Panasonic: Customer experience has taken a significant shift

The company focus has turned from being transactional to meeting unmet customer needs, said Faisal Pandit, president of Panasonic's System Solutions division during a virtual meeting Wednesday.

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Image: Shutterstock/AlexLMX

Consumer electronics giant Panasonic is shifting its business focus from strictly hardware to an ecosystem approach that also encompasses software and services to bring more value to customers, said Faisal Pandit, president of Panasonic System Solutions Company of North America, during an online "coffee chat" with reporters Wednesday.

Looking ahead, "the conversation is no longer around the device" but a broader set of needs and customer pain points, Pandit said. "We made a conscious effort to focus on building that ecosystem."

He admitted that it is not easy to go to market with a new approach as a legacy company, but that the goal is to "bring more total value to customers."

Emphasis on employees and customers

With employee recruitment and retention top of mind for many executives, Pandit spent some time discussing Panasonic's strategy. "Employee engagement boils down to [having] a different set of leadership attributes and how we engage with the workforce,'' he said. The customer "is at the core of the organization and how we run the business, and our view is on the long-term rather than short term."

At the same time, Panasonic is "aligning the customer experience with employee experience—you can't have one without the other."

SEE: Why you have to care about employee experience and how to improve it (TechRepublic)

The company is also emphasizing a partnership focus, which requires that Panasonic "builds capabilities holistically,'' and with a broad and deeper engagement with customers, Pandit said.  

"It's not just about having the best call centers but being actively engaged with customers from the first touchpoint."

With that in mind, the two areas Panasonic is working on are building upon its corporate culture to become more collaborative and removing data silos, Pandit said.

"If the company culture isn't collaborative, it's almost impossible to expect people to have collaborative conversations with customers,'' he said. And if employees aren't able to make use of the data they collect because it resides in silos, they can't derive any value.

Commitment from leaders

This is a continuous process, Pandit said. One approach the company is taking is to establish a common set of objectives across business functions and set some goals that overlap with the rest of the organization. It helps if employees see incentives and are held accountable and rewarded, he said.

"Beyond that, it's making sure when we talk about certain initiatives, we identify key leaders responsible for driving forward these capabilities." Initially, it requires senior leadership to be involved, Pandit added.

As one example, he recalled a situation where one of Panasonic's products didn't meet the needs of a customer and in consultation with them, executives realized something new needed to be built, he said. This required building cross-functional teams that are actively engaged with visibility at the senior leadership levels.

Pandit said he has even gotten involved in "smaller, minor things … it's all about setting the discipline so it can be sustained in the long run."

There has to be a commitment from key leaders, as well as conformance to processes. "Once the foundation is laid, things flow from then on … so it requires solid communication, leadership empathy and recognition and most importantly, [team] autonomy."

SEE: 3 sectors where changing customer demands are accelerating digital transformation (TechRepublic)

The Customer Experience Center focuses on whether products are developed in alignment with customers, he said. "I'm a big fan of taking engineers out to customers and making sure they're on the front line to integrate the voice of the customer into the product."

The center was established during the COVID-19 pandemic with the idea of virtually sharing customer success stories and to eventually bringing customers there for "meaningful conversations,'' Pandit said.

Panasonic held roundtable conversations with about 600 of its employees over four to five months to glean what their concerns were. "There were things you'd consider small that mattered a lot to individuals and we took action, and the collective impact it had and the resilience it built and the whole concept of inclusion and diversity came to fruition."

The pandemic changed perspectives, he added. A few leaders got together to think about how to manage the pandemic without consultants, Pandit said. "All because we created a culture of inclusion and the bottom line [is we believe that] every voice matters."

Before, the company mindset was "if you're at a certain level we should consult with you. COVID proved to us that every voice can bring value to the conversation," which has shifted from a transactional model to meeting unmet customer needs and being outcome-focused.

Another example Pandit gave was when a new Canadian customer purchased some industrial equipment that had been recommended, and "the first batch didn't work well so we took it back and dispatched a new batch of technologies,'' he said. On a call with the customer, he said there was silence, and they said they assumed they'd be told that an engineer would fix it. "The customer is important, and I think long-term,'' Pandit said. But he also noted that quarterly numbers "do matter and I do sweat it out."

In 2022, the plan is to continue Panasonic's transformational journey to become more of an ecosystem provider, he said. Officials are a year ahead of the three-year target they said. "We're actively looking at building the services pillar. You can't drive an external transformation without the internal and … building and making sure systems are optimized."

There will also be a focus on talent development and implementing a fast-track growth program for some employees to give them the opportunity to drive new growth in their careers.

Failure is okay

Pandit also discussed how the company is making the shift from being transactional to a more consultative approach to build trust and understand pain points.

He said he believes that "failure is okay" as long as you "don't burn the company" in the process. Pandit said it's important to take an agile approach, and if something doesn't work, learn to fail fast.

"If you get stuck with something for years, the failure isn't a good failure,'' he said. There shouldn't be a knee-jerk reaction but the ability to pull back and recognize when something isn't working.

"That's the key thing I've communicated. Let's learn from this and move on." The message is "Be open to trying things and … if they don't work, it's not the end of your career."

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By Esther Shein

Esther Shein is a longtime freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in several online and print publications. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of Datamation, a managing editor at BYTE, and a senior writer at eWeek (formerly PC Week)...