On Wednesday, we brought together leaders from our Kshetriya Gramin Financial Services (KGFS) companies to talk about best practices from across our operations in Uttarakhand, Orissa and Tamil Nadu. One story really stood out for me – the green stool innovation.
When we were setting up branches in villages which had never been served by formal institutions before, we were very eager to imprint our values in all aspects of our operations. So, our wealth managers hired from the local villages wear uniforms to signal that they are professionals. All visitor cars need to be parked 100 metres away from the branch entrance so that there is no sense of outsider-insider within the branch premises. We insisted that our landlords build bathrooms adjacent to every branch so that we would be able to hire women wealth managers. One of the early things we also did was to have locally made benches painted bright green as the furniture in the branch. The bench seemed to us, to be the metaphoric leveller in a village context often characterised by caste and class divides. Until, one of our employees realised the awkwardness of the bench design.
As part of our enrolment process, we have a long (somewhat tedious) interaction with the customer about her family members, income streams, household expenses, assets, liabilities, goals etc. As a consequence of the bench design, we had situations in which the neighbour would chime in with details on some asset that the customer had forgotten to disclose! We were guilty of the assumption that surely, if people in the village are willing to guarantee each other’s loans, there would be no problem with a communal environment for enrolment. One of our employees figured out that this assumption was completely wrong and that the customer really valued privacy in these discussions. He came up with the idea of the branch having, in addition to the green benches, also a couple of green stools where they could break away from the group and have a one-on-one discussion with the wealth manager in the branch. This change in design cost us nothing but has had a pretty big impact in signalling to the customer that we will protect her privacy.
This is a great reminder that the small details matter so much. As our mentor & former Starbucks executive Deidra Wager tells us, “retail is detail”.