We, the Indian service industry, have been hit with the news of a BILL proposing a crackdown on US immigration. It should not be an exaggeration to state that the Indian services sector has been despondent with the news and people are vexed enough. To start exploring new ‘geographies’ is the lookout of IT bellwether companies.
Companies in the industry and wedged employees (aka individuals of the society) are busy salvaging reputation. Some may even be found rescuing their existence shortly. Geographical dependency is a genuine offshoot of globalization. Nevertheless, if just a BILL can send a nationwide sizeable 108 billion USD industry into shambles, as an industry, we have definitely missed something. This framework is an attempt to locate that missing aspect, and alas, the framework also happens to be called “The BILL Assessment Model”!
Simply put, a service business aims at serving a customer need. As a service business, your success is a proxy of how well and how much you are fulfilling the customer demand. To illustrate this, we build a continuum.
The X axis denotes the business offerings of the service providers and Y axis the customer expectations. For a given magnitude and quality of customer expectations, you are either a relatively red company offering less, or a relatively green company offering at par with expectations. Though there are buzzwords with essence of delivering beyond expectations viz. process improvements, thought leadership, lateral thinking and business orientation flashed in company’s press releases and grandiloquent addresses of executives to employees, the ambit of those is very limited AND THE THEME VERY DIFFERENT as we shall see ahead in the article.
The reds are running to match the greens, investing in learning, pressurizing their employees to belabor on every opportunity to bedazzle the client representatives in umpteen ways and by following stringent yardsticks for appraising their employees hoping that a conflation of these steps would bring them close to the greens. Such efforts are logical and laudable indeed. A multitude of companies are in this constant cut-throat healthy competition. The description should sound familiar to those working in Indian technology outsourcing companies.
However, while there is no stone left unturned for reaching greener pastures, there is still an ‘other side’ unattended where the grass is even greener. To understand that side, we re-draw the graph, but with a difference.
We first limit our view to the two white boxes, titled “B” and “L”. On the X axis, the Business Offering axis, at a given instant, a company may have some offerings in its portfolio of offerings which are indicated by YES on X-axis. There could be some services, which may not be in its service spectrum indicated by NO zone on the graph. As we move right, we see a company is expanding its bouquet of services to reach customer expectations. The continuum, just like the first graphical illustration, is progressive. A company positioned right has more services to offer (and is relatively green) than one positioned on the left (which is relatively red).
To understand rest of the framework, we would need to shift gears and veer our opinions away from one assumption: The only way to run a service business is to serve the customer.
Let me explain with an example. Facebook is a service consumed by millions of customers at present.
Rewind back 14 years. We, as customers, had telephones, SMS facility and favorable call rates to fulfill our needs, expectations and demands. We, as customers, did not ‘ask’ any provider to develop a platform to connect with distant friends, share our thoughts, wish on occasions and publish our pictures to the public.
Was Facebook fulfilling any customer “demand” then?
Facebook, Payments using smartphones, 3D secure transactions, WhatsApp calls, smartphones, search engines and many others could be quoted as instances of successful businesses where companies were NOT AT ALL trying to fulfill a customer need, which was acknowledged or touted as unfulfilled then.
Recognizing this should make us appreciate a possibility, that the Y axis in the first graph is not complete. There could be two sections on Y-axis (the customer expectations axis). As the graph demonstrates, YES section on Y-axis is the set of expectations, consciously demanded by the customer. NO section indicates needs or expectations, which, though eventually, would be embraced by customer when presented, there is less or no acknowledgement of paucity of these services at the moment. Continuing with our example of Facebook, the demand of Facebook in 2003-04 shall fall in NO section of customer expectation had this framework were used then.
Identifying these aspects of nature of demand and supply (offerings) categorizes the players in service industry into four sections.
The B category: The YES – YES block
As discussed in early part of this article, a substantial chunk of Indian IT service companies has been busy in serving customers’ needs. Typical characteristics are:
- We, as companies, take pride in calling ourselves Client “DRIVEN” Organizations.
- Customer centricity does not mean what it is as per the dictionary, in such companies. It is taken only as acceptance to working on weekends, tolerating arrogance from clients and other such non-professional practices on whims of the worshiped customer.
- The company repository is awash with white papers, but no one refers to them as there is no need. This is because, companies are not knowledge or ideas driven. They are driven by customers’ need. If the needs are mediocre, it is legitimate to settle with a mediocre service. In case bowing down literally can suffice for continuation of projects, why even care about knowledge!
- Fresh ideas brought to table by employees are not entertained or evaluated. The culture carries a strong stench of repulsion towards freshness.
- Continuation or discontinuation of ongoing services is totally on the behest of customer. It can choose to pick another service provider over us with no cost of shift. Reason for no cost: Customer needs someone to bow down and take orders. Whether company X or company Y, DOES IT MATTER?
- Employees are not allowed to raise voice against racism (in case) done by client representatives.
For all the above reasons, based on the intent of service delivery, by virtue of nature of offering, it is absolutely logical to term this category of service providers as BEGGARS. B for BEGGARS. Yes, for all wealth created and amassed by such companies running in billions, for all the employment provided to lakhs of people, and for all their labor, just by virtue of their ways of work, BEGGARS. The criterion does not take into account the size of the company. There could be big Bs and small ones, but B.. for BEGGARS.
BEGGARS are mostly found contemplating on how to outshine the other beggars and may constantly find themselves entangled into a red vs green comparison and competition. They may hire the best strategists but the red vs green war strategy is inferior for the sole reason that it’s a war between two BEGGARS. A much better strategy is to replace this strategy with a paradigm shift.
The I category: The NO – NO block
‘I’ here stands for INNOVATORS. And the criterion of defining innovators is not based on whether they allow Tees and Jeans in office for their employees, weather their founders are graduates of an ace school or are illiterate, whether employees enter the office on swings, slides, flying brooms or SLVs, whether they are hailed as cool companies by the public and whether they simply “call” themselves as innovators.
Innovators are those who work in the NO-NO block: attempting to serve customer expectations which customers are not cognizant of. It is usually unlikely that such attempts are made by more than one company: even if they do, they cannot be replicas of each other.
As customers, we never asked for a search engine. Archie (Alan Emtage) sensed it. Google introduced the offering of Google Search at a large scale. As customers, we never asked for a social networking website. Facebook thought about it and delivered an offering. The world did not know of photocopying before Xerox introduced it. E-mail was an unthinkable way of free and immediate communication before 14-year-old Indian boy (Shiva Ayyadurai) made the world wake up to this new service. ATMs were never asked for, by the public. While the world was satisfied (or even delighted) with the branch banking service, someone worked in the NO-NO category to “innovate” the concept of ATMs. While NASA was busy spending billions on Mars mission, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) cleverly utilized the sling-shot mechanism to launch Mangalyaan.
In short, an innovator is working ONLY TO PROVIDE DISRUPTIVE SERVICES.
The categories of L: The YES – NO and NO – YES blocks – THE INTERPLAY OF INNOVATORS AND BEGGARS
I have illustrated all the above examples to underscore that the common trait of innovators is that they choose to start working in the NO-NO land. This distinction of YES-YES and NO-NO is crucial. These are the only two categories of companies based on the intent of service delivery.
The other two are transitory stages and companies do not remain permanently in any of the YES-NO and NO-YES categories.
A typical sequence in a service industry is this.
- While beggars are busy with serving the present expectations, the innovator comes in with a new offering after working hard for months/years.
- The customer may have inertia in acceptance of the new offering. The innovator is engaged in making his selling cogent to increase its customer base. At this stage, the innovator enters the YES-NO category to be a LEADER. Please note that in the graph, the service provider now has an offering (YES section on X-axis), but the customer is still not sure accepting it wholeheartedly.
- A typical trait of this stage is that overtly or covertly, the INNOVATOR (Now a LEADER) is TELLING the customer how his offering would make the customer be at par with the market. The INNOVATOR is still not taking orders and IS NOT begging for an engagement. Do you notice the contrast between INNOVATOR and BEGGAR? I hope the naming now makes more sense.
- After some time, the customer base becomes significantly sizable. This time may be different for different products/ services. The beggar wakes to the surprise. While the innovator’s new offering, which is disruptive in nature, starts sweeping the market, it results into a market loss for the beggar. This can be illustrated with examples.
- Google search swept the market of books.
- ISRO, launching 104 satellites in a single rocket provided a cost effective solution to launch satellites for nations across the world which was a potential loss to other space organizations providing similar but relatively expensive services.
- WhatsApp call has reduced margins of telecom operators.
- Introduction of ATMs took away business of banks (and associates) providing only branch services.
- Introduction of cashless payment apps is taking away business of cash centric businesses (banks and associated technology consultants).
As this happens, the beggar enters the NO – YES zone to be termed as a LAGGARD. This is because now it lags the market. The company is not offering this new service (NO) but the market is expecting (YES).
- The LAGGARD pushes hard: learning programs are arranged, research teams are established, industry consultants are invited for seminars and training. Courses on latest practices are disseminated to employees. The employees who break apart to salvage company’s losing face are (said to be) rewarded. A sense of urgency is created to restore the relinquished position of the BEGGAR category or else the business stands at a high possibility of being pushed away from the market.
- Finally, things enter the YES-YES block since the once innovative offering becomes the norm of customer expectation now. Temporarily, the one who started as INNOVATOR ends up working in the YES-YES zone. The BEGGAR, however, is happy that it could bring itself back to its perceived “NORMAL”.
- The story doesn’t end here! The INNOVATOR doesn’t settle in the YES-YES zone. It is consistently thinking to outclass the customer expectations. He will find a way back to find a need which is not an expectation at present, will develop an offering for that potential expectation and will then sell it in a way that you and I be compelled to start expecting it.
- Meanwhile the BEGGAR will also grow, but due to changes in exchange rates, and due to some newly found masters who would glorify the beggar as a champion so that the beggar never wakes up to the truth of being a BEGGAR.
There are some takeaways from this framework:
One, There is something over the customer’s perception. Customer is not the King. (This, however does not mean that customers should not be respected. J)
Two, As a BEGGAR, you are always competing with the Reds and Greens. There are No Red vs. Greens competitions in the INNOVATOR block. As an innovator, your competition is the customer itself. All you are busy with is to make logical guesses on what is the customer’s need which is also a potential demand? How do we shape this need to an expectation?
Who was Facebook’s competitor when the platform was being developed?
Hindrances are always there in establishing businesses as there are no free lunches in the world. But you do not see reds and greens and the resulting comparison / competition in case of Facebook and other examples quoted.
This one makes it even more tenable. Compared to successful launch by the Russian Space Agency launching 37 satellites in one go, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) became the first country to script history by launching 104 satellites in a single rocket. Had ISRO aimed at merely competing with peers, wouldn’t it have limited its goal to launch just 38 satellites?
Now, please read the statement again: As an innovator, your competition is the customer itself. And think how would the head of a BEGGAR company respond to this.
I expect instant resentment. J How can you compete with the one whom you worship?
Three, As a team or as an individual, or a company under one leadership, you can either be a BEGGAR or be an INNOVATOR. YOU CANNOT CO-EXIST.
As a reader, you may wish to go back and skim through the attributes of a beggar mind and an innovator mind and see for yourself that coexistence of both is near to impossible. You can either dance to the customer’s tunes or compose a tune unheard by the customer and make the customer dance on it subsequently. Please note that as an innovator, you definitely need to be aware of what lies in YES zone on the Y axis and what lies in the NO zone. However, this awareness is disparate from positioning oneself as a beggar are completely disparate things.
Though you may have “disconnected” teams or units under a brand with the beggar units providing for bread and butter for the innovators initially, it is unintelligible to expect an employee or a team to demonstrate a BEGGAR and INNOVATOR behavior simultaneously.
Four, INNOVATORS neither gripe for, nor are baffled or stupefied by bills demanding supply bans, sanctions or embargoes. This is because bans, sanctions or embargoes are not applicable if the customer is dependent on you, rather than you surviving on customer’s mercy.
Five, Last but not the least, an innovator can end up being a beggar if he makes a choice of being complacent of being an innovator in recent past. Self-disruption is the key to survival. The best example of this is Nokia: once an innovator, but smashed out of market (before being a LAGGARD for a short time) by another innovator since Nokia did not consciously take itself to the NO-NO zone from the YES-YES beggar zone.
Given this BILL assessment model, it is for you as a team, as a team leader or as a company to evaluate where are you placed. In case it seems difficult to locate yourself in the graph, there is hint. You can either be an INNOVATOR or a BEGGAR. In case you are sure you are not an innovator, it should be simple to make out the rest. 🙂