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Chapter 1 – The Experts Roundtable | The Changing Times

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The outbreak of Coronavirus had halted human activities worldwide. While the pandemic has harmed the national economy by a hefty extent, it has forced individuals to sit back- staying confined within their houses and compelled companies to rethink their operational strategies, workforce management, and infrastructure configurations.

The Experts Roundtable, a forum conceptualized by teams at Exhibit & BBC TopGear India whilst working from home, was successfully orchestrated in its first form – bringing together leaders from the consumer electronics and automotive domain together to share some purposeful insights on how companies are dealing with the pandemic and their thoughts. For its first form, the panelist talked about the changing times- through and post COVID-19. It was a 45 minutes discussion and we have curated the video here to 12 minutes and the below are the key takeaways.

PanelistS for Chapter 1:

Devita Saraf- Founder & CEO, VU Technologies
Madhav Sheth- CEO, realme India
Yadvinder Singh Guleria- Director Sales & Marketing, Honda2Wheelers India
Tarun Garg- Director, Sales, Marketing and Service, Hyundai Motor India

and moderated by Ramesh Somani- Chief Editor & Publisher, Exhibit & BBC TopGear India.

Ramesh Somani: “Media launches are very important for the smartphone industry. Would you go back to on-ground launches or continue with web-based launches?”

Madhav Sheth: “I think this lockdown has given us a new mantra for doing our launches online-  which is mainly because of social distancing, but I still believe on-ground launches give us a connection point with media and also with core fans, where we can demonstrate what the product is all about and obtain real feedback whether customers like the product or what are the shortcomings of the product. That is important, however, there is a new mantra in the new age of technology that we keep up with by trying to do online video launches and still keep the rhythm going on. I would love to go back to on-ground launches, maintaining a stricter SOP.”

Ramesh Somani: “Two-wheeler showrooms typically have the highest footfall – what are the changes you are planning at a dealer level, especially with regards to social distancing and sanitization?”

Yadvinder Singh Guleria: “Of course it is going to be a big changer because typically in the auto business it is less of online and more of offline engagement. While online maybe the tracking part, knowing more of the specifics of the product, etcetera, the real experience starts at the showroom once the customer walks in, touches, and feels the product. This is what differentiates auto buying, and the reason why India did not go so far with online. Two-wheelers have more number of inquiries because of the total percentage of the conversion and volumes, that’s why we have a large number of customers walking in. We need to look at online platforms that provide a social 360-degree viewpoint of the product. Virtual test rides could be something that the future could offer, but nothing that’s coming immediately. As far as hygiene and sanitization are concerned, not just the dealerships and showrooms but also the manufacturing plants will be expensive to run and operate because of the kind of guidelines the government will impose when the lockdown is lifted.”

Ramesh Somani: “What according to you is going to be the ‘new normal’?

Tarun Garg: “New shifts will emerge- in attitude, in policy, in work culture, in consumption patterns, and these will be the new normal. More emphasis on compliance will be the new normal, civic sense will be the new normal.

All of us have learned new things, which will be new normal. Digital is not very successful with the automotive industry, however, the click-to-buy website has been getting good traction. Infact, the number of visitors has surpassed the visitor count of the corporate website. The entire sales process is not complete without the consultant as such, but there is a big plus in online platforms that the world will see, and this transition will be the new normal. The second new normal would be consumers realizing the importance of their own vehicle. In the last two years, there were a lot of speculations on shared mobility being the new thing. But the pandemic has made me realize that now my car is going to be my third personal space, in addition to home and office, which I believe is going to bring a very big change in the market demand. The current average usage of cars in India is limited to around 800 to 1000 kilometres a month- with a lot of usage being confined to weekends as people use public transports for their daily commute. The usage of cars will increase, people will start commuting more in their own vehicles. From a marketing perspective, we will see how to leverage these patterns and motivate customers towards better choices.”

Ramesh Somani: “We are in a situation that, to say the least, was unexpected. What was your first response when you heard about the lockdown?”

Devita Saraf: “We were prepared, we had our notes taken on how to work from home. Before it started, I called my management team for a meeting and asked them in case of a lockdown, what is the contingency plan for the next one week or one month. We checked and sorted out connectivity and a tech team was put in place. Luckily we were prepared. So when the PM announced the lockdown, the team and I were ready. If you think the lockdown was a shock, then you generally were living in denial.”

Ramesh Somani: “The Government is promoting a lot of apps to be downloaded on smartphones. If these apps are mandated to be hard-bundled, as a smartphone manufacturer, what powers do you have to deny this as data privacy is a huge concern.”

Madhav Sheth:Technology gives a lot of awareness, these apps prevent a lot of incorrect and fake news flowing around as people will gain access to the genuine news. So far, we have not been asked to force bundle any such apps. Over time, this can be more helpful to the masses and any app which promotes public health, well-being, and safety will be happily forced bundled in our devices.”

Ramesh Somani: “How does electric cars’ future look like when fuel becomes so cheap? Almost free?”

Tarun Garg: “The progress of electric cars, if you try and link it with fuel prices, it is a very myopic view of things. Electric cars are much more than the comparison of cost of ownership. If anything, COVID-19 has taught us the power of nature, we are all seeing some clean air and benefits of not taking nature for granted. The world will continue to move towards electric cars- we have to see how much funds are being channeled to the electric R&D divisions and OEM investment issues could come in, but as far as the world goes and India goes, we would continue to move towards a cleaner mobility, and we are already headed in the right direction.”

Ramesh Somani: “The total TV consumption has increased in India in the last one month. Do you think this could convert into sales once the lockdown is over?”

Devita Saraf: “With the lockdown in place, people have realized they need TV, in fact, more than one TV per household. The realization and appreciation for the product have gone up. People need more than one TV in their house because you can choose the kind of content you want. It gets difficult to watch entertaining content on mobile screens and laptops. But then, the demand also depends on the liquidity and cash crunch in the market. Once the lockdown is lifted, distributors might go back in savings mode, which might affect the business. It is difficult to predict, and any speculations should be kept aside as these are unprecedented times which we have not encountered before.”

Ramesh Somani: “Do you think Honda 2Wheelers will ramp up the online experience for customers?”

 Yadvinder Singh Guleria: We cannot hit a moving target with fixed strategies. It’s a lockdown time, not look downtime. We can always go back, go inside, reinvent and re-imagine and look for a new way of reaching the customers and engaging them. We started with the first online product in 2015- to book products online, with the back-end for money to go to the respective account of dealers depending on the location of the showroom that the customer chooses. After some time, we realized the platform needs to be engaging, giving more reasons to the customer to come back, and we have identified the need of creating a platform beyond the benefit of booking or selling point of view. We are already in the process of it, seeing the market and situation. Standardization of digitization should be picked up rather than standardization of dealerships.”

Ramesh Somani: “Do you think people would be more comfortable working from home, and companies would be happy to allow working from home?”

Yadvinder Singh Guleria: “Depends on the vertical and area of work. Manufacturing cannot happen from home. But the traditional working practices, traditional mindsets will evolve. Companies will be able to identify some areas of operations where flexibility to work from home can be tried in the future.”

Devita Saraf: “Work from home will be useful in emergency situations. Earlier in case of bad weather or national strike, companies would just give an off. But with work from home, it opens an opportunity of working at the comfort of home, and meetings can happen as usual over video conferencing and all.”

Ramesh Somani: “What is the biggest challenge you are facing working from home?”

Madhav Sheth:Planning and planning, no actions. You just get tired of planning. I miss my office as much as I love working from home. I wish it could be a mix of both, but I would prefer working from my office.”

Yadvinder Singh Guleria: “Agreeing with Madhav, there are a ton of ideas that are coming in, and we are putting them in the basket. The fire of execution and seeing the results is missing. We have found some good opportunities and great ideas, but until and unless we do not practice or execute them, we do not know the real results.”

Tarun Garg:Miss giving a pat on the shoulder to the employee, we are very result-oriented people. Currently, we are occupied the whole day making strategies, and the revision of the lockdown dates has brought in a lot of inefficiencies as plans are made and then remade. Effects need to be seen. Key is to see how to see the strategies developed while working from home pick up once the lockdown extends.”

Ramesh Somani: “One book or show you have picked up during the lockdown.”

Madhav Sheth: “Currently reading JW Collins, From Good to Great. Getting into the spiritual side, controlling my adrenaline rush.”

Devita Saraf: “Right now is a good time to be a customer and see what customers doing

Customers have a whole different taste, and I am sitting back and living a life observing and understanding my customers.”

Tarun Garg: “My millennial twins have come back home after 5 years.  We talk about customers, about millennials, and we think we know them- we want to believe that, but that’s never the case.”

Yadvinder Singh Guleria: “I reserve books for travelling, my bookmark is still between the pages that I was last reading while travelling. I am currently watching NDTV Food, trying dishes that can be prepared in 10 minutes or less. Prepared 15 dishes, and 90 percent were up to my satisfaction  level.”

Ramesh Somani: “How has the impact been for you in terms of big bike sales – you have quite a range of big bikes on sale in India.”

Yadvinder Singh Guleria: “As far as they are concerned, they are a different set of customers. They enjoy riding in groups, they enjoy riding solo, they enjoy riding on the weekends. It is a lifestyle product. It won’t have a big impact on sales, as these customers love to feel and experience the adventure or ride further. We have a new vertical which looks into this. This class of buyers or consumers will not change much, as for them it is all about experience and adventure. We are upbeat about this business to recover and pick up the pace, quicker than the mass segment which would suffer from the economic slowdown.”

 Ramesh Somani: “Do you think there will be a big spike in car buying post the lockdown is lifted?”

Tarun Garg:Looking at the China example, there is enough evidence to suggest people will look for safer mobility and maintain a sense of hygiene and social distancing. We believe our subscription model will get more traction. Hyundai will have a complete range to cater to- right from the entry-level first-time buyers to the range-topping SUVs. Many customers who used to take shared cabs to work will think about buying or subscribing to our products.”

CONCLUDING NOTE

Ramesh Somani: “The whole panel has been very positive about the lockdown amidst the pandemic. We cannot predict the future, not even the government. Instead of speculations, all we have to do is stay home and spend time with our parents, kids- and take up new skills and learn something new and wait for this to get over and come out all stronger. A big Thank you to all the panelists for their  time.”

 

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