How do customers perceive self-service technology?

Today  E-commerce and App based cars bring self-service technology to masses. Introduction to self service concept happened when departmental store allowed customer to browse aisles and pick items/goods by self. Self service checkout counters  existed in USA for customer to complete purchase without human intervention;though not prevalent in India.

Do retail managers understand customer needs in a self-service offering?  Does offering create a desired experience and excitement in customer?. This blogs explores whether retail firms have got self-service technology completely right.

Retail firms starts, being sold concept by IT firms that customers want self-service and will happily explore options. One observes that customers are slow in using a self-service behavior change that differs widely from current behavior. Firms miss customer need for interaction with human being during a self-service experience. Customers need more human intervention when they have difficulty to understand the new offering in action.

During technology failure in process, customers look for a safety net and explicitly want an employee to be available. May be firms cannot save in labor costs in the initial days. Once customers get know-how and maturity with new offering or new change, the customer need for employees gets reduced,  Now becomes time for firms to plan for redeployment  existing employees elsewhere in the company. In addition, self-service technology serve as facilitator to customer &  the employee.

Retail firms assume that self-service will provide more convenience. Convenience means “customer choose how and when the interaction takes place”. Firms rate the influence of convenience as more important to accuracy. Customers value both convenience and accuracy. Customers are concerned whether offering convenience impacts/affects the accuracy of a transaction.   Does self-service technology enables customers to review and verify their orders to have greater accuracy?

In retail outlet, physical location of a self-service impacts convenience. when location has less visibility or is not easy to access, location gets ignored by customers. Once customer is evident of the convenience of a self-service technology, participation of customer in trial and adoption can happen much more quickly.

Retail firms assume that convenience is more important than speed of the transaction, Speed of transaction has strong influence on customer satisfaction. Retail stores that want to emphasis on transaction speed needs to think about store layout, appropriate spacing, and placement are important for avoiding bottlenecks.

As a customer myself, Do I shy away from self-service? No. Do I prefer self-service to employee-led options? Depends. Do self-service technologies always deliver expected user experience? NO

Retail firms need to understand what customers want prior to being sold on self-service technologies.While self-service options enable cost-cutting for firm, there needs awareness that firm is not forced upon with a sunk-cost technology that nobody wants to use leading to disenchanted customers.

Have you heard of Seattle speech?

You may get surprised with title and follow with question “Is Seattle not a place? How place can address?”. You go to Seattle in Wikipedia and will find page starting with 3 sentences about “Native Americans” and moving to European visiting Seattle. If you have above experience, you are not alone and I had same questions and in similar situation. It if irony that I visited Seattle years back and was not aware of the history.

Please look for wikipedia article “Chief Seattle’s Speech“. This is a good example of what I do not know. Seems the city gets its name from Chief Seattle.I used to like reading history in my school. History of USA starts with Columbus landing in America and gradually moves to Boston Tea Party, American Independence, Abraham Lincoln, great depression, Pearl Harbor and atom bomb of the second world war. I checked current CBSE site and experience is similar. Now I understand why historians in India crib about political influence in history? Do children in Seattle know about this address?

History is one of the largest big data we have and the data is not clean and is subjected by the preference of the historian. In future, Will it become that data viewed my multiple people(with comments and social sharing) is only true? Will data viewed by few people be disappear in search results and never read? What would happen to data that is not documented in digital format? Will creator have challenges to prove that it is indeed real data? Let us leave History and Big Data and focus on Seattle address.

Here is link that has full text and small audio of the re-created speech The address is a good intellectual read and seems to be related/apply for today’s scenario. This speech was introduced to me in Tamil Book and then did research. As respect to Chief Seattle, I typed the Tamil article and found same cultivating empathy and compassion for others.

“வெள்ளையர்களால் எங்கள் வாழ்வுமுறையைப் பரிந்து கொள்ள முடியாது. பூமி மனிதனுக்கு உரிமையானது அல்ல. மனிதன் தான் பூமிக்கு உரிமையானவன்.பூமிக்கு எது நேர்ந்தாலும் அது பூமியின் பிள்ளைகளுக்கும் நேரிடும். வானத்தையோ பூமியையோ விறகவோ வாங்கவோ எவ்வாறு இயலும். அந்த எண்ணமே எங்களுக்கு புதிரானது.

விலங்குகள் இல்லாமல் மனிதன் எப்படி வாழ்வான்? எல்லா விலங்குகளும் இந்த பூமியில் இருந்து மறைந்துப்போய் விடுமானால் தனிமையில் மனிதன் இறந்து போய் விடுவான். விலங்களுக்கு எற்படுவது நாளை மனிதனுக்கும் நேரிடும். எல்லாம் ஒன்று தெடர்பு கொணடவையே.

நீரின் முணுமுணுப்பு என் தந்தையின் தந்தையினுடைய குரல். எங்கள் காலடியில் உள்ள நிலம் எம் மூதாதையரின் சாம்பல்.இதை நீங்கள் உங்கள் பி்ள்ளைகளுக்குக் கற்பிக்க வேண்டும். இந்த பூமி எங்களின் தாய் என நாங்கள் நம்புவதை உங்கள் குழந்தைகளுக்குக் கற்றுகொடுங்கள்

நதிகள் எங்கள் சகோதரர்கள். அவர்கள் எங்கள் தாகத்தை தீர்க்கிறார்கள். எங்கள் படுகுகளை சுமக்கிறார்கள். எங்கள் குழந்தைகளின் பசியாற்றுகிறார்கள். நாஙகள் உங்களுக்கு எமது நிலத்தை விற்றால் நதிகள் எங்களுக்கும் உங்களுக்குமான சகோதரர்கள் என்பது உங்களுக்கு நினைவிருக்க வேண்டும். அதை உங்கள் குழந்தைகளுக்குச் சொல்லிக் கொடுக்கவும் வேண்டும். அது மட்டும் அல்லாமல் நீங்கள் எந்த ஒரு சகோதரனிடமும் காட்டும் கருணையை நதிகளிடமும் காட்ட வேண்டும்.

வெள்ளை மனிதன் உருவாக்கிய நகரங்களில் அமைதியே இல்லை. வசந்தகாலத்து இலைகள் உதிர்வதைக் கேட்கவோ பூச்சிகள் தங்கள் சிறகுகளை உரசிக் கொள்ளும் ஓசையை அறியவோ சாத்தியம் இல்லை. நகரங்களின் குழப்பமான ஓசைகள் செவியை அவமதிப்பதாகத் தோன்றுகிறது.

சிவப்பு மனிதனுககு காற்று மிகவும் மதிப்புடையது. ஏனென்றால் எல்லா உயிர்களும் பகிர்ந்துகொள்வது ஓரே சுவாசத்தைத்தான்; வலிங்கும் மரமும் மனிதனும் ஓரே சுவாசத்தைத்தான் சுவாசிக்கிறார்கள். வெள்ளை மனிதன் தான் சுவாசிக்கும் காற்றை அறிந்ததாக தெரியவில்லை.

ஆண்டுகளுக்கு முன்பாக சியாட்டில் என்ற சிவப்பிந்திய மனிதர் கேட்ட கேள்விகள் இன்றும் பொருத்தமானதாக தோன்றுகிறது. வாழ்நிலமாக இருந்த நிலம் இன்று பெருநகரமாக உருக்கொண்டு நிற்கிறது”

Difference between “Be alone” and “Feel lonely”

Are you aware of difference between “Be alone” and “Feel lonely”? I have always been happy to be alone, as I do not associated being alone with loneliness. Each human being needs to learn to be alone and enjoy being alone. Each human being needs to take time to be alone to think about one’s own wants and needs without being driven by some one else. One they understand certain things that one needs to be comfortable in “Being alone”, they can start exploring with other people. Being alone becomes a pathway to self-discovery.

Loneliness is an emotion, actually it is feeling of emotional emptiness. When I am alone, Can I get lonely? YES! Does “Feeling lonely” really explain to other person what you need? Would it be better to use more specific words other than  “lonely” to describe your state?

  • Are you longing for a human relationship?
  • Do you feel an emotional hole unfilled?
  • Are you looking for or intimacy in relationships?
  • Do you miss relationship and do not know how to establish same again?
  • Do you miss someone specific?
  • Do you want attention of other people on you?

One observes in cities, there are people with mostly everything what they wanted.  They have friends and people who knows them well. The complain of “Feeling lonely” exists. They try to visit their villages and travel with families and plan activities to keep them occupied. Why do they “Feel lonely” when they can continue to interact with people around them.?  Is root cause the circle that people have put around themselves and the circle started to define their world or relationships?

One observes the city behavior is enhanced in modern internet era, people have different means to connect and interact with each other. Started with phone for people to connect from different location, we advanced to mobile with all social networks, SMS, Whats-App, in addition to older medium like  radio and TV. How much do these new mediums make us feel connected and not “Feel lonely”?

Pre 1900s, Cities were few and did not exist. There was little or no transportation and communication facilities. They suffered from diseases and famine. Here are scenarios where people experienced “Being alone” or “Feeling lonely”

  1. Sage: One choose choice to cut down your desire for interactions. This is “Being alone” & not “Feeling lonely”
  2. Diseased: Once is forced to be lonely as one cannot walk or do his own activities. The person wants to have interactions and feels that his wants are rejected .
  3. Love: When one moves far away from loved ones for trade or other reasons. One dream’s of other person. One faces similar scenario when when your loved ones die and you feel emptiness in relationships.
  4. War: A soldier in border waits in prepared state for response awaiting the enemy attack. There is uncertainty about what happens in future. Remember soldier choose to be in the state he finds himself.
  5. Elderly Stage in life:  One has completed so called worldly commitments in life and not clear what to perform next and made to feels alone. One goes in search of nature or arts and immerse oneself in nature and arts
  6. King’s : One has lot of people around and acts as per the expectation of the world. One wants to be left alone where one can be his/her own self.
  7. Prisoner:  A punishment. You have no knowledge what happens in real world today, beyond the prison and have memories of your past experiences.  In addition, a person to be hanged waits for the day of death.

Traditional Career models may soon be history.

How does your skills (employee or entrepreneur) evolve  with constant change in the way work is done?. Your answer is driven by you and organization you are associated with.  How much are you aware of self and organization?  This blog is to self understand three different organization culture and evaluate them against my own values and vision . Firm’s culture drives behaviour & attitude of people engaged with the firm.

  • Firms driven by profits, goals and  market leadership
  • Firms driven to change the status quo and focused on flexibility and reduced fixed costs
  • Firms driven by care, with a social conscience and responsibility

Firms driven by profits, goals and market leadership.   Scale of operations distinguishes them from others. To enable scaling of operations, employees are offered with job commitment and flexibility. In this way, they can lock the talent from moving elsewhere and have flexibility to follow money and go wherever opportunity is.  Focus is to enable  individualism with minimal integration. Employees work for their salary and position in the company. Talented employees still leave to create or join new age firms.

Some of employees are involved in research. Corporates would drive employees with pressure of performance, also influence by competition by new  age start-ups. Some of them who sit on enormous cash are open to acquire new age start-ups to retain their dominant position in the world.  A corporate career starts to categorize people  as  haves and have-nots. If you think your environment is similar to above, ask yourself questions. Learning is closely aligned to objectives and performance measures. Do you have planned objectives and measures to measure your performance? Are you performing to meet/exceed performance metrics? Are you aware and build data to substantiate your performance?

Firms want to change the status quo, focused on flexibility and reduced fixed costs.  They are similar to new age tech start-ups. They are innovators and mostly are not inventors.  They are specialized shops with a strong belief that their specialization would solve all problems around. Transport industry is disturbed with app-cars today and driver-less cars tomorrow.  Retail industry is disrupted with advent of e-grocery & e-commerce. Bank cheque and Credit card are disrupted by digital wallets and e-payments. .

As they enabled product adoption with early adopters and market around convenience and comfort, they have built a good moat. They have fewer number of employees and more number of contractors/partners.They have less concerns how people of the industry disrupted would transform and are not ready to understand skill gaps in existing people.  There is benefit for all stakeholders in short-term. Do their employees, consumers and partners benefit in long-term?

I observe an extreme urge to dominate the world economy and people are drowned in belief that “Winners get all”.  Focus is  to enable individualism and dominate the market. Employees work for their salary, equity and influence they have in the company.

Except for few employees, they are cultivating a culture among human beings that “Contract employment will be king. Full-time jobs may be become obsolete.” If you think your environment is similar to above, ask yourself questions. Do you have good negotiation skills?. Are you ready or you already building your brand? Can you take responsibility to build your own skills? Are you trained to be your best in predominantly  virtual interaction with little or no physical interaction?

Firms driven by care, with a social conscience and responsibility.  Society and business see their agendas align.  They see themselves in  important role to support and develop their employees and local communities. When things go wrong, they take responsibility to set things right.

Employees may not work for them just for pay.  Employees are expected to hold corporate values and targets around sustainability  agenda. Employers want to make profit in a responsible way and want to spend their profits to make a positive difference. Here employers take responsibility to take after employees’ health and well-being. Employees  demand work that fits around their life rather than focusing on money or a specific career path. Focus is on cooperation and integration to create right culture and behaviours and ensure sustainability.

If you think your environment is similar to above, ask yourself questions. Do you look for good behaviours alongside performance?  Do you take great care to only select talent with the right behaviours and attitudes?  Do you value diversity and life balance in work? Do you volunteer and forge links with the community participating in socially useful projects?

Having read all way here in the blog, Do you have answers for below questions?. I observe that my work is of Category 1 and 3. If not, please read blog again.

  • Where are the scenarios in your organization?
  • How will you or your organization respond to constant change?
  • How do you or your organisation need to change in different aspects like learning, development and other aspects?
  • Where do you want to go from here?

Don’t Act Like This Fish!

[Copy from article,  I have been in the state of fish many times. Needs awareness and effort to not be like the fish]

I once attended a seminar on emotional intelligence. The speaker related an interesting experiment that probably explains behaviour.

The experiment involved a fish in a water tank. The experimenter dropped some fish food in the tank. The fish devoured it immediately. Thereafter, the experimenter introduced another element in the fish tank. When he dropped food the second time, he also inserted a glass sheet between the fish and its food. So, the moment the fish dashed towards the food, it hit the glass sheet and retreated. This went on several times. Every time the fish would swim towards the food, it would bump against the glass sheet. After several failed attempts and some bruises, the fish finally retreated in one corner of the tank.

When the glass sheet was finally lifted, guess what happened? The fish would simply not go towards the food. Surprising, isn’t it? While the actual glass sheet had been removed, it still existed in the memory of the fish.

I was quite impressed with the insights that this story offered for human behavior, particularly in the context of investing. The fish stopped moving towards the food, just the way my friend had quit investing in stocks.

Do you quit altogether what you are doing after some bad experiences. But failures do leave behind some residual psychological impacts that may create a glass wall between them and wealth creation. The key is to be able to handle setbacks without letting them overshadow and jeopardize your behavior and decision making.

As an investor, how do you deal with setbacks and failures? Do you feel that your past experiences weigh negatively on your present style?

Do entrepreneurs run business honestly and create jobs?

[Copy from this article, as I liked perspective]

‘These are thousand times better than our neighbourhood grocery store,’ my wife told me, as I was about to help myself with a snack of scrumptious khakhras, a traditional Gujarati preparation.

‘And guess what, these are also 50% cheaper than what the grocer sells us. I bought them directly from the factory premise where they are mass produced and therefore saved up on the grocer margins,’ she added.

That’s not all she had to share with me.

She was a bit dejected with the scenes she saw at the factory. There were scores of poor women sitting in a long line. Each one of them working in tough conditions and going through the process of manually flattening balls of dough and then roasting them and creating the final product.

‘Don’t you think the system is a bit unfair? These and millions of other workers toil away day in and day out. Yet it is the owner of the factory or the middlemen like the grocer who walk away with most of the profits,’ she said with a tinge of sadness in her voice.

It was easy for the emotional brain to fall prey to her story. The system does indeed appear to be loaded against people who toil but only walk away with a pittance.

However, just as my heart was about to fill up with sympathies for the women workers, I invited views from my rational brain. I was curious what defence it could come up with. It didn’t take long for it to argue that my wife was taking a narrow view of things, however kind-hearted.

Agreed – the owner of the factory gets to walk away with maximum profits, but what if there’s a loss? Wouldn’t he have to bear the losses also if the venture is unsuccessful? Will the workers work for free if the business isn’t making money? Of course not. As soon as the monthly paycheques stop coming in, they will pack up and look for another job.

It is the owner who will lose his hard earned capital, quite possibly his entire life savings. I reasoned with my wife that there could be many crony capitalists in the country who don’t deserve their millions and billions. Also, the conditions the women were working under may not be ideal.

However, to assume every entrepreneur is cut from the same cloth is wrong. There’s always this tendency to paint wealthy business owners as villains. It is as if the only way the rich could have become rich was by making the poor poorer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Entrepreneurs take on massive risk. If they fail, they can lose everything. But if they manage to bring to market an innovation that people value, they have rightfully earned their success.

Our country can definitely do with the right kind of entrepreneurs – those who can go about running a business honestly and create jobs in the process. Painting each and every one of them as a villain and creating problems for them doesn’t get us anywhere. Indeed, it only delays our march towards growth and prosperity.

Moneylenders to Payment Banks

On August 19, RBI gave nod to 11 private parties to set up “payment banks”. A payment bank is the same as a regular savings bank and can perform functions such as taking deposits, pay bills, issue cheques etc. When I hear difference is that payment banks cannot issue loans, I am thinking where does income come for payment banks to pay interests on deposits?


Earlier saving banks existed to enable people to save money. What is significance of payment banks and not micro-savings bank? Will payment banks encourage savings? Payments come from government spending or spending by people. Are we looking at India transforming from savings economy to spending economy? What is impact on common man?
While business welcome payment banks,blog walks through the evolution from moneylenders to payment banks(from Savings to spending).

Moneylenders helped merchants to look after their surplus cash. They gave a receipt to the merchants for the cash deposited with them by the merchant. Money lenders provided this money to others as loan, earning an interest. On earning interest, they shared with merchant as incentive(interest) to not withdraw money. The initial people receiving loan were also people in business. This was initial stage of banks.

Some times one merchant wanted to pay another merchant and wrote letters to bank to make payment with deposited money. To support merchants were travelling and not able to come in person, the “cheque” got introduced, where merchant can provide cheque and need not come in person to bank to transfer money. Banks provided merchant with cheque instrument and we are in the starting point for today’s savings bank.


Keep in mind that savings and transfers were focus at start and not purchase payments. The savings banks focused to enables savings, provide loans and facilitate money transfer(P2P transfer). Over time, non-business individuals leveraged the savings & transfer facility of banks.

Merchants were comfortable to accept cheque issued by another merchant and were not comfortable to take from unknown merchants or purchasers of goods. There was fear not to be in status “Goods supplied, Payment not received”. On other hand,customers with money in bank & no cheque book(in hand) did not make purchase of goods after enquiry.

While merchants and banks were aware that “Purchase any time” did not happen, it benefited customer by providing more time to research about need for the product, the product features and the suitability of the product for their needs.

In earlier days if a customer has deposits earning interest and loan paying interest, banks advised customer to pay off loan with deposit and save customer from unnecessary interest charges. To facilitate merchant’s immediate needs of money for business, concept of “current account” got introduced and one could get short term loan without any additional effort. The loan was limited to worthiness or deposits of the customer.

Let us come to banks after introducing start of credit cards.

Surprisingly credit cards were introduced to support needs of the farming communities for early credit in early 20th century. The farmers were enabled consumer credit via department stores. Department stores made credit available to middle-income customer and implement a method to track customer accounts. The first cards were simply made of cardboard or paper,called charge card. The balance needs to be paid by the month end.

To start with, cards were provided on charge and were not free. The banks made merchants to offer reward points for transaction done by customer. Some of the reward points could be discounted by customer for future purchase from the same merchant. Effectively more customers got attracted to sign up to obtain reward points. Presence of more customers attracted more merchants to sign up and circulation cycle started .

Here was ecosystem evolving where merchants are enabled to collect money on sale & customers are enabled to pay money on purchase. Early in the game, banks realized potential of the ecosystem and leveraged ecosystem to their self advantage. The primary focus became more to create self value and less to create value for merchants/customers

To enable convenience, banks charged percentage of transaction to both merchant and customer. Fees turned out to be pretty lucrative for credit card companies, and they never looked back. When customers failed to pay the credit card dues, the banks earned interest from the customer and late fees. Money to merchant was paid only 3 days post purchase and bank had access to purchase money, available free at bank’s disposal.

Banks have identified new source of income(not savings). Soon every bank got involved to offer own cards or offer partnering with VISA/MASTER. Over time governments found new source of income charging service tax on late fees/charges paid by customers.

While enabling merchants and customers was the original focus, with more competition, the target became users who were lucrative enough to earn money for banks and people carrying balance from month to month, paying interest. Some of them started to offer teaser interest rates of zero percent for balance transfers to acquire new customers and credit card users took them up on their offers to save money.

I would continue beyond credit card evolution to payment banks in following blog