Thursday Trivia ~ Customer Obsession: An important aspect of Personal Finance

Thursday Trivia ~ A trait that your Personal Finance Advisor must have!
October 15, 2020
Thursday Trivia ~ Schrodinger’s Nifty50. Here’s what you should know!
November 12, 2020

Thursday Trivia ~ Customer Obsession: An important aspect of Personal Finance

My recent article To become Invincible at Life : Create your own T highlighted the fact that Generalization is as important as Specialisation to truly become successful at personal and professional life. In this Thursday Trivia, let’s take one step deeper and see what really drives great organizations. One of the qualities required to truly become invincible from these organizations revolves around Customer Obsession.

Most of us are aware about Steve Job’s customer obsession. We have iPhones, iPads, iPods, Macintosh laptops which are extremely easy to use. Ask any Apple fan and he will justify the premium price paid to acquire these products. In these great organizations, customer obsession is not merely a quality but a culture.

So is the case with Elon Musk’s Tesla. It’s not just an electric car – it’s an electric revolution that most of us want to be a part of. Owning a Tesla is not just about owning a marvellous piece of machinery. It’s about being a part of the green revolution. Such is the power of customer obsession.

In my quest to learn more about this trait, I bumped into Gurcharan Das’s book – India Unbound. It’s a must read book for every person who wants to understand the rich history of our country and where we went wrong. Mr. Das amazes his readers by providing an extremely balanced view in a today’s world where we are looking at only two colours, namely – black and white. Sadly, it’s become a religion now. You’re either a left wing or a right wing. In India it’s Sardar Patel vs. J. Nehru and in USA it’s about Democrats and Republicans. Thank God, I haven’t read much of USA’s history – else I’m sure we will find similar past there too.

Coming back to customer obsession. Author Gurcharan Das talks about an unassuming person Kamble who joined as a security guard and is said to retire as a Director at P&G. Kamble is of course an alias name, for reasons author would know better.

But just look at his dedication and customer obsession. And how the organization learned from him. I fully vouch for Anupam Gupta’s words on a recent webinar with Gurcharan Das – ‘Only if we had bosses like Mr. Gurcharan Das!’

Excerpt from Gurcharan Das’s book – India Unbound! 

“Oddly enough, I learned the most valuable lessons about effectiveness in business from Kamble, our security guard at Richardson Hindustan. One evening around seven-thirty, as I was leaving the office, Kamble asked me to check the envelope on his desk. He did not think it was addressed properly and the courier would be there any minute to collect it. He was right. In fact, it was an important tape that our marketing people wanted to rush to the television studios for airing the following day. We quickly telephoned the advertising agency, corrected the address, and repaired the damage.

As I drove home, I recalled that this was not the first time Kamble had saved the situation. He had come to us four years earlier as a “temporary guard” and quietly become indispensable. First, he had learned to operate the telephone switchboard on his own initiative. Next, he had learned to use our complicated photocopying machine. Then, he began to send faxes. Finally, he became expert in fixing any number of things. He knew who was staying late, who was traveling, how to reach anyone’s home. It had got so that if anything was needed after hours, our reaction was, “Where is Kamble?

When our telephone operator went on maternity leave, Kamble offered to take her place for six weeks. We soon discovered that our telephone service had improved dramatically. Our business associates asked what had happened. For years, they had complained that our phones would ring and ring, and they had resigned themselves to a long wait. Now, to their surprise, our telephones were being answered on the second ring. I asked Kamble. “Well, there might be a customer at the other end,” he replied, “and we might lose an order.” Kamble was too perceptive not to know that our business did not generally come over the telephone, but it was his attitude that mattered.

I asked myself how we could get all our employees to act like Kamble. How could we get everyone in the company to answer their telephones as though there was a customer at the other end? This is the challenge before all managers. How does one get ordinary employees to care for the business as though they are owners, and do extraordinary things? The trouble is that most employees do not see customers when they come to work in the morning. They only see other employees. They see directors, middle managers, junior executives, secretaries, office boys, but they do not see customers. So they get busy in office politics. Directors get absorbed in building empires; middle managers spend their time comparing the size of their office with those of their peers; junior executives are concerned with locating their name on interoffice memos to gauge whether they are rising or falling in the office hierarchy. The irony is that a company makes all its money outside the company—when the customer buys a product—but the employees spend all their time inside, usually arguing over turf.

The answer was clear—we had to take our employees closer to our customers. This might also help to give more meaning to their work. At the next management committee I suggested to our senior managers that all our employees ought to spend two days a year in the bazaar meeting ten consumers and ten retailers, and write a report offering their suggestions. The committee responded enthusiastically and we decided to implement the idea. A year later we discovered that less than a quarter of the people had actually gone to the market. From those who had gone, we got some excellent suggestions on how to improve our products, our work processes, and our behavior. However, among the majority there was great lethargy to break the office routine. The following year we made the visit to the bazaar mandatory—the personnel department withheld salary increments unless it received a copy of the “bazaar report.” Thus, market visits became an annual habit. Once they got to the bazaar, I think most people liked it. They understood why we were in business, and the company got some good suggestions in return.

The point of this symbolic exercise was to drive home the point that one exists because of one’s customers.”

Personal Finance Implications

A normal investor like me would really like to have my personal finance advisor be obsessed about me. Because I’m not rational enough to differentiate between greed and fear. There are times that all of us go through our emotions strongly.

Just like visiting a Doctor, there is always a churn in my stomach. Is it just a normal cold and cough or this is the beginning of something more? One thing that works in my favor is when my doctor calms me down completely and tells me to relax a little bit and start enjoying life. Most of the times, I’m never given any medicines. Just asked to sleep a bit more and go for a few walks. We would love to have such doctors.

So I asked him what’s his secret – It was his obsession with good life of his patients. I requested to quote him for which he politely declined. He also mentioned that he doesn’t take commissions for any medicines or tests advised. Anyone would vouch for it because he lives a very humble life and walks 2 kms to his clinic every evening.

In our last week’s Thursday Trivia ~ A trait that your Personal Finance Advisor must have!, we had touched upon how incentivise such behaviour from your personal finance advisor too. It was to pay him fees directly. 

“When you pay fees to a personal finance professional, they are obliged to work for you and not for an investment management company. At some point, we should stop incentivizing this behaviour of commissions and pay them directly. Huge plus point that works in our favour is we can demand transparency because now they represent us.”

How to find someone like Kamble to handle your personal finances?

Study the engagement letter that details the scope of work of your personal finance advisor. The list of services mentioned should be enough to him becoming your Personal CFO. 

On the qualitative front, you should see whether your Personal CFO is looking to build a deeper and more meaningful relationship with you or just trying to get you to sign something. Like we mentioned earlier, the conversations should have a deeper inclination towards you and not the investment or insurance product.

Also study minutes of meeting with your personal finance advisor. There are lots of Kambles there in our profession looking to do good for their cients.

— Jinay Savla


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *