Thursday, March 15, 2007

Execution. What it is?

“5 days to go for the ICC World Cup 2007” says the ticker on my television screen. Yes it is World Cup time and even as I count the days left for my own trip to the Caribbean, my mind goes back to the several World Cups that I have been privileged to watch whether it has been in India, England or South Africa. But to my mind at least nothing can equal the 1999 World Cup for the sheer atmosphere provided by thousands of colourful and noisy Indian supporters, the amazing excitement the games provided and the sheer pleasure of watching cricket in England. What memories! The delirious pleasure of beating Pakistan again in a World Cup match and our muted celebrations as we were outnumbered two to one by Pakistani supporters. The sight of Kumble getting Flintoff out on the way to India’s famous win over England, the unforgettable image of Herschelle Gibbs dropping the World Cup at Old Trafford, Warne’s amazing bowling in the crunch games and that absolutely chaotic last over at Edgbaston when Allan Donald lost his head and South Africa the World Cup…Yes, amazing memories and I am coming to the business overs with great difficulty. A year later the Chairman of the English and Wales Cricket Board sent a letter thanking us for watching those matches, listing the itinerary for 2000 and inviting us to watch the matches. Now if that isn’t fantastic execution, I wonder what is? And even as we recall and appreciate wonderful execution and recognition of the individual consumer, it is perhaps useful to recall other instances where the execution, again in my experience, has been found wanting. I am not sure how many people read my column but irrespective of that I am not going to name these big brands and embarrass them. Let me merely mention their executional gaffes so that the wise men and women we are, we can learn from the mistakes of our brethren in the business.

Make mine a raitha

An old memory of mine continues to haunt me. I have written about it, spoken about it at seminars and shared it with my students as well. It is still worth repeating. (After all don’t we all have to learn). In those days I used to be a compulsive shopper (kindly note the use of past tense). It was therefore hardly surprising that I was one of the privileged customers of a large retail chain. The chain had an excellent loyalty programme in place. They remembered my birthday, my wedding anniversary, communicated special offers, tracked the recency of my purchase and wrote to me when I did not go to the outlet for some time. Fantastic CRM? Yes and yet there was a problem. Every single letter from them was addressed to “Sridhar Raitanujam”. I know that Ramanujam is a mouthful but there is very little I can do about it right now. Each loving letter infuriated me. Is this a great example of personalisation or a demonstration of how you can single out someone for persecution? And then I finally figured out the reason why. Maybe the retail chain had discovered my fondness for curds and curd related products and coined the appropriate name of Raitanujam for me! Why is poor execution causing so much ill-will and heartburn? Are companies and brands realising the extent of harm that poor execution can do? I am not sure they do. The execution saga continues. The same retail chain continues to mail me. (Persevering guys aren’t they?) A few days ago I got a mail from them saying that as a special customer I would get an opportunity to preview the special merchandise on offer in advance on the 16th of February 2007. Fantastic you say! Well I don’t see eye to eye with you on this. For the simple reason that I received the actual mailer on 28th of February 2007. Stumbling in the last executional mile! Again. And what probably is sadder is that clients may not even be aware that problems like these exist as one is not sure that the direct response agency will share executional glitches like these with clients. We had a similar experience several years ago when we were doing a massive direct mail programme for one of our clients in Pune. Hundreds of mailers were dumped by tired postmen in the unlikeliest of destinations. Our learning? Do not post all letters from the same post office. Is your organisation too suffering from poor execution? Worry about it. Keep monitoring. Tread on a few toes if you have to learn. And grow.

Mr ya Mrs?
Recently we bought an upmarket apartment in Bangalore. (If the prices are any indication every apartment in Bangalore is upmarket). Be that as it may it was bought in my wife’s name. (Unsubstantiated research suggests that in Indian households all the assets are bought in the wife’s name whilst all the borrowings are in the husband’s name and I wonder why I remember unnecessary trivia like this). In any case the builder has a CRM team who wanted to remember their customers in the New Year. An attractive card was sent to my wife from this reputed builder addressed to “Mr. Saroj and family”. While I was happy to be included in their greeting, I am not sure if my wife was thrilled by the prefix. Once again it is execution that worries me. Excellent thought to wish one’s customers for the New Year. Excellent to address them by name. But attention to detail? Execution? End result? Ask my wife.

Tune in to your customer
Contrast this with something that I read about some time ago. A customer was trading in his old car for a new one. As he drove out of the dealer outlet he discovered an outstanding truth. The radio in his new car had been tuned exactly the way his old car radio had been tuned. Channel I - weather, Channel II - news and so on. Clearly there was a delighted customer at the wheel. Again execution was key. And it is not some corporate office honcho who was doing this but a simple mechanic. So the learning here is simple. The importance of execution has to permeate the organisation. It must drive its operations. Executional excellence, really speaking holds the key to organizational success.

Knowing vs doing
We Indians pride ourselves on our knowledge (doesn’t matter even if some of what we know is trivia). We believe we have the potential to become a powerful knowledge economy. And yet one worries for companies. I am sure they all ‘know’ what is to be done. “Take care of your customer”, “Personalise”, “Customise your offering”, “Pay attention to detail”. These statements seem easier to talk and write about than to implement and practice. Companies need to ask themselves this “We all know we need to do a few things. Are we actually doing these things?” Yes doing. And doing it right is the future. Are you ready for the future?

The author is Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO of Brand-comm.