Listening, the HGSi way

09 Mar,2017


Hinduja Global Solutions Interactive (HGSi) Business Head Sachin Karweer on why it is imperative for brands to listen to what their customers want, and then tweak their strategy accordingly. Thanks to organisations that provide Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and customer engagement data, this process has become a lot easier. In between coffee and a pesky PR honcho snooping to find out our private phone number, we speak to Karweer on his vision for HGSi, and more.


We still remember the ‘For India’ website that you were running until it was acquired by the Hindujas. If you look back now, and since you were one of the early movers in the digital space, Hhw would you say your journey has been so far? And how would you rate – not just yourself — but the entire digital media space itself?

It’s been a fantastic journey, starting with For India just after college, and then it getting acquired by the Hindujas when I was just 23 or 24 (and still not sure what I was doing in life), to subsequently working on the media business for the Hinduja group and helping them with the set-top box deployment for the cable industry. I was doing all kinds of innovative things, including [creating] electronic programme guides, videos on demand, pay-per-view offerings, and then doing their digital work. I also worked with clients on end-to-end digital marketing. So it’s been a fantastic journey. We’ve seen brands evolve, and seen them move from traditional to digital media over the last five or 10 years.


Do you think the journey has been what you envisioned when you started out? Or has it gone on different, unexpected tracks? Like, say, wanting to travel from Mumbai to Delhi, but finding yourself on a completely different route?

When it comes to digital, I think it started a little slower in India as compared to the West. But in the last couple of years, it has taken everybody by surprise. Thanks to the push from the Government of India, digital has acquired a great shape and speed, as far as brands and consumers are concerned. In fact, consumers are more inclined towards digital now.


You work across various markets, not just India. How would you say India compares to the rest of the world?

We work with the India market, obviously, but also with the US, European and Middle East markets as well. The Middle East is strong on experience; they really want [to provide] great customer experience but are not as technologically-evolved as Europe and other Western markets. They want large, king-sized experiences on their digital devices. The US is extremely evolved, and strong on both technology and its advances. They are the first movers, innovators and change agents. India is progressing quite well. The Indian consumer has really taken to innovations and new ideas in the digital domain.


Consumers in developed markets like Europe, are fairly discerning and also have the luxury of choosing between different vendors. How would you rate our Indian vendors, compared to those in other markets?

Compared to the European and US markets, India’s big advantage is technology. We have great skillsets available in India that can do cutting-edge technology work. There is also a lot of innovation happening in India which is helping vendors achieve the dreams they are selling to brand owners. It’s all about doing it faster, but still being cost-effective.


Let’s move to HGS Interactive. Why don’t we know much about it?

Traditionally, we’ve been a little quiet on the PR front because the group itself doesn’t believe in too much of PR.


The [Hinduja] group doesn’t need much PR because it is already well known…

So we’ve been quietly doing a lot of good work in the various markets that we operate in. We work with lot of clients in the banking, insurance and hospitality verticals, but we’ve been a little quiet. Now that we want to be known in the Indian market, the company wants to invest more [on this since] this is where we want to be heard a little more.


You’re not a traditional digital media firm. You’re part-digital media, part-advertising and part-technology.



There are other players who do that too. For instance, large agencies also have large CRM (customer relationship management) networks, and they do use technology as well. So how do you see yourself not differentiated from the others?

What we call ourselves is a digital CRM agency. In the market, you’ll either find a digital marketing agency, which may be a boutique agency, or it might be an offshoot of an advertising agency. We are a digital CRM agency where we do digital marketing, digital customer experiences and also social CRM. It’s a unique mix of the services we offer.


But CRM is, essentially, a technology-driven solution. There are CRM companies which also have all the facilities you offer, like Talisma, for instance. So what is it that you bring to the table?

There’s a huge difference between a technology CRM solution, and what we do. We are not just a technology platform company which deploys CRM; we work with people like Talisma to get insights from them, and then go back to the brand and tell them what to do with those insights. For instance, how do you get learnings from consumers via CRM data and what you, the brand, should subsequently do; how can you apply it back to marketing, and what is it that you are specialising in, and such. That’s the difference between a technology CRM company and a digital CRM company.


As a technology player you may not want to reveal your clients, but can you share a success story about what you have achieved so far?

We work with a large media company in India — it’s one of the largest broadcasters — who also has a OTT player with a large network of channels in India. We have a binding non-disclosure agreement with them, so I won’t be able to name them, but it’s one of the top players. We manage their entire consumer interaction over email, calls and social media.


And how does it reflect in their brand strategy?

CRM for them is crucial. For this particular brand, the CRM team reports to the marketing team, so they really understand the importance of consumer interactions and consumer insights.


Can you give me one example of how CRM insight has actually changed a broadcaster’s, or any other company’s, brand strategy?

What this broadcaster is trying to do, is understand consumer behavior. What content the consumer would like to see, and at what time during the day. It is giving the company a lot of insights in terms of content ideas, content stories, characters and actors. The company is trying to use the intelligence gained from what people are saying, and where the buzz is, to take it back to the content provider to rework around the storyline of a particular serial or show. Plus, the OTT that this media broadcaster is running, is helping solve the company’s technical issues… It needs to ensure the customer is getting a great experience.


Are brand managers willing to listen to customers? It’s easy to say ‘yes we listen’, but do they actually do that?

They have to listen, they have no choice. In this new age where everything is digitally driven, if you don’t listen to your consumer, you’ll start spending money on channels which have no takers. All the top brands, globally, have to listen to their consumers, whether they’re an FMCG company or a retail brand.


Just to play the devil’s advocate, recording customer views is something any CRM provider can do. So what is the different thing that you are offering?

The way we manage this business is with the intelligence and process of a BPM (business process management) company. An advertising agency doesn’t follow a BPM process because it is typically about creatives: It’s about a story, it’s about content, it’s about ideas. You need that discipline and you need to hire the right kind of people who will do it day after day, 24/7 through different shifts, so that you don’t miss anything. How to run a creative shop with the precision of a BPM, is what we specialise in.


Typically, what is the profile of the people who work with you?

For this particular CRM initiative, we hire people who have a digital marketing background or a content marketing background. It’s not like a typical BPM where we hire college graduates and train them. That’s your typical BPO or call centre business. Here, we take people from a digital marketing background who are also strong in content marketing, good at writing blogs and who have a creative bent of mind. Then we train them on the product, and then they work with the efficiency of a BPM.


But when you say you are a digital CRM agency, you obviously don’t make banner ads…

We do that, and it’s one part of my business which is competing in the digital marketing space, where we sell ideas and also create banners.


In terms of percentage of business ratio of your revenue pie, how much is it?

It’s equal. So we are doing a good amount of digital marketing and a good amount of digital or social CRM


But you still call yourself a digital CRM agency…

Yes, that’s the differentiator. Our DNA is CRM. We understand consumer interactions really well. Our belief is, if you want to be a good digital marketing agency, you need to listen to your consumers. We work with lot of brands in pure-play digital marketing. We also consult with brands in helping them carry out performance marketing.


What are the kind of creative folks in your team?

Since we are in the digital marketing business as well, we have people who have a background in the arts — people who’re from the JJ School of Arts or with Rachna Sansad. In fact, my creative head, Divesh Swamikutty, is from a mainline advertising agency, and was working as the national creative director, digital. We have a strong, creative in-house team. Because we work with a lot of banks, insurance companies and hospitality brands in pure-play digital marketing, we have to have strong creative content.


In the years to come, which of these domains is likely to grow faster and become bigger?

We feel CRM and marketing are going to converge, and be under the same umbrella. The team that is listening to consumers and understanding them, will be able to market effectively too. Gone are the days when you work on impressions, views and leads. You really want to spend money where your customer is. So customer segmentation is a integral part of CRM. Technology will only give you a way to get the data; you need data scientists to read it.


What about your turnover? How much is that likely to grow by?

We feel it should grow by about 25 per cent every year, for the next two years.


Can you share some turnover indicators?

We will not be able to reveal any financial data


In terms of opportunities, would you say that you will be operating in triple digits in a couple of years?

For sure.


What is your path to becoming more known in the market?

I think it’s innovation. What we are really looking to do, is a lot of innovation in the digital CRM domain. More and more brands have to get into this, and that is where we feel our expertise lies. Digital agencies will not be able to do what we’re doing, and advertising agencies will obviously stick to their core of creativity and content marketing. What we have is our strength, which is what we really want to leverage with brands.


If you have to make an elevator pitch to a potential customer, what would you say about how different you are from other digital CRM agencies, in terms of the services you offer?

We’re a part of the Hinduja group, so we have the scale and mobility, which is a great boon for us. We’re backed by the HGS family which is across the globe, so we’ve got the best-in-class expertise in technology and creativity. So what we offer is the entire suite of digital solutions: Customer sourcing, customer acquisitions, customer engagement and customer retention.


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