Economic Times: You need to understand why your customer prefers you
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Company's president and chief executive holds forth on mistakes made, lessons learned and more
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In a candid conversation with Brand Equity, TVS' president and chief executive KN Radhakrishnan holds forth on mistakes made, lessons learned and making TVS unique.
We are a company that has the philosophy of 'TVSness.' For any company to succeed you need a good foundation or value system: irrespective of good or bad times. If you stand by your customer and give best quality, even under strenuous conditions, there's an opportunity to come back in a big way. This company's foundation is customer delight and friendliness. Equally we believe in the strength of the employee.
That has helped in the last five years. In the 10 year journey post separation from Suzuki in 2002, we've done our own design development. In any development that's completely new there's also learning. But we've never repeated the same mistake.
Only by mistakes and risks do you learn: that was how we spent the first five years 2002 onwards. Then there was an era of consistently understanding the customer and going for best in class quality. In the last few years, we have got recognition of our initiatives which helped us to get to No 1 in the JD Power rankings.
The way we designed and developed products be it Apache, Victor, Star City, Wego or Jupiter are all a testimony to customer understanding. It's a combination of all these factors that helped us really improve marketshare in the last two years.
While we say our quality, our engineering capability is the best, someone like BMW has benchmarked us globally with many of our competitors and preferred us due to our excellence in engineering, product development, design, supply chain, manufacturing, quality and employee orientation. Finally, of late, our customers have been saying TVS is aspirational; a lot of new styles and colours with best fit and finish.
Risks are in the area of new product development. How do we create hit products consistently? It's absolutely not easy and requires deep customer understanding. If you get two or three hits, five years of your journey is done.
But through years when your market share is challenged, you tend to look at your competitors. Many times, you are forced to take decisions not fitting your character or brand. That creates more complications. There's a brand essence and a character that the customer has given. If we do anything that doesn't align to this, the chances of failure are higher. When you develop something wanting it to be a competition beater, the entire focus shifts to that product and its usage.
But our customers want characteristics that are unique to us. We have learned you need to understand who the customer is, his likes and dislikes and why he prefers you. And then create a product that delights him like we have done with Apache and Jupiter. It requires patience, calmness and courage of conviction that if you stand for the brand essence and continuously deliver that experience, customers will stand by you and you will continue to grow.
It wasn't a gamble. TVS started with mopeds and scooters. We went behind motorcycles since the market was growing disproportionately, but we also continued to invest and stay focused on scooters. Along with success in motorcycles, investment behind scooters started. On hindsight, we could have moved a little faster.
15 years back India was a scooter country. Motorcycles gave good mileage and were suitable for any sort of road, but at some point we knew that Indian cities and roads will improve, given the pace of urbanisation. We also knew technology innovation will ensure that fuel efficiency of scooters grows. Customers will prefer convenience over fuel efficiency. That was always at the back of our mind. The prognosis helped us go behind scooters and gain market share.
Each market is different and you can't have a common strategy saying 'This is my menu. Now, choose.' The difference between other players and us is we want to be part and parcel of the local consumer, give them good quality, reliability, durability and most importantly after sales service and genuine parts. We want the same consumer to come back and upgrade.
A lot of learning comes from Africa and Latin America. It requires investment in training, development, logistic support etc. We invite people to visit India and see our capability here. Many times, seeing is believing.
Of course, the product has to deliver. No power point presentations will help; the first 2000 to 3000 customers have to give their Word Of Mouth. The moment they say 'it's great', you can rest assured. Wherever we have started seeding and expanding, the acceptance from the consumer is very good. They treat us like they would a Japanese brand.
We account for 15% of the total Indian export, up from 11%. We are looking to see how we can get to 20%. There are markets where we have 20% and 22% market share and even 40% share. In some African markets, we are close to leadership. In Sri Lanka and Bangladesh we are approaching 20%. In Latin America we are gaining momentum and in the ASEAN market, we have just started.
My biggest learning is never compare with competition. I respect all my competitors. I've always believed TVS is the brand which will live on for 100 or 500 years. You may have brands under that but ultimately we will have TVS: that's my vision.
This is a huge market: 60 million bikes last year and we are just 2.9 million to 3 million. In three wheelers our share is 26% . In scooters we have a 17% - 18% market share. Overall in motorcycles we have a close to 14% market share. We want to be among the Top 4 companies globally - if we can aspire to do that in the next three to four years, it will be a great achievement.