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REPORT | The Journeys | Ft. Ashish Himthani

EPISODE 4 FT. Ashish Himthani

Muskan- Welcome to the podcast where we bring you stories of inspiring leaders who have made remarkable contributions in their respective fields in this episode we are thrilled to have Ashish and Tani and I am indoor aluminous with over  years of audience in the customer experience domain currently Ashish is leading the customer service experience and quality team at data click besides owning the customer Charter for click Ashish leads multiple Awards winning programs like custom insights digital CX process excellence and customer Journey management. Ashish has previously worked at WNS Global Services .Throughout his career Ashish has been passionate about improving customer satisfaction by understanding their needs and expectations in this podcast Ashish will share his insights and experiences so sit back and join us as we dive into the world of customer experience with Ashish Himthani .

Hello Ashish and welcome to the podcast .

So how are you doing ?

Ashish- All good !look forward to the podcast, look forward to the learnings ,look forward to the conversations .

Muskan-  So shall we begin with the question?

Ashish- Absolutely!

Muskan- My first question to you is – Can you tell us about your professional & education background and how you got to where you are today?

 Ashish- Sure ! so it’s been a fairly I would say  simple Journey not nothing extraordinary per se it all started back in  when I did my engineering  in electronics and communication. I finished engineering into that was the point where I decided I could potentially  do an MBA but I think back then I did not have too much of an idea that why do I want to do it so you know I I ended up then working in it  for a couple of years with persistent systems  by the time I had worked for two years I realised now it’s it’s the time to make more broader impact for the organization and not just have a localised kind of contribution. So that was the point I decided to do my MBA and that’s when I moved to IIM Indore.So I did couple of years or maybe school studies there and then immediately after that I was recruited as part of a springboard program by WNS Global Services so springboard was more of a fast tracking kind of a program where we  were given a chance to contribute on a larger scale joined in as an AVP and I think that’s where the customer experience  journey and the quest to begin  it continued for seven years. That’s where I you know figured and explored the length and breadth of customer experience worked with clients globally  across different time zones ,different geographies ,different stages of their customer experience.I think that’s when I got a global exposure and an overall understanding of how customer experience will play a pivotal role and immediately after that  that’s when Tata cliQ happened. It’s been a year and a half and it has been a fantastic journey. I ended up moving from a service provider perspective to a business perspective. So it’s been a fantastic journey and  look forward to learning and growth and more contributions yeah and that’s been my journey.

Muskan-  So as we are talking where you are currently ,can you share some of your daily habits or routines that contribute to your success ,where you are today!

Ashish- So daily habits I think in this era of working from home you just get them in the morning and start  you know attending the meetings right from start but I think one specific habit  that I make sure I  have it in my daily routine is working out in the evening after the office hours  .It’s not just about having a good health and all of that I think that’s just a byproduct .What I feel is if you religiously  take a habit like maybe you know working out and then it’s it’s kind of getting out of your comfort zone something that pushes you to the next limits and all of that I think it makes you mentally a little bit tougher  it instils a sense of discipline  in you and and I think those are basically the habits and the outputs that kind of then contribute across all the other aspects of your life so then in in work you end up contributing  in other responsibilities and daily tasks you end up  being a little charged ,more responsible ,more disciplined so it kind of changes your mindset for good .So I think this is one habit  that I keep  in my daily routine and that’s helped me immensely and and that’s where I’ve developed that sense of discipline and responsibility and I think if if I have traits like this is where you then tend to outperform the others and kind of you know move forward so this is one habit that I would want to continue forever .

Muskan- With all this routine how do you stay motivated and maintain a positive mindset you know in the face of challenges?

Ashish- Motivation is a little  subjective term. I honestly am not a big believer that you will remain motivated all  through the  days of the year .I feel motivation is more of an Impulse that today you might have and tomorrow you might not have. What I personally feel is if you are disciplined if you are doing all the hard work all the satisfaction then you basically derive out of those activities fuse your motivation so it is actually the other way around .Hence I am not a firm believer that you need to work only when you are motivated and all of that I think  if you are disciplined, if you are working hard, if you are mentally  strong and then you know you feel responsible for doing everything hundred percent you automatically feel motivated by the quality of work that you do and also you learn something from it as well right. So as long as you learn and grow, rest up just Milestones so you need not worry about motivation, just put in your work hundred percent and it’s all done .

Muskan- So Ashish my next question to you is can you share a bit about your leadership style and how it has evolved over the years?

Ashish- So leadership  I think when I joined as an AVP I was more of an individual contributor and  but I was fortunate enough to get a chance to work with a lot of global leaders with of course different styles of leaderships so as and When You observe different leaders it’s a great opportunity for you to grasp the best out of every leader. So I think that’s what helped me  eventually. It was not a predefined style of leadership that I chose and I think  this is something that comes  with your personality so as the person you are you will basically adopt a leadership style that is national to you. So that way I have a fairly  open and transparent style of leadership. I keep it uncomfortably transparent with all my team members whatever is said supposed to be done it is supposed to be done and if you are stuck somewhere let me know I don’t tend to kind of micromanage the team will take care of itself I just make sure they have all the materials equipments resources to do what they are supposed to do and if they get stuck just  patch me in otherwise I make sure if the team members are relatively new in what they are supposed to do I render my full support and as in when they grow into that zone  then it is my responsibility to up the antique push them to the next level make them a little uncomfortable there and so that it’s good for you .Their learning and growth and all of that eventually their win is my win, right so I am a firm believer in Leaders last as long as they get all the glory and recognition I’m the most happiest person as manager .

Muskan- so Ashish as you were talking about micromanagement, so what’s your take on it and what do you think about it? Is it good for the employees or not?

Ashish-  I think it’s a fairly  abused term, in today’s era people need to comprehend it clearly. I think for and then also  the resources need to view support as something that’s coming positively for them because that something say helps them in learning and growing .So for according to me if the resource is new and the manager  is supporting at different steps not ending up  asking for updates all of that .But if it is

more like a support and then the faith in the individual he or she can do this himself herself I think that is what is the right style of management .Now it can be micro or macro whichever way but as long as you don’t  intervene in the personal lives or just maybe not end up connecting and different parts of their routine I it should be mutually agreed ways of collaborating and connecting and it should be aimed at learning and growth for the individual. so I think that that’s the way to go .

Muskan- Ashish I want to talk about some of your passionate projects. That you’re passionate about .So can you discuss a passion project or a cause that is important to you and why ?

Asish- Sure, so I think in the daily routine you tend to forget about all of this and it’s just work that consumes most of your bandwidth. But I feel amidst all of this  one of the passion projects that I make sure I always remain part of it is the humanity part of it.Where you know I have been associated  with various NGOs back in my hometown at Bhopal and back here in Pune as well ,who were assisting  children in their education so you know all the bright kids and and who actually do not have enough resources in terms of financial or material and Equipment all of that so we make sure we get them all the books, we get them all the material equipment that they need as part of different ngos. And, I think that’s what keeps me  fueling in rest of my activities and I feel it gives me a profound sense of purpose in life so I think and that would be my recommendation for everyone to at least have a noble cause in your life, it kind of makes you  Soul at times in terms of it will want you to work harder, grow, learn. All of these things will actually happen in life because otherwise what happens is I’ve seen a lot of individuals  working day in day out and then basically getting exposed to things like burnout, right so as long as you have a sense of purpose  your compass is fairly at place and then you tend to kind of learn and grow with the purpose so I think that’s what I found people in.

Muskan-  That’s a great deed Ashish, I must say that you’re doing and of course people should remember at the end of the day that we are humans and we must help one another and education is a great help that you’re doing. So my next question to you is how do you measure and analyse customer feedback to drive improvements in the customer experience?

Ashish- There are I think different ways in which different organisations usually do it . I would say there are two key blocks in in all of this .So first part is capturing what your customers are saying and then second is making sense of those insights and turning those insights into action so these are the two basic blocks that I’ve learned and you would see a lot of organisations failing at the first step itself that they are not able to capture the voice of customer across all touchpoints and then forget about turning those insights into action .So  coming to the first step  how it ideally is done  is is via a centralised team  who can actually take care of all the customer feedback varying across different platforms.You might have some comments on social media platforms like a Twitter or a LinkedIn so get that feedback, you will also have some feedback on the interaction surveys like a csat or an NPS so get that feedback as well. Also look at the kind of calls or the chats the customers are having with your customer support function because that’s a gold mine of insights so as long as you capture all of that data synthesize into you know say top Journey buckets or top issue types I think you’ve got a gold mine of data and now comes step two and you know that you know data is as good as the questions that you ask so data is it will not make sense if you don’t ask the right questions and you if your objectives are not pretty clear. So I think that’s where comes step two turning those insights into action that’s where I think there is a need to synthesize all of that information, narrow it down, condense.You don’t need to boil the ocean just work on the  principle  of your issues will be causing  of the noise so I think for focus on that assign it to all stakeholders and show it a closer I think that’s the way to go for an end-to-end successful voice of customer complaint handling.

Muskan-  So Ashish my next question to you is how do you measure and analyze customer feedback to drive improvements into customer experience?

Ashish- So I think there are different ways and techniques by which organizations can do it. I think the first step is to classify what kind of information you want to capture and analyze. So it can be a structured information like a survey or like quantitative data and insights or it can be some unstructured information also like  comments on social media which are fairly open to subjective interpretation, it can be your calls on the contact centre which actually not just focus on  the the keywords but also it has to factor in the tonality the rate of speeds the pitch all of those factors .So that’s something again  unstructured source of voice of customer so I think as long as you’re clear on marking boundaries between unstructured and structured sources and you have the right tools to synthesize this information  ,you have the right analytics tools to quantify to analyze the Quantified information also write platforms to capture insights from unstructured information. So you need to capture the sentiment also accordingly  as long as you are able to do it  I think you will have enough actionables on your plate that you can always create a charter and Chase with all the stakeholders till closure and I think when you condense all of these insights every organisation would basically have a  rule where the issues are causing  percent of problems as and when organizations understand that  focus and narrow down on that specific part of customer Journey where maximum problems are happening  try to just streamline that part of Journey. I think most of the problems go ahead so those two are the key steps one is you identify ,analyze the information and then basically how do you want to take it forward with the stakeholders in action .

Muskan- In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges facing the e-commerce industry in terms of customer experience?

Ashish-So in e-commerce I would say one of the big challenge is reducing nature of Customer Loyalty or you know the the switching costs have kind of almost become negligible.So previously you used to have very strong customer loyalties which is not the case now. Today you have pretty much commoditized products in the market .If you go grocery you have all the platforms almost delivering the same kind of products if you go Wi-Fi Broadband again you have the same tariffs but given by different service providers. So I think in this era or even in e-commerce you have pretty much the same products choose fashion lifestyle all of those products  supported by different platforms correct so in this era I think customer has got a little  smarter  everything is on their fingertips they just can compare products prices on the go and then basically switch between all of these platforms so tomorrow if I you know need a cost effective option I will probably go to the e-commerce player which gives me that option. So one of the biggest challenges today is how do you make that customer stick with you for a long-long period of time which used to be a case I think   years back .So that’s one big challenge that is coming up. The loyalties have been dwindling, organisations are finding it difficult to make the customer stick and in an era where the price and product get commoditized I think it is now the time for customer experience to play that differentiator role so the brands who will differentiate on experience and service I think they will eventually win this race of sustaining competitive advantage. I think that that’s the way to go for brands in delivering a seamless and enjoyable customer experience. And I think  technology goes a long way in defining that part of a seamless experience, it’s not just talking to an agent you know today the Millennials are talking about having a sales Service as a primary option, they don’t want to interact with a contact centre agent they’ll probably you know want non-voice as their primary channels of interactions .So with all those consumer behaviours habits changing, how do you basically pivot your business accordingly ,so I think the first layer has to be a strong cell service option that only comes  with a strong natural language processing machine learning enabled Bots as your primary layer where you end up automating say of your interactions which are low in complexity and urgency so I think as long as you do that most of your problem of customer experience is pretty much sorted at this level and and the returns are found terminal in terms of Investments and rois on on these technology interventions correct .I think that’s how organisations need to design their customer interaction canvas first line of interaction has to be self-served and then eventually it has to be a seamless Handover from the bot to an agent the customers need not realize that this is where the bot has broken and this is where I need to do something else it has to be seamlessly created by the brand that the customer actually doesn’t realize that when when he or she was talking to a bot and now when he or she is interacting with the ancient correct so as long as you mix the right combination of man and machine  Ai and and the human empathy I think those Brands will eventually go a long way in winning the series

Muskan- Ashish how do you balance the need for Innovation and new features with maintaining a consistent and high quality customer experience ?

Ashish- So it’s it’s not  all the time a mutually exclusive concept ,so Innovation sometimes go can go hand in hand in in sustaining what you have but I think I agree  there would be at there would be certain times where it would be a tricky decision to prefer one over the other right and we usually  I believe in a design thinking LED  Innovation  approach while Innovation is fairly subjective it can be just a Eureka movement for a few it can be just out of the box thinking for a few but I think if you have a systematic approach to arrive on certain innovative ideas it always pays dividends .So what I believe in is a design thinking LED approach where you actually  vet any Innovation via three lenses so one is business viability how feasible that IDI is in in terms of sizeof impact and then you know Quantum of impact the second area technology feasibility how feasible that idea is in terms of you know integration efforts to buy or build or acquire that platform all of that and then the third lens is desirability so how bad a customer or my internal stakeholder actually wants that Innovation correct so if you prioritize basis viability feasibility and user desirability. I think you tend to narrow down on a few  Innovations and initiatives that you would want to experiment .And as part of Tata CliQ here we truly believe in a pillar which is called being fast and Frugal so we always experiment  with  with a small intervention  monitor it for maybe a couple of months if it works then then basically go fully overboard but if it doesn’t roll back within a month ,it helps us innovate experiment at the same time not  lose view of you know the larger perspective so we tend to then experiment as well as sustain the CX advantages .

Muskan-  Ashish my next question to you is can you share some of the most important impactful changes you have seen in customer behaviour and preferences in recent years which are a lot of changes actually and one of the big changes that I briefly spoke about was  shifting of customers to  the non-voice channels of interaction right .So today’s customer prefers cell service as an option prefers chat or you know interacting with brands on social media so I think those are  the the preferred modes of interaction. And you will see numerous industry reports where growth of more interaction over these channels  for the next few years is expected in in large quantities right so that’s what I think organizations need to be cognizant of  the other Trend that I see is the emergence and evolution of  social commerce .The value of how Brands must see engagement as as the precursor for the eventual Commerce experience correct so previously gone other days where you have your product  in a shelf in a supermarket and the customer comes to buy it .Today you’ve got to write from the point where you have a product you have to launch it you’ve got to launch it in a way that resonates well with the customers you have to launch it on their channel of choice you got to involve you know influencer marketing you go to leverage all mediums in Social all of that and then basically engage customers so that they feel valued they feel heard  and eventually then convert those customers into your loyal set of audience so I think these are the two big trends so shifting nature of customers to non-voice channels of interaction and  the the shift to engagement LED Commerce .So I think these are the two big trends that we’ve seen over the past few years with your team or organisation .I mean culture of innovation, this is something that kind of doesn’t come if you have a you know tracker and a list and you track regularly with your team I think this essentially comes with  setting up that  culture at within your team that all ideas are welcome and you just don’t shut off any ideas that’s coming from the team. I think you got to value all the inputs, you’ve got to look at all the inputs from different angles if and then you know some of them would be viable not viable all of that but you’ve got to give your team that platform so that everybody has the freedom and right to talk about their opinion what they feel about something what they don’t feel about something so we make sure before launching any initiative any big process whatever we have every team members View and perspective on it  as and when there is a hundred percent consensus so we just go ahead otherwise if there are even say slightest of or disagreements or changes in you know perspective. I think we briefly discuss and then get everyone aligned on so that is one way  you Foster that culture that every opinion every Viewpoint counts and then we keep on engaging teams and members and  various events so we recently conducted an internal digital week which was aimed at  empowering the team members on you know all the aspects of digital that how do you build a world what are databases and and what is AI ,what is machine learning, natural language processing all of that so one point is you educate and Empower your team members so that they think on those lines and eventually contribute around all of those areas and then you basically have contests or basically have certain events where you welcome those digital any initiatives and digital innovation ideas and then you basically reward those ideas you make sure those the winning ideas actually get implemented in real time so I think those are few some of the suggestions how we involve  all the team members, how we promote the culture of innovation, how we promote the culture of  disruptive thinking.

Muskan- So Ashish I think you might agree with me that we have to stay with the current trends in the industry if we have to stay in the market. So how do you stay current on the industry Trends and developments to ensure your team is up to date as well?

Ashish- I think one of the big  aspects to our annual  strategy and annual operating plan is the external perspective  I think strategy is a percentage mix of  what is happening inside and then off what actually is happening outside and how do you get that external perspective in is of course by doing your own set of research  you know going through all the analyst reports competition reports all of that there are numerous other ways by which we keep you know up to date on all of such information we usually  regularly engage in different CX events happening in the Industry where you know we interact with a lot of cutting edge technology providers ,service providers who are kind of differentiating on one thing or the other in a fiercely competitive environment you will find you will come across a lot of players who who will have a certain USB that resonates well with your strategic objectives so I think that is one way we also keep on  doing a lot of benchmarking activities in our organization so we we believe in that core tenet of benchmarking and then being better than the best so we keep on  doing mystery shopping exercises benchmarking exercises so that we understand where we are versus the competition how we can get better which of the areas that today lack in and you know what are focus areas for the coming year should be and then of course being in the Tata group helps you have the internal Tata business Excellence committee where you can actually share a lot of best practices where you can actually get details on what is happening in a specific area within CX right .The best in breed within the group companies can kind of come up and assist you for that so I think these are different ways with which we keep ourselves engaged and abreast of all the latest happenings in the market movement and if a failure can you give us an example that if a failure helped you become better in any way, achievement I am not a big fan of achievements and Milestones and all of that I think  it is never about a specific Milestone. I feel  all of this is a continued Journey to Improvement and learning and growth so I think as and when  you achieve something the next goal should be keep looking forward, keep learning, keep growing. It’s a journey not a destination. You’ve got to enjoy that Journey right, what you are specific to failures I would say  there have been a few failures of course nobody likes it, but they just come your way they find a way to appear right. One of the big failures that  impacted me and impacted my perspectives and then made me change a little bit came back in  like I mentioned right so immediately after my  graduation I wanted to to do MBA but I probably did not have a purpose or or the right reasons to do that MBA it was just that I was kind of good at something but I did not know what do I need to do so back then I  there was an examination called Joint management Entrance Test through which you actually  get to the IITs to do your MBA so in that exam in my first attempt I ended up getting an all India rank of two you know across the country and that’s when I thought  you know my job is pretty much done, I will now just sail through easily for the admissions process and all of that. Little did I know that the group discussion process the interview process is equally critical  back then you know I kind of got a little complacent and careless in those areas .I ended up getting rejected of course because I was not at all prepared I probably thought I’ll just sail through, it did not happen but it gave me a lesson for Life  not to be complacent even if you might be a smart guy but I think not to celebrate also prematurely and of course not to just focus on a specific Milestone or a specific event it is always a journey you got to keep learning, you’ve got to keep growing and then just take it as a long-term journey and then I think that’s the time when I took this lesson appeared again for B schools couple of years later got through and then it’s been a wiser version of me ever since so yeah so that’s actually a great lesson that we all must learn from that you ‘ve saved the failure fail yourself equally you know yeah so  my last question to you is what advice would you give to someone looking to achieve their own goals and aspirations. I think we can just summarise all the points that I’ve just talked about. Number one I think  be disciplined in whatever you do don’t just rely on motivation it will not be there with you all  five days of year so be disciplined of the work actually gets done when you just show up right so if there are no excuses you just show up  it it will be done your discipline will matter your intelligence will matter and and you will feel motivated because of it eventually right  number two  I think strive for Excellence don’t just sit on Milestones think of it as a continued journey of improvement learning and growth don’t just rely on the next best thing that’s going to happen to you ,this is my promotion, this is my growth or this is where I change my company. I think those Milestones don’t actually matter in the long term as it gives you a learning then number of years in a company or number of years in a specific role or a brand doesn’t actually matter .So don’t sit ,keep this as a long-term journey and keep growing number, three for Innovation be a little fast in Frugal don’t just go big bang start small fail fast don’t shy away from Innovation don’t shy away from experimentation and ,number four I think having a purpose or or having a noble cause in your life equally matters it is very critical for you to have a purpose in that life and then you keep growing and then basically all All the Things fall rightly in place .I think yeah those are some three four points that I would want all the listeners to keep in mind that’s it for me.

Muskan- These are all great points, Ashish, I must say and this has been talk about customer experience and of course from your journey .We have a lot to learn from so I wish you all the luck and success for the future.

Ashish- Thank you, thanks Muskan. All thanks to you ,all thanks to the Insightner for having me and I wish you all the best .

Muskan-Thank you so much Ashish ,and have a great day. This is Muskan and I’m signing off!