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You are not supporting a device, you are supporting people

Jun 5th, 2013
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Founders of iYogiVishal and Uday have a candid chat with ProductNation about how they started the company and the reason for their success in the support space. They assist more than 2.5 million individual and small enterprise users today across the globe. Interestingly the idea originated from a very simple notion – that of “people centricity”.

Vishal and Uday, I was just curious about the origins of your company. So, when actually did you start and what was the context that you founded this company in?

We started working on the idea in 2005, and the context was, fundamentally, that in the consumer support business at that time no one was actually building a support capability that focused on the consumer. Everybody was focused on trying to figure out what the brand wanted to do. So, to give you an example, you know, if you called a PC manufacturer for support, they basically had rules of engagement for the kind of support that was required to be given – simple stuff like what part of the support is within the scope, what part of the support is outside of scope, and essentially you would get transferred from one queue to another queue based on the request, and then the entire service paradigm focused on cost management, cost reduction and the consumer was not at the center of the design or the process related to support.

Also, the entire support service was mostly engineered around the fact that it was for an enterprise. There you have standardized technology and a ‘one size fits all’ kind of a process, which is followed and believe me that works. But when you start using the technology in your home or in your small business, the technology environment changes – you have a personalized environment, a personalized desktop. You personalize your settings. You have different kinds of Operating environments. Every home, every office is very distinct from the other. So, you can’t have a ‘one size fits all’ support, because people are so different in their use of technology.

You are not supporting the device. And we thought that was the big gap in what was being offered and what really the consumer wanted all over the world, and that was really the trigger.

So we thought that there is a great opportunity here to create a completely different paradigm in business and do that using technology. Because it’s the only way to deliver very high quality services through a technology platform on a consistent basis that allows the consumer to select what help he needs and what time and how he wants to get that help; whether he wants it on the phone or through the self-help method; he wants to be educated via tutorials. Should the tutorial be on the web or should it be on video? Would he rather have a chat session with the technician and hand over a report or would he want to bear the project load himself? These are all the choices the consumer makes depending on his comfort and the nature of the fault that is raised and demographic and the kind of technology he uses.

So, we designed our support capability, to provide that flexibility to the consumer and put him the center of the entire design of those and that ultimately turned out to be the, you know, key and the major differentiators, not only in our business at the start but also, continues to be the sort of mainstay of our organizational design.

Okay. But when you started out, did you believe that the consumer would actually kind of, you know, be willing to pay for the service, because and why?

Oh. I think the first thing is that we have to understand that consumers all over the world are willing to pay for anything, which provides them value. And that is true even in India, where technology adoption is growing. As long as you can provide value in what you are selling as a service, the consumers will pay. But at the same time, you know, propensity to pay varies from geography to geography, based on people’s lifestyle and demographics. Demographics are different in even within this large geography, and so you need to be able to define which consumer segment you are targeting and you are marketing to and build your pricing and your product strategy oriented on the target audience.

So, what was your sales strategy basically? How did you kind of decide which markets you’d go after, and why did you go after those markets?

Well, I mean, if you’re in the technology business, I think the easiest decision is choice of market. You go after the largest technology market there is in the world; it’s the United States.

Traditionally, that’s been the strategy, that I think every technology company worldwide adopted until and unless they were building a product or service, which is specific to a local geography. So I think, you know, the maximum penetration of PCs, the maximum penetration of broadband and the high-value broadband customers were in the US, and so it was easy…it was an easy decision to say that there are 75 million broadband homes in North America. Those homes have between two to three PCs, their wireless networks in the home. People have printers, and…and they are truly dependent on using the internet for their day-to-day life, whether it’s for entertainment or it’s e-mail or it’s for commerce.

Consumers needed a service, which is available on demand and provides them peace of mind, which means their technology is up and running continuously. So, it was a pretty simple decision actually. But having said that, we actually tried the service in a beta mode in the UK first before we launched the US.

So having decided to enter the US markets, what’s the kind of preparedness you had at your end?

When we started initially we supported the Windows XP operating system and 32 popular software applications. Our services was geared to deliver a personalized support that could proactively help manage the environment and since this was different that the traditional incident based services, we had to educate the customer on the new type of services we were providing. We were also creating a new category of subscription based support services, which amplified the initial challenge

Education was based on creating an opportunity to engage the prospect. Our sales has been geared as an experiential model, where someone can get a free diagnostic or support incident and we use that service experience to upsell a subscription. It worked. Consumers were exhausted with oscillating in the support eco-system of device manufacturers, not understanding how they can connect their symptom to the problem. Our pitch was simple; call us anytime for any problem. We eliminated complicated IVR’s and call-wait times and focused on creating a new support experience with highly trained tech experts.

The final part of the launch was basically on price testing. So, when we actually launched our service, it was initially priced at $99. Over a period of time, we started increasing the scope of support by including additional coverage for more devices, apps and also provided a different service level so we gradually increased the price to $169.99. Then there’s a Digital Home Plan which is unlimited for any device that you have and that’s for $30 per month.

How did you manage your technology infrastructure?

First of all, in this space, you know, there wasn’t any platform which was a plug and play and which we could use to deploy in managing the growing complexity which is there in a home today or in a small business. So we actually invested in creating a platform, which is Internet grade and currently deployed across 11 geographies. It’s multi-lingual, multi-currency and agnostic to where services are delivered. But most importantly it actually harvests all the service incidences that we encounter and makes a rich database of scenarios in our knowledge base. We have invested in automating support through scripts that offer diagnostic and a higher resolution.

Everyday we handle around 20,000 service requests. With growing footprint in 10 countries and the an increasingly heterogeneous technology environment we have increased our scope of support to over 500 different types of applications, 11 types of devices and over 33 different peripherals. This list keeps growing depending on the adoption of consumers and small companies we service. And we see a rapid adoption to a new set of cloud applications and services.

So where is your team based for all the support that you provide?

We find geographies where they are pockets of talent that we can bring on board. So, Gurgaon is obviously primary center and we have around a little over 2,000 people that are employed here. And then we have people in Chandigarh, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune, Indore and most recently in Goa. It finally boils down to finding the right talent. But because we work with premium partners like IBM, Teleperformance, Infinite, etc. we’ve now got the ability to recruit some top talent

The technology platform has a learning and performance module that provides a virtualized environment for training. That combined with greater support automation drives consistent customer satisfaction benchmarks from a new candidate versus a tenured technician.

If you look back at your business these past few years, what are things that you have done successfully?

I think the first thing was the whole approach of becoming customer centered. And there are certain basic tenants that we have put in place. For example, we answer every call within one minute, and have maintained that service level for 98% of all our calls despite the dramatic ramp in our business. Another metric we track religiously that endorses this success is our customer satisfaction metric. Since inception we have maintained a customer service score of greater than 90%. This is 20 percentage points higher than the industry average.

The second is actually in the investment in platform. It was the only way to scale our business and address the increasingly complex technology landscape in homes and businesses. We did a recent survey with our customers and on an average two members in a household have approximately 11 devices. So, what you’ve got is a heterogeneous environment, multiple operating systems being used for different kinds of purposes, and so to provide support in that environment you need to have a platform. This capability is fairly unique and we are licensing this SaaS based cloud platform to other companies that are at the frontlines of managing millions of customer problems.

And the third, you know is people, and we’ve sort of been uncompromising in finding the right people. I believe we were also very fortunate because it was just that turning point where people were tired of working in the support backwaters of a third party company and not being able to innovate, and everything was driven by cost optimization with no sense of ownership. So when we said that we wanted to create a consumer services brand to stand out of India it resonated well with people.