Prof Bala Balachandran taught Cognizant customer-centricity


The picture of Prof Bala standing in front of an audience in the large auditorium of the Great Lakes Institute of Management, regaling them with anecdotes, stories and messages is indelible in my mind.

While his academic research and teaching in the areas of accounting and finance at the Kellogg School of Management is well-known and his creation of the Great Lakes Institute of Management is well-celebrated, little is known about his contribution to the corporate world.

A person of great energy and passion combined with a sharp mind, it would not be an exaggeration to state that Prof Bala built the leadership model for customer-centricity at Cognizant. I still remember the three-day workshop—a very intense one—that he curated and delivered in the new Cognizant campus on the Old Mahabalipuram Road in Chennai.

In early 2000, we assembled about 18 leaders of Cognizant and posed a simple question: How are we going to be recognised as a true customer-centric firm? It may appear to be a simple question, but fortunately we asked it at the right time when Cognizant was growing its enterprise customer business rapidly.

Over 12 sessions of intense deliberations and case presentations, we came up with a five-stage Customer Relationship Maturity Model much like the Software Engineering Institute’s Capability Maturity Model.

Prof Bala then said, “Think beyond your satisfaction surveys, think beyond your net promoter scores and answer one question: Would any of your customers stand up in front of a large audience at an industry event and state that they are successful because of Cognizant, unsolicited. If they provide that kind of a public testament, then you have reached true nirvana in customer relationships”.

Coming out of that workshop, Prof. Bala helped Cognizant develop a five-stage Customer Relationship Maturity Model. Right from building the relationship, to encouraging clients to care for our business success as much as they cared about theirs, he helped us earmark innovation dollars for every strategic client so that

we elevate our relationships to a point where we could share with our clients what they should be doing to gain business leadership.

The workshop was not just an academic exercise, goading us to take a particular path but a well-defined program that helped measure and manage our relationships. This model became an integral part of Cognizant’s leadership development for many years. A model that measured innovation. A model that measured maturity. A model that gave a Cognizant leader utmost satisfaction.

His simple but profound measure of success still rings in my ears. He would say, “You may turn out to be the greatest partner for your client and may get great satisfaction scores every year. But if that does not lead to your client spending more dollars with you, quarter after quarter, then you are only a quarter and not a dollar”.

Prof Bala, we owe you great deal and I, along with all the others who benefited from your energy and wisdom, must say a big thank you. You will be with us, always!

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