A tale of two cards

“Building a visionary company requires one percent vision and 99 percent alignment.” —Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last

And I believe the alignment needs to show not in meetings but on the ground – in customer interactions, in every process and the decision making across all levels.

A recent experience drove home the point very clearly.

Background: Over the years, I have consolidated all my credit cards to just two – one from HDFC and another from a MNC bank. And yes both are Visa !

I have also been using my HDFC Credit card as the primary one, with reasonably high and regular monthly spends. And the bank’s team has followed up with me to increase my credit limit. But I didn’t as I didnt feel the need.

For those who of you who are not from the payments industry – a line increase is a key action to get a higher share of a customer’s spends while balancing the associated risks.

On my other card, I just have a standing instruction where a small amount is billed every month. That card has rarely been used beyond this singular, recurring transaction. And almost 90% of the available limit goes un-utilized each cycle.

Strategy Vs Execution - A tale of two cards

The story : Last month, I had to make a big payment and I was looking to split it across the two credit cards.

I used my other card first thinking that it has a significant limit available. My transaction got declined because I remembered my limit inaccurately and had attempted a transaction above the available limit.

I then checked my available limit on my HDFC card (in the last SMS notification) and decided to split my transaction on my HDFC card into two separate transactions – trying to avoid any risk-based decline.

Immediately got a call from the risk call-center of the bank – to confirm if these were genuine transactions. And post my confirmation, the lady at the other end mentioned that I have now exhausted almost 95% of my limit. She also asked if I wanted to double my limit in the next 1 minute – on the same call.

Given this is my primary credit card – I said yes and after responding to a few questions to verify/validate my identity my limit was doubled. Right there in the call.

I loved the contrast in the experience across the two banks:

  • Revenue focus – HDFC converted a cost center unit (the high value transaction confirmation call center) into a portfolio intervention team that helps drive positive revenue impact
  • Understanding consumer journey and needs – HDFC team knew that for a highly active card, a 95% limit utilization is probably when a customer needs line increase. One may argue that number of customers who may go through such a scenario is very low. But look at the efficiency and the high levels of conversion. Do you want to keep investing in emailers and calls/SMS for line enhancement but not look at specific instances in a customer’s journey where the conversion probability is highest. And friction is the least.
  • Lost Opportunity – The MNC bank missed a huge opportunity. For a customer who is not regular, it is tough to remember the total limit or track available limit. And here was a big ticket transaction attempt. A call-back/notification to confirm the limits, may have gotten them the transaction and may be higher spends in future.

These are the customer interactions that decide the winner in the hyper competitive world we operate in – how organizations understand and respond therein.

Lessons from “David & Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell

“David and Goliath – Underdogs, Misfits and the art of battling giants” is the new book from Malcolm Gladwell which is based on the premise that maybe we have all been looking at the David and Goliath story completely wrong.

david-goliath-malcolm-gladwellGladwell starts by discussing specific details from the Biblical story to build the case that David the shepherd boy should have been the favorite in that battle. We all got it wrong because we were fixated on the giant that Goliath was, because we believed that it would be a close quarter battled where size, strength (of warrior, their sword and armor) would matter. But it wasn’t to be.

He dips back into the classical economic theory to talk about the marginal utility curve being an Inverted U curve. And if we believe that its an inverted U curve, then there comes a point beyond which the marginal returns decrease. Or in other words, the same things that were an advantage at one point may become an advantage on the other extreme of the spectrum.

As always, Malcolm backs his hypotheses with solidly researched stories.

  • One of the interesting stories is that of an Indian software engineer (who had never played basketball before) coaching his daughter’s team to national finals. How this outsider looked at his team – a bunch of self proclaimed nerdy girls, and how he looked at the traditional way of playing basketball. His gameplan – play the full court press – was something that was so unexpected that they just surprised their opponents all the way upto the finals where their opponents did the same to them.
  • The whole debate about class-size vs quality of education is again something where there is no clear answer and the reason is that the impact of an increase(or decrease) in class size depends upon which part of the curve the class currently is. It seems that if the class size is too small – there is no momentum in discussions and the intensity of possible interactions might be overwhelming for the kids. On the other hand, if the class size is too big the number of potential interactions may become too high to manage. Hence it seems the ideal class size is between 18-24. This is a great analysis for all those anxious parents who have been using the teacher:student ratio as a way of convincing themselves that they are giving their kids the best education possible. Apparently there is a simple rule in Israel – as soon as the class size crosses 39, they start another class.
  • Another interesting debate that is brought up is whether its a good idea to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond. And Malcolm does this on a very sensitive topic. Should you always choose to go into the top most college that you have an offer from. I am sure, you know what he is hinting at. And apart from some well curated data on college choices and subsequent career success, he also brings forth the choice that the emerging bunch of impressionists made in Paris. The economic principle discussed here is Relative deprivation – comparing with peers and then deciding how we want to feel.
  • Capitalization Learning Vs Compensatory learning: There is a detailed discussion on the lives of some very successful people who were dyslexic and how they managed to “compensate” for this apparent disadvantage. It seems that people who can build on compensatory learning (which is actually a very had and difficult approach) develop their own set of tools to thrive in their chosen fields. E.g. the trial lawyer who couldn’t read properly but had compensated this by listening and remembering things.

Watch the Video from Talks at Google here:

The key lesson that I took away from this book is that start-ups in garages would continue to dethrone big companies because beyond a certain point, their size, capital, processes, existing customers – start becoming their biggest disadvantage.

And when going head-to-head with a Goliath, don’t play by their rules. Make your own rules, where their disadvantage can be exploited.

How much should we pay

Amazing little discussion today, which brought forth the consumer perception about pricing.

A guy walks upto the apartment across the road & offers to remove the bee-nest. He gets the job for a small sum of money (not sure how much) and the deal says, he will get to keep the honey also. He comes over to our place to ask for a bucket (to collect the honey).

Beehive HoneyDad gives him the bucket- he is back in 15 minutes with almost 20 litres of fresh pure honey. Wants to sell it to us & the neighbors & call it a day.

Bargaining starts & I watch as his would-be-customers negotiate for the right price. They want a steep discount coz they know he has already made a neat sum by removing the bee-nest . The market rate is Rs 200/- per litre & they are not willing to pay more than Rs 80/- (more than 50% discount) !

Once the deal is closed, I try to understand their logic of asking for such a steep discount. I thought its the fact that this guy is not really in a market with too many customers, so given his limited options he can best sell to those who know the honey is fresh etc. But they stick to their logic, that since the man made some money (mind you- none of them know how much he made. That is if he made any money at all) by removing the nest, he has not invested time & energy in rearing those bees.

How do they know that when they pay Rs 200/- in the market, the guy selling it has actually worked harder than this chap. Do they want to reward labor or pay the price thats right for fresh honey? It seems as consumers our satisfaction levels are dependent on the margins our suppliers have . Is this why we have advertisements & neat packaging options- so that our mind can somehow stop doing the margin calculations & be happy with the purchase.

Funny how the human mind behaves.