Vikram Kaushik, managing director, Tata Sky, is deservedly proud of his fledgling company's achievements. He says, "We have created history. No DTH platform anywhere in the world has ahieved 1 million connections within the first 12 months. We have created benchmarks, even beaten global standards. The number itself is not as important as the fact that we have been able to create the gold standard for customer service in India."
This achievement has been made possible because Tata Sky paid close attention to every aspect of the service, from the first call made to the call centre or the purchase of a set top box to the installation and the subsequent quality of service. Every detail reflected the consideration paid to consumer interest and convenience. In South India, the company trained women to work as installers in its field force, an innovation that many consumers have lauded. The company's call centres in Hyderabad, Pune and Mohali in Chandigarh field queries in 11 languages.
From the very beginning, Tata Sky resolved to leave nothing undone in its quest to win over consumer confidence. Nearly 3,000 field service engineers were given training at least six months before the launch. Kaushik tapped the best resources in every field to train his people. The company studied the methods of successful DTH platforms such as Foxtel Australia, Sky Italia, BSkyB in the UK, and Direct TV in the US. "We accessed expertise from well established DTH platforms within Newscorp," says Kaushik. "Our software system for the call centres came from Sky Italia. The integration work was done by TCS. We used all the linkages within the group and within our partner groups to get the best expertise."
About 36 expatriates from these companies spent three to six months in India to train Tata Sky employees on specific areas of specialised activity and expertise. Trainers flew in from BSkyB in the UK to help the call centres, put together training manuals and develop training programmes that could be cascaded through the company. Installation experts came in from Star in Hong Kong. The transfer of learning boosted the morale of the team and prepared them for the road ahead.
Simultaneously, the management team was selected to bring in domain expertise in varied areas such as supply chain management and field services and sales. Human resources put in place a robust system of reward and remuneration to get the best out of everyone. The insistence on high standards was put in place early in the game and cascaded down to every level.
Soon it was time to test the new product. A soft launch in employees' homes helped Tata Sky to anticipate problems and counter them adequately. But the greatest challenge facing Tata Sky was that of selling a new concept and creating a new category. Kaushik clarifies, "We had to convince consumers that they needed to buy a set top box. Earlier, the cable man came, produced a wire and connected it to the back of the TV set, and the consumer didn't give a thought to it. Furthermore, we told consumers that at Tata Sky, they could dial a number to get special services, including information and troubleshooting help, make a complaint or change a package."
The initial advertising campaign stressed on the newness of it all by announcing that entertainment would never be the same again. It created intrigue. Tata Sky supported the positive effects of that campaign with strong customer support and excellent product service.
The results are evident in less than a year. Tata Sky has now set its sights high. Today, there are 70 to 75 million cable connections in the country, but only 5 million DTH connections. This fact combined with the projections of analysts and media watchers that by 2015, there could be 40 million DTH connections in India, presents a challenge that is both daunting and exhilarating.
Success, however, raises expectations. And there's nothing like initial success to create huge challenges. Numerous big players are now eyeing the market, leading to fears of fragmentation.
Kaushik is determined to tackle these challenges. Next on his agenda is making the service available everywhere, even in rural areas. He says, "The nature of our product is such that it can be made available in under-developed areas, considered "cable-dark". But the cost of getting there is very high. Also, the challenge of selling the concept and creating the category has to be customised to meet the needs of rural India."
The company is already making inroads into the rural market through retailing avenues, working with Godrej Adhaar, ITC's e-choupal, Tata Chemicals and Rallis initiatives.
To stay ahead of the game, Tata Sky has introduced a number of innovations that have created value for the business. These include the launch of interactive services called Actve for learning, games, sports, cooking etc.
Kaushik says, "The one thing we cannot afford to do is to dilute our brand image. Whatever we do has to be world-class. We have to ensure that we continue to deliver the best quality. I believe that where the service is important, people quickly understand the concept of value versus the price factor."
The Tata Sky MD has great expectations from the DTH industry and its role in enriching people's lives via TV as a medium. His company's rousing entry into the millionaire's club now has the competition as well as industry watchers eager to see which limits the company will defy next.