Creating Equilibrium at Scale
Ritesh Agarwal, Founder & CEO, Oyo Rooms, shares his journey of adapting technology to provide seamless experience for customers and partners.
Technology has become a utility rather than an enabler.
When I started my journey back in 2012, digitization was already in full swing. I was able to see a lot of business ecosystems adopting technology to enable adept analysis of data, make better decisions and drive stronger engagement with their consumers. Having started afresh, without any baggage of a pre-existing setup, allowed us to start our journey with technology at the center. After vigorous research, we realized that a lot of our learning came from companies where business models were based on technology and not only enabled by it. Therefore, for us Amazon and Netflix were great sources of learning and inspiration. We finally agreed upon combining three seemingly different industries into one - real estate, hospitality and technology. These came together to form a business plan that would easily permeate into the techno-savvy millennial lifestyle.
Finding a sweet spot.
Necessity precedes innovation in most cases and as an entrepreneur, one must identify the problem that they would like to address and bring a solution to. I have always been an ardent traveller and during the earlier days I stumbled upon a lot of issues that were sadly the worst memories of my trips. Clean and hygienic rooms with good service were so difficult to find on feasible prices. Which is what propelled me and my comrades to find a way to address this problem in an efficient and effective way that would be fruitful for both consumers as well as asset and homeowners.
Start small and ramp up.
When we began, our mission was simple. The purpose was to elevate the quality of spaces and to provide access for people to dream bigger and live better. One cannot emphasize enough, the immersion that is required in discovering what your end-users want. In our case it was travellers looking for quality stays at affordable rates on one hand, and hotel owners who wanted to run a profitable business and grow their income on the other. With innovation also comes trial and error, failures and success which provide revelations, and these were core insights that have played a crucial role in guiding us build our business.
Pivotal aspects of what we promised to fulfil through our assets included cleanliness, WiFi, air-conditioning, breakfast and TV, and safety. Our overall product, user and partner journeys were built with regard to this mission which we accomplished by the evaluation and necessary transformation of assets, maintaining the required standards. We made it a point to digitize the entire process around our core proposition to ensure the safest, simplest, and savviest experience possible.
A strong management/partner team is pivotal
In order to optimally achieve your goals it is essential to acquire a team of people who strongly share your set of beliefs and perseverance. From the time we began with a very small team, till today where we host a family of over 5000 OYOpreneurs has been a remarkable journey. There is no rigidity in the work space and hierarchy, following an ‘open culture’ where everybody sits in a common space and works together. Mutual respect for one another’s opinions, ideas and capabilities is a constant which allows each member to render their expertise not only in their particular fields but also provides the opportunity to brainstorm and learn with the other departments. Having the right set of minds driving the technology is the key to full optimization of the limited resources at your disposal. This leads to ownership, trust and the pace you desire for an accelerated growth. After we began our journey, we identified the 6 basic aspects which would promise quality (AC, Spotless Linen, Free Wifi, Clean Washrooms, TV and Safety). We then tested and multiplied the process across all geographic regions, drawing a feedback mechanism ensuring each and every voice is heard. Taking these suggestions and reviews into consideration, we framed our following plans of action. This provided a strong base to see where we are, and what we need to pay more attention to, for providing flawless services. Our team and management is the greatest asset we proudly brag about, and we are always looking for people who want to make a difference with their work.
Expansion is driven by users
It is useful to outline focus areas and build expertise accordingly which could include aspects like seamless entry and familiarization with your product experience, discovering the right product with the right combination of experience, time and cost, or availing attached benefits that maintain the user in your ecosystem. It could be any key area to building a great experience and developing loyalty in your customers and partners.
Let us take an example – one of the key focus areas for our partners was the ability to maintain quality of their assets. It was crucial for us to create a framework for him to track his assets at the depth he desires without physical intervention – a one-view solution can then be built accordingly. Hence we developed an in-house platform called OYO OS, that allows our partners to manage inventory, check-in and check-out, quality maintenance, audits and much more through a single portal in a handy tab.
These digital competencies can help create differentiation that no other parameter can, and become a part of your larger proposition. We see this in a lot of successful companies – whether a food delivery company focussing on showing you a detailed order tracking process, or an e-commerce shopping portal focussing on the right recommendations.
True test of technology only comes at scale
Knowing the potential trajectory of your business, one must plan for the future. Digital assets can thus play a big part in building scalability for future expansion. One must ask questions like – are my processes or journeys capable of handling a bigger or different audience? Should certain competencies be built in-house or completely outsourced? Who can we benchmark against? Who could help us drive the evolution of our competencies? Long-term planning will ensure that we outgrow our own expectations rather than falling behind on them.
For instance, if we find that the quality of photos of the hotels is a critical decision-making parameter for customers to make a booking – we need to ensure that our process for ensuring quality photos does not only pertain to a set standard, but also keeps scope for changes and growth in the future.
While OYO has built significant in-house competencies in quality audits to enhance customer experience, we found that much more could be done to improve this, especially by becoming operations-light. We have taken a call to acquire AblePlus, a startup specializing in AI enabled processes that will greatly assist us in fulfilling our objectives. Hence, through a combination of in-house and acquired apparatus, we have ensured that we are prepared to tackle a future of scalability and high customer expectations.
Digitization keeps end consumer at the centre no matter what!
Once a setup is large enough, it becomes crucial to look at sustaining and stabilizing your current setup, growth and expansion through different lenses. The first challenge means resolving all problems and escalations to the very last detail – even if that involves more people intervention. The second challenge would suggest pre-empting any such problem from occurring again at any scale – and this is where tech interventions would help.
We faced several challenges at the check-in and check-out stages of customers. Our objective was to provide a hassle-free check-in with minimal time wastage. We introduced a combination of interventions –setting up our own OYO Skill Institutes for better training of staff for self-operated assets, ensuring problems of check-in denials or shiftings to be personally followed by our on-ground operations team. Steadily, we have reduced the former issues. Now that we are aiming at a greater scale, we have also decided to consider digitization of hotel registers to make the check-in process even more seamless and hassle-free.
Continuous upgrade mode
Every challenge and escalation faced can potentially be a great opportunity to create and articulate even more differentiation in the industry. Introspecting on questions like - what are the needs of the customer that continues to be unsatisfied? What is the next great disruptor in the industry that could solve a major pain point, or introduce a new dimension to my service? While we chase this perfection, it must be kept in mind that digitization and new technologies must follow the recognition of genuine, unmet needs of a customer; and that innovation must not veer away from the user’s true needs.
We have seen that there is no substitute for hard work, and that every success veils several years of efforts. What success also encompasses is years of work on digitization and application of technology at the back-end – thus creating the most seamless and smooth experience for customers and partners at the front-end. The need for digitization is rather inevitable and should be invested upon to ensure a future of an organization that can competently keep up and satisfy the millennial and generation Z’s demands.