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Navanit Narayan, Chief Service Delivery Officer, Idea Cellular
“The industry has to do what it did 15 years ago, when voice and text services were introduced on a scale never seen before. The industry has to work with the customers to educate them on usage and offer relevant applications that can improve their daily life,” he says.
As rural penetration grows, educating customers becomes an important part of persuading them to adopt data services that will then have a multiplier effect on the economy. The challenge for every service provider is to develop customer servicing models that are effective, in keeping with the requirements of different segments of their customer base, combined with service delivery channels that will be cost effective given the scale of their operations.
Narayan says the industry also has to work closely with banking institutions and the regulators to offer mobile banking services. Given that most Indians in the countryside do not have a bank branch anywhere near them, the way to bridge the gap is not by building brick-and-mortar branches but by making a quantum leap to m-banking.
The industry’s position in rural areas, he feels, has to catch up with its position in urban areas. As the different stages of the maturity life cycle move closer, customer experience, he says, will become a key differentiator. A good experience translates into customer retention. “The challenges in our markets are the diversity in the customer base and the literacy level, which inhibits mass deployment of self-service tools,” he says.
Narayan, who is currently chief service delivery officer with Idea Cellular, says with pride that the operator’s focus on customer service has led it to become the national leader in mobile number portability (MNP). Idea has nearly 4,000 service centres, including over 650 special experience zones for promoting 3G. He points out that Idea’s service delivery platform is ISO 9001: 2008 certified, making it the only operator in the country to have this standard certification for all 22 service areas and its corporate office.
As head of the service delivery team managing the on-boarding and customer life cycle management, some of the functions he has to oversee are credit management for the entire base of post-paid customers and provision of remote customer service through contact centres and the back office with an outsourced strength of over 7,000 seats, and a large network of service centres. He also leads Idea’s MNP initiative as the company adopts a cross-functional approach to managing such new initiatives.
A mechanical engineering graduate from BITS Mesra, Narayan has been with Idea since 2008, after leaving Nokia Siemens Networks where he was director and head of the Global Network Solutions Centre (GNSC). This was the first GNSC set up to provide remote network service management for global telecom customers.
After BITS, Narayan completed an MS in industrial engineering and management sciences from Northwestern University, USA, a joint programme between the Technological School and the Kellogg School of Management.
As a student, he was burning with the ambition to do something different and lead teams. During his undergraduate studies in engineering, he and the other students built an ultra light aircraft. As a young boy too, he had picked up aero-modelling and enjoyed making small toy planes that used to glide using wind and thermals. After making the ultra light aircraft, he decided he wanted to become a fighter pilot. “While I could not fulfil that early ambition, I have enjoyed working with teams and leading organisations through transformation and change management,” he says.
Narayan also completed his postgraduate studies in business management from XLRI, Jamshedpur. He was selected as a British Chevening scholar and attended a leadership programme at Leeds University Business School.
He started his career with Tata Steel, after completing his studies in the US. For over 12 years, he worked in various functions including operations, total quality management, strategic planning and head of a business unit. He enjoyed the opportunity to transform Tata Steel from a production-led organisation to a market-driven one, for which he worked closely with the managing director and consultants from Arthur D. Little.
Later, Narayan moved to consulting, joining Mercer Consulting where he headed the western India and Middle East operations. “I led teams, providing strategic consulting to some large organisations in the financial services and manufacturing sectors. With the growth of the BPO industry, I first joined Wipro Spectramind as vice-president, operations and later, Epicenter Technologies as chief operating officer,” he says.
The reason he changed industries by joining Nokia and Idea was his love for new challenges. At Idea, he has overseen the building of a robust servicing platform to manage growth from 12 million to 120 million customers in the past four years, an achievement he is justifiably proud of.
What helps him succeed with challenges, he believes, is his ability to learn and assimilate fast, analyse and give strategic direction, break down complex problems, and find uncomplicated solutions. He appreciates teamwork and is aware of the importance of identifying talented individuals, finding the levers they need and creating the right environment in which they can flourish.
“I believe that as a leader I need to work with my team to set direction, find new business models, question the way we work, challenge our successes and create opportunities for team members. I believe in respecting people and their ability to perform – hence my style is very participative. While we develop strategies, I invite new ideas and get the team fully involved, but once we agree on an approach, I allow the team to implement and track performance using dashboard/key performance indicators and, if and when required, get into the details for problem-solving,” he explains.
Over the years Idea has evolved into a pan-Indian operator with a strong rural presence and mass appeal. The results on MNP, where Idea has emerged as the leader is, Narayan says, testimony to its popularity. “Because of our strong brand, wide sales and marketing presence, and friendly and responsive customer service, Idea has been able to increase its revenue market share consistently for the last 18 quarters,” he says.
Narayan’s job involves travelling to various parts of the country for performance reviews and market visits. In Mumbai, he may sometimes have strategy meetings or reviews of the issues being faced by customers. “I always try to keep some time for myself when I can find information on what is happening in the industry – in India and globally – and also look at practices in other industries that could be leveraged in telecom,” he says.
The job, perforce, entails long hours but he says his family is used to it by now. His children are studying at universities in the US and UK, leaving him and his wife at home. His way of spending time with her is to walk together, or go to the gym, every evening.
Throughout his career, Narayan has never forgotten the inspiring example of his father who came from a very humble background, but through sheer intelligence, diligence and commitment, overcame all difficulties to excel. His father ended up as a Rockefeller Foundation scholar at Cornell.Narayan recalls that his father could easily have stayed on in the US, but he chose to return out of a belief that the country needed people with knowledge following Independence. “I remember when, as a child, I first saw his bag full of medals, including from the President of India, I always dreamt of doing something that would make him proud,” he says.
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