multiple units in Bangalore and also start our first unit in Chennai. In 2013, Sequoia joined us as an investment partner and in 2015, India Value Fund, which is now called TrueNorth invested in us. The journey has been fantastic since then.

It was a gradual progression of the brand, expanding from a single unit in South Bengaluru to other locations in Bengaluru thereafter. Since 2011, it has been a completely different journey, scaling the number of units across Chennai, Gurugram, Mumbai, Pune, Navi Mumbai, Chandigarh, and Delhi, whilst keeping the ground solid and improving consistently. The once family-run business now functions with the disciplines and rigor of a professional company, including the likes of having brought in capable professionals to lead the company such as our CEO, who has been at the helm of the company for close to 5 years now. This meant that we had to let go of perceived controls and look to engage in vision-building across the company. It was a huge step from the mindset of how we started. For some of us, it took time, but together we got around it for taking Cloudnine to where it stands today.

How did you see the customer experience changing from the time you started as a family run business to the time when the company went on to be run professionally?

It was always our belief that word of mouth is going to be the biggest proponent in scaling our services. From 2007, the way in which “word of mouth” can be propagated has changed with the onset of digital media. Back then, digital was limited to only technology, and not to the social media, but there is a massive change today. This made a huge change from how you look at digital media as a driver for word of mouth. It works both ways – good gets propagated as well as bad gets amplified, probably 20 times more. What had to be done was very clear to us: we had to listen to our customers. Our entire focus at Cloudnine was to personalize our customer’s experience. We had to collaborate all the experiences in order to enhance what a customer wants, yet we had to go back to each of our customers who wanted to avail our service.

Here’s an example: most hospitals have “+” and “24*7” pharmacy signs as the basic identifiers of a hospital. When we were setting up Cloudnine, based on several personal experiences, international benchmarking, and through focused group study, people said they hated these signs. They were probably right. So, none of the Cloudnine units have a pharmacy as the first thing that customers walking in would see. Instead, they can see a coffee shop, a well-appointed baby shop, a photo studio where pregnant ladies or new mothers with their new-born babies and families go to get their pictures clicked. There are many such initiatives that went into our vision of achieving “Pregnancy Journey is About Wellness and Not About Illness.”

The reason for giving this perspective is that, in 2007, these were the differentiators that worked. A new base of customer expectation was set and we were probably influenced by factors other than social media. However, customers today are not influenced by most of these factors, and social media has a lot to do with it. Today, if I tell them “Hey! As soon as your baby is born, would you like to make an e-announcement on any social media using our templates that are designed for you?”, they would probably take that option. These are the kind of things that we have changed progressively from infrastructure to engagement. The most unique part of this is that we have a specific window for engaging with the customer. This specific window of engagement is possible from zero to nine months so that you can take care of all the requirements of the customer journey.

In 2007, we used to ask formal feedback at two possible touch points and today, we have 12 touch points. This is a macro-environmental change and consumer behavior as well.

Feedback to me is all about being heard at that moment and acting upon it to ensure that we put our best effort to resolve it. Being heard or providing access to being heard is the most critical part of feedback management and not just the resolution. From the erstwhile paper-based mechanism to reaching out digitally, we have been able to make tremendous progress in Service Level Agreement management, turnaround time, and document changes in order to bring in positive changes within existing processes. Today dynamism and an omnichannel presence are crucial for receiving and acting on feedback.

Yours is a happy business – a business where patients come for deliveries and generally leave with happy outcomes. But in general, where healthcare organizations deal with customers in agonizing situations, do you think patient experience and customer experience will help them transform their industry and the business?

Not just in our organization, but every healthcare entity has to realize that patient experience is not just about an individual, but about a lot of moving parts coming together in the belief that each of them can add value. Perhaps the most significant of such a touchpoint in a patient’s healthcare journey is the doctor experience.

Unfortunately, in India, we are yet to realize that customer experience and feedback is one of the key driving forces in healthcare management. There are institutions such as Apollo, which believe and inculcate the habit of making sure that they listen to all the feedback. In Fortis, they ask every day as to how the patients are feeling. In the case of a negative response, there is a complete mechanism that is triggered to find out why this person is feeling so.

Essentially, it is not just the brand that is responsible for customer experience but even the people who are delivering it. It must be owned by everyone in the organization. There are enough examples to prove that carefully orchestrated systems and customer experience orientation in every process can go a long way to ensure that any adverse outcomes, such as even death, are managed in the most empathetic manner possible. Everyone from the ground staff, paramedical, nursing, assisting and treating doctors become important aspects of showcasing empathy. Some organizations believe in these more than others and, most often, this relates to their ability to scale up and grow.

The level of influence that the technology has on healthcare outcomes is gradually increasing and the entire customer base can be handled digitally. For a cultural shift, the mindset shift has to happen first and the kind of generational change is still an ongoing process. We are on a very different spectrum of being able to leverage some of the moments. But, in healthcare as a whole, the majority consumer is still the older population, who will not be able to adjust to a pure digital enablement because there is a severe loss of human factor in some of these engagements.

At Cloudnine, we have tried to be on the forefront on the views of technology and ensure a very fair and transparent organization coming into customer management. We have very simple processes where we insist on turnaround times and use digital enablers, wherein even a small query made by a customer gets logged and is taken up to closure by the customers themselves. It is probably not practical to say that we will be able to provide 100% same process driven experience to all of our customers, but the endeavor remains to ensure that gaps that may occur are filled in right away. That’s what most of the processes should do and digital enablement ensures a faster turn around time for it.

Today, we are looking at possibilities where a lot of customers have told us that there is no need to reach out to the receptionist for the bills when everything is generated digitally around them. We have been going hard on this agenda of digital push. We are going to have an invisible reception in one of our hospitals very soon because everything will happen digitally. Post the outcome of the experience there, we may do some radical enablement across our units in the country

In the way that things are evolving in healthcare, how do you think associations such as National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH) are helping?

I think it is essential with respect to streamlining processes. It talks about customer centricity being the core objective of why NABH is important. Unfortunately, this has not progressed enough with time. Accepting digital platform as a mode of communication rather than just putting up boards of customer rights and responsibilities is one such example. It should be accessible to the customers whenever they want it. There are visitors’ policies that can be done in a better way if done digitally. NABH as a body has the right intent but perhaps needs to be a bit more encouraging of new thinking in areas where possible. This adoption would be far better if they come up with the digital version of how this has to be done and perhaps make such standardized versions available for organizations to use.

It can also lead initiatives to encourage more healthcare organizations to generate structured data digitally so that it can mine the data for analytical insights, leading to better providers of healthcare across the country.

Over the past 10 years, the data that is generated in the healthcare industry in India has increased by 10 times. Unfortunately, about 88% of it is unstructured and no statistics can be derived from the data. There comes the whole scope of cognitive analytics. Currently, the government has taken initiatives on that and is doing a tremendous amount of work such as SNOMED format standardization, EHR guidelines and also NEHA (National E-Health Authority) for adoption and regulation monitoring.

However, all of this is gathering pace slower than anticipated. NABH would perhaps do well in incorporating these structures and leading the way to a more encumbering enabled healthcare body of empanelment. Hospitals have to work with NABH for figuring out new ways to improve, rather than treating them as a regulation.

What would be your word of advice to healthcare brands who are trying to become customer-centric?

Organizations have to believe that customer centricity has to be an intrinsic principle and not just a checklist provision. It cannot be just a role responsibility or an individual responsibility but has to be a propagation right from the top; it must become a cultural paradigm. Training programs have to imbibe this, induction programs should reflect this, leaders should willfully demonstrate it and, most importantly, have a review mechanism in place. Today, wonderful technology solutions are available that can shrink the gaps in being able to achieve such intent. Like I have mentioned before, for us, the voice of the customer drives everything big and small. We make constant endeavors to listen and participate actively in such feedback. We also engage with non-Cloudnine customers several times in a year to see what we are missing out on.

A practice that has also worked well for us is to ensure that we drive transparency throughout the system and make every individual work towards it. We put up our engagement scores and feedback from our customers directly on our website every single day. The metric Net Promoter Score triggers and manages a lot of functions for us. All of us believe that we can continuously improve with open systems of engagement and when all stakeholders in the customer journey believe that they can make a positive impact on such outcomes. Belief is supreme, action is next.

What would be your word of advice to CX enthusiasts who have the intent of doing things right but are not sure where to start?

There are wonderful technologies available that can bridge vision to fulfillment. A good combination of diligent process review and technology-aid can actually work very well. At Cloudnine, we draw inspiration from a lot of parallel industries such as hotels, airlines, cab operators, and international hospitals. And with the extent of customer engagement at each of these industries, one can actually see what other industries themselves get inspired by and draw parallels into their own organizations. One has to believe though that with each investment, it is important to know the metric of return and customer centricity is no different. Unless we value the efforts that go into this, no encouragement or intent will be good enough and perhaps not become the forefront of what all great organizations are built upon.


Do you want to
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Customer Experience?

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