CX Speak

Transforming Healthcare in India – CX Thoughts by Kowshik Bhattacharjee

Customer centricity has created a massive impact for all kinds of businesses over the past few years. It is, undeniably, the only differentiator for businesses today. Yet, only few organizations have been able to recognize the potential it holds for their business.

This new initiative by Customer Guru is intended to bring to the fore some best practices and experiences of successful Customer Experience (CX) professionals across India. We firmly believe that the only way more Indian businesses can become sustainable and globally competitive is by focusing on CX. Hence, we have set ourselves on a mission to help Indian businesses establish a customer-centric company culture. We invite all our readers to ask questions on any challenges they might be facing in their organizations with respect to customer experience. We’d be more than happy to help!

In the first of a series of interviews of top-notch CX experts across India, we have Mr. Kowshik Bhattacharjee. Senior General Manager – Customer Experience at the Apollo Group of Hospitals, and a CX enthusiast, Kowshik has taken the initiative to ingrain customer centricity in the culture of organizations and their employees; he is a man that has made customer experience the DNA of every organization he has been associated with. His journey from launching ITC Sonarbangla Sheraton Hotel & Towers – Kolkata in 2003 to creating a Voice of Customer mechanism for Apollo Hospitals has been gripping and inspiring. In this interview, Kowshik shares gems of advice from his vast experience in the CX arena. We are certain this will add tremendous value to your organization.

What has been your personal story? When did you realise that CX is important for you and what keeps you excited about your work?

I have always been hyperactive about improving the value delivered to our customers. I am a firm believer in “Atithi Devo Bhava” (‘The guest is equivalent to God’ in Sanskrit) and consider India as a true epitome of hospitality. In my career spanning across brands like ITC Hotels, Marriott, Dell Computers, Taj Group of Hotels, and now with Apollo Hospitals, my strength of establishing emotional connect with my customers and team members has helped me bring tangible changes and lead initiatives which have enhanced the customers’ experience to some extent.

I am a firm believer that you don’t have to do something new every time; if others have done it in the past, just adopt it to suit your organizational needs and marry it with your culture. My learnings at Dell, where data was considered God, and Taj Hotels, where every attempt is made to convert transactions into memorable stories, helped me understand the critical success factors to build a truly customer focused organization.

Let me share something we did at The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai. There were frequent complaints of key cards deactivation. The guests used to place their key card with their mobile and it would get deactivated. So, we designed a simple pouch in which the guests could put the key card. After this adoption, the complaints rate came down from 600/month to 10-20/month. The key lesson was that if you have a crystal-clear understanding of what the customers need, the solutions are simple. Impacting customer lives through such simple initiatives is what keeps me going.

In your career as a CX professional, do you recall a moment that really transformed you as a customer experience professional?

There have been many moments in my life which make me feel that I am truly blessed. One such incident was when I happened to meet Mr. Prabhakar Pakalpati Raju, who was the then India Head HR for Dell, and he offered me a job at Dell as Manager Operations for their contact centre, as he felt that I would be able to make a difference in the way customers were offered assistance at Dell. The other two mentors I had were Mr. Amit Ranade & Mr. Arvind Shukla, who were my bosses at the Dell. Both of them inspired me to constantly look at different ways of doing things, and focus on my opportunity areas, which, at that point of time, was data analytics. In Taj, I was fortunate to work with one of the best of General Managers that Taj had ever got in the country, Ms. Birgit Zorniger. Her strength was her eye for detailing and micromanaging a few processes, which other people would normally ignore. I always considered her as an icon for customer centricity.  What really transformed me, however, was the unfortunate incident of the terrorist attack at the Taj on the 26/11.

Me and my wife used to work for The Taj Mahal, Mumbai when the attack happened. The entire nation was in shock due to the incident. It was during this time when I realised the power of empathy. Various hospitals were involved in helping the injured and the dead. While I commend the support these healthcare brands extended, I felt they could be more empathetic. That’s when I decided to make a difference in this field.

This incident totally changed the way I looked at customer experience and, incidentally, I got an opportunity to work with one of the best integrated healthcare providers in Asia, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Limited. I was the first one to enter the space of Service Excellence in Apollo Hospitals.

Healthcare is getting very competitive in metros and big cities. What role will CX play in helping brands differentiate themselves?

Our Chairman always reminds us, “There are two jobs important at Apollo. One is helping the patient and other is helping those people who help patients.”

Customer Excellence is not a department; it is the culture of an organization.

If healthcare brands are able to understand what it takes to truly create value for its customers, it will not only help them differentiate themselves from the competition but also create newer markets they might not have even thought of. At Apollo, we are constantly trying to learn from various service industries and look at ways and means of exciting our front-line staff to create the magic for our customers.

When you started at Apollo, the industry was not really focused on customer experience. It must have been like moving a mountain. Where did you start and what is the one change that you are really proud of?

To begin with, I really had to understand healthcare. So, I spent a year understanding the sector by talking to doctors, nurses, technical teams, and the hospital administration. We built our customer journey map based on the overall objective of the organization. Our first requirement was to have to robust feedback mechanism based on the touch points that were critical to customer. We built the IT infrastructure to design this Voice of Customer (VoC) solution, which we were able to launch within the first year in our flagship hospital. Today, we have all hospitals covered under the VoC umbrella.

This application won many awards in both domestic and international platforms. It got recognized as “Best Innovation in Service Industry” by AIMA in 2013.

I am always keen on learning from my experiences. Singapore always excited me because I found it to be the most customer friendly country, and it starts from Changi Airport, with its immigration team. I was excited about the idea of instant feedback system at the airport, and I thought this could be implemented in healthcare. I realized this could be a game changer in the outpatient set-up. I presented the idea to the leadership team of Apollo and got a senior management buy in. We installed tablets outside the consultant suites and patients could fill in their rating. If someone is not happy with the service, there is a second level drill down as to what are the reasons for their dissatisfaction. In the last year alone, we collected around 3.5 lakh feedbacks across 180 tablets. And the question asked was about the overall experience, rather than about a single doctor.

You actively speak about the culture of customer centricity. How do you think it impacts the experience delivered to customers in a company?

I always feel that associates don’t do things that organizations want them to do, but do things that their managers pay attention to. Customer centricity is always top driven; if the management is customer centric, then everybody down the line becomes customer centric.  One thing that I have noticed in healthcare is that leaders chase wrong metrics to drive customer centricity. They get excited about outcomes and do not look at ways and means of consistently getting there. How you make someone feel is based on how you act and not just what you say or write on your posters and emails. So, focus on building the right action steps if you need to build the culture. Be a role model by being hyperactive about anything that bothers your customers. Have the culture of “Learning from Complaints.” Create an environment for your customers and associates to voice out to you their opinion without any fear.

Any personal experience that you think is a perfect example of CX that you would like to share with the readers?

I am inspired by the Disney experience and I have actually spent time in Disney as a guest for a week to experience it first-hand. I was also fortunate to get an opportunity to get trained by the Disney team in Apollo Hospitals. I understood something very categorically: it is not about the great rides they have; it is all about the experience. A simple example is of a couple who were unable to recall where they had parked their car in the excitement of going for the rides. A housekeeping person saw them and figured out that this couple was lost. He asked them when they had entered the park and with that data, he could find out where their car was parked through an app.

This shows how processes are mapped with customer centricity and what impact empowering a team member can have on the overall experience.

If we end up delivering a WOW experience all the time to all the customers, wouldn’t that be a huge cost for the company? If yes, then how do we justify incurring those costs?

There is always this myth that WOW experiences are always very expensive. Let me tell you what one of my associate did at Apollo. There was once a couple waiting for their turn at our gynaecology department. A guest relations team member saw them and made a cartoon with a small Mickey Mouse, which said “I’m anxiously waiting for you to come out and play with me!” and presented it to the lady. The lady started crying and said that since she and her husband were from different religions, their family was not happy with this relationship. No one had even visited them when she conceived. The guest relation executive was the first one to wish them and she was moved by the gesture.

To deliver a great experience, all it cost was a chart paper. The only difference was that it was genuinely done from the heart. It doesn’t cost a lot. It’s just the intent. Investing in CX is like investing in mutual funds.

What is the need of the hour in the CX space in India?

Lot of companies are only driven by financial reviews: it’s always about top-line, bottom-line, EBIDTA etc. Everybody talks about customers, but what are the metrics that we need to track if we have to be the top-of-the-mind recall for our customers? This, I see, is missing in many to most companies.

Companies need to empower the front line to delight the customers. This is a missing link in many service companies in India. In Disney, every single cast member is empowered to do a few things for the customer without checking with anyone. This is communicated right during the induction.

Many companies give such detailed job descriptions (JD) to the employees but why can’t we give list of things that the employees can do without taking our permission? That rule book is missing; I call it “Service Standards.”

Not many Indian companies have the JDs and Key Result Areas (KRAs) linked well to drive customer centric culture in the organization.

Companies in India need to benchmark against customer centric organizations like Ritz Carlton, Disney, and Taj. I always feel airlines and healthcare industry in India can do a lot of things to develop the culture of customer centricity in their organization. Sky is the limit in customer experience; it is about doing simple things consistently for all customers and please measure to improve and not to impress.

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