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Towards Customer-centric Design

Posted by Hemant Puthli on October 11, 2009

When it comes to customer interaction, the Indian business culture – specifically in the B2C space – seems to be remarkably insensitive to spam, unsolicited messaging and over-communication. Perhaps this is due to the absence of strong privacy laws, or perhaps it is the culture that explains why such laws are absent, to begin with. A few years ago, I had blogged about telemarketing spam and though things have somewhat improved (thanks to the TRAI-mandated ‘DND’ discipline) since then, the problem in essence has not gone away, but merely taken a slightly different form.

In the case of almost all of the service providers that I am a customer of (particularly those in the financial services, media/ entertainment and telecom industries — the relatively more buoyant sectors of the economy), I find that giving them your mobile number and/ or email address is like inviting a boorish bore to your house — you wish the incessant and at times tasteless chatter would stop and that you could focus on just that fraction of the conversation that is meaningful to you. These service providers take contact information from customers based on a legitimate reason: to alert customers about important information pertaining to their account, which is why customers like me part with such information in the first place. But they then use that as a licence to pump all sorts of completely irrelevant information (mostly cross-selling and up-selling messages) through those channels. Quite often such messages are badly timed as well, which is even more annoying. In the case of a specific service provider, I regularly receive text alerts on my mobile at odd hours of the morning or night. Then there is the problem of over-communication. In the case of one specific bank, where I have registered for an auto-pay bill payment facility, I get 3 text messages and 3 emails for every bill presented and paid — one text message and one email each: when the bill is presented, when the due date is approaching, and after the auto-pay transaction has been executed. I need only one post-facto email and no text messages, but there is no way on earth I can get them to change this. I do need that one message and my preferred medium is email, but I could do without the other five. Not only are redundant alerts annoying, but they’re also a waste of resources.

Several of these Indian service providers represent the local operations of reputed global brands and I am quite sure their operations in other markets are far more rigourously controlled in terms of privacy norms. So why don’t they do that here? I can’t believe they are new to permission marketing/ opt-in marketing and other techniques. It is really not difficult to set-up a web-page at their site, where a customer can check relevant boxes that specify what kind of messages they would like to receive, through what medium and at what time of the day and/ or day of the week. Several web-based free services do it. Social networking sites like facebook, for instance, allow you to spell out with pin-point precision, your choices in terms of why and how you would like to be contacted, if at all you do. If these service providers really mean to be as customer-centric as they claim to be, and if they really care about not inconveniencing their customers, they should make the right moves in this regard.

To my mind, this is an excellent opportunity for a brand to demonstrate maturity and leadership, by respecting customer privacy even in markets where the regulatory framework does not require them to do so. Sadly, I am not sure any of them sees it that way.

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One Response to “Towards Customer-centric Design”

  1. True. Can be really irritating.

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