Ravi is a Territory Manager for a leading bike manufacturing firm, in-charge of Post Sales & Service aspects of Haryana region. Freshly out of a premier B-school he is well versed with the latest trends of the marketing world and was hired by the company to bring young blood into the traditional ways of operation.
He is keen to make a mark in the industry & his current role constitutes effectively managing the service aspects of the dealerships in his territory & promoting the brand by effective service management. However, the challenge he faces is much more complex than what meets the eye.
Through the past few decades, with the increasing commoditization of goods & services combined with price differentiation becoming unsustainable for a majority of industries, companies were finding it difficult to satisfy the ever increasing demands of the customers. With these constraints in mind, firms turned to making endeavours towards providing superior customer experiences.
From telecom operators to coffee shops the points of differentiation eventually shifted from the product itself to the overall experience derived by their usage.
The motorcycle industry in India was no exception. The market is commuter segment driven with most of the customers known to determine the overall value received in terms of factors such as the space of the vehicle, the mileage obtainable, colours available, service intervals & even the status perceived by the society. Over the years, with rampant inflation & the rising price of petroleum in the country fuelled a trend in favour of smaller 100-125cc bikes which provide for cheaper operating costs and better mileage.
This led the companies to differentiate themselves on the basis of customer experience provided in the post sales arena. The companies resorted to welcome letters, service reminders, free services to even birthday wishes in a bid to earn customer loyalty. To better help the building of trust between the technician and the customer they started extensive hiring & training programmes for not only their dealers but also the staff working at the dealerships.
Mercedes Benz has always been known to adhere to one of the most stringent training programmes wherein even the workshop foreman of the dealership is recruited after a written examination and an interview conducted by the company officials. The trend continued in India too with major companies like Maruti Suzuki, Hero MotoCorp, Mahindra, Tata Motors, etc. establishing dedicated training centres for the dealership staff.
Efforts were made to develop cutting edge CRM software to manage post sales activities and stress been laid to make the service experience an experience a customer would look forward to. Of late to leverage on the internet usage boom, online forums have been maintained by auto majors: Twitter handles and FB pages created to engage the consumer in a much better fashion. Social Analytics are being used extensively to make sense of the endless data and understand the customer sentiments better.
Ravi’s company is no exception. However, such efforts have failed to yield a comprehensive growth story for his territory. There has been a constant mismatch between the marketing team’s predictions for his territory and what the ground realities often turn out to be.
He opines that even though the investments laid out for better technical training of employees and online monitoring of consumer sentiments may have yielded results in major cities, his territory still consists of majorly agrarian customers. People bound by crop patterns influencing their buying decisions. Customers who are often affected more by the soft skills of the technicians rather than their knowledge of the trade.
In a feedback study he undertook, an astonishingly high number of customers were unsatisfied by the washing aspect of the service rather than the warranty/price issues as is the trend in the rest of the country. He also found that there was severe percolation of the consumers to local mechanics after the 6th free service (which marked the beginning of paid services by the company).
At his edge he approached his marketing professor in B-school to help him understand how to address the problem. His professor gave him a lesson in history rather than pearls of wisdom. He told him how marketing was done years before online media had crept into our lives. How field people used to visit every village in their areas and talk to opinion leaders & garner a positive response from the people one after the other. How word of mouth was generated through Social Interactions and not Social Media. For the people not linked by the fruits of technology a marketer would have to go to the customer still and not pull him out by value propositions.
“The so called secrets of success work only if you do” – Anonymous
The arrticle is authored by Pranjal Goel from MDI Gurgaon.