Chaman Maharaj is the Founder and Director at Being Human – a human-centred Customer Experience Advisory in South Africa, a global thought leader on Customer Experience, a proud member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) and a volunteer at Customer Experience South Africa (CXSA).
CXM spoke with Chaman about his beginnings in CX, how his career bloomed over the years and what made him finally embark on a solo journey with his consultancy Being Human.
To set the scene for our readers, could you tell how your CX career started?
My career in customer experience began long before Lou Carbone had coined the term in 1994. It was in our family business – an organic ‘green-house’ garden (without the green-house) that produced only the freshest, everyday herbs and vegetables. My responsibility was to engage with customers on our roadside stall whilst my dad and his team of experts handled the other complicated stuff like harvesting, bundling and packaging our fresh produce for sale.
Coriander quite specifically, was in daily demand within our community and I had unfortunately run out of stock half-way through a queue of customers. “Please give me a few minutes,” I said to my customer, “I will get you some of the freshest coriander we have, so fresh that it’s still growing.” She was confused!
I summoned an assistant to continue working through the queue and re-explained my intentions to the disappointed customer. To avoid any delays, I asked this customer to accompany me to the coriander patch, which was not too far away and offered that she could pick a handful of coriander if she preferred. Along the way, this customer became curious. She asked me many questions about how our herbs and vegetables were grown and as it turned out, she had not seen anything of the sort before.
What seemed to be an ordinary task to me, was a mood-changing experience for her and in that short walk of fewer than five meters, she had transformed from disappointed to extremely delighted – just like that!
I carried that joy of exceeding customer expectations into my corporate career.
Did you carried that passion towards customer experience later in your career?
It all began two decades ago at MTN in 2000, a Pan-African mobile telecommunications provider and during an era when facsimile was a more frequently used communication tool than email. Typical, day-to-day retail transactions had to be routed through to dedicated contact centres by phone and average turnaround times were hindered by long, manual and tedious processes.
At our contact centers, dedicated total quality management teams monitored customer interactions and measured customer satisfaction levels using a combination of commonly used metrics to improve customer experiences and service excellence.
At the time ‘State of the art’ Interactive Voice Response systems with simple menu options provided efficient call routing technology and reduced customer waiting times with basic self-service.
In 2009, I had the pleasure of leading a dynamic team of customer-champions at Vodacom’s flagship retail store. I was also elected into the Vodacom World and Walk-In Customer Care’s Consultative Committee, a medium through which Vodacom promoted employee participation and facilitated a well-structured environment for senior executives and employees to engage on operational issues and drive innovation to holistically improve customer experiences and employee experiences – across the Vodacom brand.
Well ahead of its time, Vodacom’s Consultative Committee was an elaborate voice of the employee initiative and with the active involvement of Vodacom’s then Managing Director, we set the wheels of transformation in motion. There was a cultural change, a complete brand refresh and soon thereafter, the iconic ‘Power to You’ campaign, aimed at placing our customers at the very core of our business.
In 2010, Vodacom identified customer experience as a critical, competitive differentiator and adopted Net Promoter Score® as their preferred customer experience metric. Executives actively engaged in customer focus groups and comprehensive voice of the customer campaigns improved our customer-centric culture – increasing customer loyalty, reducing operational costs and growing group revenues.
I was hand-picked as a key customer experience company resource and joined the Vodacom Business Continuity Management team who at that time, amongst other things – was largely responsible for identifying the potential impact of the South African National Consumer Protection Act and in response, provide a framework of compliance by safeguarding Vodacom’s valued customers, the company’s reputation and interests.
Forward-wind to 2016, I joined the oldest telecommunications provider in South Africa and was again, entrusted with the responsibility of a flagship retail store. The Telkom Express Store in Sandton City had quickly established itself as the measuring stick for other Telkom Express Stores in South Africa and it was not too long before I found myself taking care of the busiest region in the country.
As an Area Manager, unfortunately – 25 percent of my performance bonus was specific to targets around NPS and with limited influence on the end to end customer journey, we toiled to fix something we could not control.
Legacy business processes with outdated IT infrastructures transformed routine customer interactions into customer nightmares and the more I spoke out about our stumbling blocks and pointed out actual root cases, the more I frustrated myself and thus the end of my corporate career and the birth of Being Human.
How big is the team of Being Human?
Being Human is a boutique customer experience advisory in South Africa with a niche portfolio of clients. We take great care in providing personalised solutions to dynamic customer experience problems, and we do so by working very closely with the resources our clients already have.
Having said that, I avail myself to all the needs of our clients.
What do you do to exceed your customers’ expectations?
I take a considerable amount of time to personally study every client’s current state of customer experience and to produce a roadmap of time-bound improvements to help them advance through five stages of customer experience maturity.
This provides me with a birds-eye view of my client’s wants and needs and it is only through this rigorous exercise of actually getting to know my customers, that I can personalise my value offering to them, and exceed their expectations.
Did you celebrate CXDay when you were a part of large enterprises?
CXDay is still very much in its infancy here in South Africa with only a handful of Certified Customer Experience Professionals in the country.
There is a lot more excitement this year and I have chosen to spend my day in the company of customer experience professionals throughout the globe with events planned by the Customer Experience Professional’s Association (CXPA).