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Titan takes risks in innovating, implementing solutions that improve experiences: CDIO Krishnan Venkateswaran

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Mannu Mathew
Mannu Mathew
With over four years of experience, Mannu Mathew specializes in business journalism with a focus on technology, the retail sector, D2C, and E-commerce brands. He is working as the Assistant Editor for India Retailing and Images Retail Magazine.

Krishnan Venkateswaran, Chief Digital and Information Officer (CDIO), Titan Company Ltd. on how the diversified retail company uses technology in every area–from designing products and stores to offering personalised services and memorable customer experiences across channels

New Delhi: With a background in fintech and insurance and having previously served as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Credit Rating Information Services of India Ltd. (Crisil), Krishnan Venkateswaran is a seasoned IT professional.

As the Chief Digital and Information Officer (CDIO) of Titan Company Ltd., Krishnan oversees all technologies, including integrated supply chain, omnichannel operations, analytics, and customer engagement.

Krishnan’s innovative leadership has been instrumental in driving the maker of brands like Tanishq, Titan Eye Plus and Taneira and enhancing its customer experience for the last six years since he has been at the retail group. Krishnan’s area of focus as the CDIO of the 40-year-old company involves understanding multiple businesses, managing complexity in the day-to-day technology operations and also simplifying digital architecture for the company as well as its potential customers.

In the fourth quarter (Q4) of the financial year (FY) 2023-2024, the company saw a revenue growth of approximately 17% year-on-year (YoY), with 86 new stores added, bringing the total retail network to 3,035 stores.

In an exclusive interview with IndiaRetailing, Krishnan Venkateswaran, Chief Digital and Information Officer (CDIO), Titan Company Ltd sheds light on helping the diversified retail company offer a seamless customer journey across brands and formats with the help of technology.

Edited excerpts…

How has Titan Company’s tech journey been?

Over 30 years ago, the company made a significant investment in a full-fledged supply chain solution, recognizing the importance of a strong optimization foundation for growth. Today, it uses a world-standard enterprise resource planning (ERP) system along with point-of-sale systems and integrated supply chain management.

Later in 2018, Titan began something which can be called a digital transformation 2.0, focusing on omnichannel operations, investments in websites, consumer apps, and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions to engage with customers across all touchpoints. We also prioritise analytics-based personalisation using data to offer discounts and enhance the customer journey, fostering a deeper connection with our brand.

For example, we track celebrations, anniversaries, and other details from the data we have gathered over the years and offer customers a discount based on that. Therefore, the integrated website, apps, and CRM allow us to connect with customers more meaningfully than ever before.

How has technology helped customer experience?

Our strategy revolves around building personal relationships. Our long-tenured sales team engages customers in conversations, not just transactions. Each store functions as a contact centre, allowing us to make personalised calls, often in response to requests or to celebrate special occasions. We avoid intrusive telemarketing and focus on enhancing the customer’s experience.

“We’re laying down the groundwork currently, with big plans to go offline in the next 12-18 months,” said founder Pallav Bihani.
In 2018, Titan began something which can be called a digital transformation 2.0

Our unified customer database enables personalised service across brands, ensuring every interaction is meaningful. The approach is to treat customers as individuals, not just in a business context.

For example, a lady who recently bought spectacles from us might walk into our jewellery store. The salesperson, checking the customer’s record in our integrated CRM, would see this purchase and could ask how the spectacles are working out for her.

By leveraging the best of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), we strive to present products to customers that they will like or consider buying.

Especially in the eyecare segment, we uphold a culture of honest and right selling. This ensures that customers are not overprescribed products, offering the right solution for their needs. Similarly, in watches, whether a customer is purchasing a high-end watch or a more affordable one, we are transparent about the product’s functions and provide the same level of service and guarantees.

Which have been some game-changing technologies for you? Do you work consistently on spotting new tech?

As a digital team, we are focused on spotting, analysing, and implementing the most efficient advancements in technology. It is important to find the right use cases and maintain a sense of proportion about it.

For example, Tanishq pioneered the gold purity checker in India, reinforcing the brand’s commitment to delivering purity. This innovation was crucial for us as a company to establish ourselves in the jewellery industry as it demonstrated transparently to customers that what we sell is exactly what we claim.

In addition, on the core digital side, one of our future initiatives includes voice-enabling many of our colleagues’ activities, allowing them to speak instead of typing transactions. This involves text-to-speech and speech-to-text technology, with plans to introduce intelligence into the system.

The focus is also on analytics programs focusing on cost optimization, forecasting, and internal controls using the combination of ML algorithms and expert human monitoring.

Tell us about the omnichannel approach.

For Titan, delivering a seamless customer experience across different channels is a top priority, ensuring convenience and minimal friction whether customers are shopping in-store or online. However, the approach varies across product lines. Sunglasses, for example, are more fashion-focused, while prescription spectacles require a more serious, expert approach.

High-end jewellery is typically purchased in-store, so Titan focuses on engaging customers through appointments and providing access to virtual inventory. Technologies like the Endless Aisle allow customers to view the national inventory, which has significantly boosted sales. Some Mia franchise partners even use iPads for personalized assistance, taking the endless aisle directly to the customers and often resulting in successful sales.

In the digital realm, continuous improvement is a key focus to reduce friction points and enhance the customer journey. For instance, in the watches category, a partner offers a phone-based verification process for returns, ensuring immediate refunds without the need to physically return the product. These innovations streamline processes and greatly enhance customer satisfaction.

How do you ensure that the data is safe?

Titan takes proactive steps to ensure compliance with privacy regulations, especially with the impending Digital Personal Data Protection Act (DPDP) law in India. The company is focused on engaging with customers in a privacy-conscious manner and has invested significantly in information security (Infosec) and encryption technologies to protect customer data, with a strong emphasis on cybersecurity. Managing data responsibly is a top priority, and we believe in using data effectively rather than just accumulating it.

How do you use Generative AI?

If you visit Titan Eye Plus, Mia or even the watch website, you will be able to chat with an AI bot based on the principles of generative AI, which has been developed in-house. It can perform efficiently and is devoid of any bias. Our Eye Plus bot gives reasonably good advice on contact lenses.

AI bot based on the principles of generative AI

In addition to this, on the creative side, our design colleagues are already experimenting with various image-creation technologies with some fascinating results so far.

We are committed to responsible AI.

What’s new on the AR side? Is that feasible for every product of yours?

When it comes to products like watches, customers often have a clear idea of what they’re looking for. They might try on a few options to make their final decision. Virtual try-ons for watches might be unnecessary in this case.

However, for products like eyewear, our virtual try-on technology on the website, which will also be available in the stores soon, has been well-received. It allows customers to see how different frames look on their faces, helping them make a more informed choice.

In the jewellery category, the in-store experience is unmatched. However, we’ve successfully piloted a “magic mirror” in some stores. This mirror allows customers to digitally try on jewellery, helping them shortlist pieces they want to physically try on. This not only enhances the customer experience but also reduces the workload on employees and minimizes wear and tear on the products. While a virtual try-on can never replace the feel of wearing jewellery, it helps customers make more informed decisions before trying them on physically.

Which technologies are you investing in?

As part of our digital transformation program, we’ve made investments in omnichannel analytics and other foundational digital systems like ERP, supply chain, and data warehousing. We believe we have reached maturity and have created a foundation in these areas. Now, we are focused on extracting value from these investments rather than pursuing new transformation programs. This year, our focus is on leveraging what we already have.

Titan’s Q4 Report Card

Jewellery: 19% YoY growth, new stores in Dubai and Chicago, 27 new stores in India.

Watches & Wearables: 7% YoY growth, 44 new stores, double-digit growth in Helios.

EyeCare: 1% YoY revenue decline, a new store in Dubai.

Emerging Businesses: Taneira’s revenue is up 37% YoY, with 11 new stores. Fragrances & Fashion Accessories up 12% YoY.

Caratlane: 30% YoY growth, 10 new stores, 272 total stores.

Source: Titan Company

However, we continue to invest in areas like AI and generative AI to enhance the digital experience for our customers. We’re exploring ways to bring the digital experience as close to the physical product as possible, leveraging improvements in bandwidth and computing power. This allows us to offer an experience of buying from home that is almost as good as being in the store, leveraging the trust and craftsmanship associated with our brands.

Which technology will drive the next wave of growth in retail?

As technology advances, the focus will also be on bringing the retail experience as close to hyperrealism as possible. This includes leveraging high-bandwidth imaging and multimodal AI to enhance the visual and audio experience for customers shopping online. While customers may not be able to physically feel the products, they can get a highly realistic experience at home, deciding to visit the store easier.

In certain product categories like apparel, the online and in-store experiences are becoming increasingly similar, with many customers choosing to shop online due to convenience. We aim to offer a seamless experience where customers can shortlist items online and have them ready in-store, reducing the need for multiple interactions.

How do you enhance the post-purchase experience?

Like every brand, we also need our share of promoters who potentially turn into brand advocates for us.

For example, in eyecare which is comparatively a personalised crafted segment, we proactively call customers who have purchased progressive lenses to inquire about their adjustment period. We make these calls after two days, 15 days, 90 days and 330 days. We also replace lenses if needed, ensuring customer satisfaction and comfort.

Titan takes risk in innovating, implementing solutions that improve experiences: CDO Krishnan Venkateswaran
CAD (Computer-Aided Design) is widely applicable in organisations that make products and run stores, including Titan.

For watches, we understand that customers hold sentimental value and these watches are often kept for many years. We offer repair services for watches that are 8-10 years old, and even older watches can be repaired if the parts are available. We have a national system that keeps track of every spare part, ensuring that repairs are possible for most watches. Our supply chain planning process ensures that a certain quantity of spare parts is available, but customers may need to wait for the repair to be completed.

In jewellery, we offer cleaning services for customers’ family jewellery, even if it is not from Tanishq. This service is available in most of our stores, ensuring that customers can keep their jewellery in pristine condition. We also proactively engage with customers regarding warranties and product servicing to maintain customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Overall, our goal is to provide exceptional after-sales service to maintain customer loyalty and satisfaction. We want our customers to feel confident in their purchases and to continue coming back to us for their needs.

How does Titan ensure strict inventory monitoring?

In jewellery, we maintain tight control over the manufacturing process, ensuring precision even at the level of gold dust. Daily inventory checks and audits are conducted in our stores to monitor stock levels. While our colleagues work to make these processes more efficient, we are exploring emerging solutions such as RFID smart sensors to improve stocktaking efficiency.

Challenges related to product composition, such as the use of zari gold in sarees, require innovative solutions. Despite these challenges, our focus remains on providing a seamless experience for our customers, whether online or in-store.

How do computer-aided design and 3D printing help your retail operations?

CAD (Computer-Aided Design) is widely applicable in organisations that make products and run stores, including Titan. We use CAD not only for designing watches and jewellery but also for designing our retail stores. This digital design process connects to manufacturing, ensuring that the details are accurate and can be automatically generated for various elements like walls, fixtures, and materials. While we do use outside expertise for certain specialized areas and capacity augmentation, we strive to have critical capabilities within the company.

Regarding 3D printing, while it is used for prototyping in the watch and jewellery industry, high-speed manufacturing methods are still more cost-effective for mass production. However, 3D printing remains invaluable for creating initial prototypes and testing designs before mass production.

What is the secret to the right decision-making with technology?

We at Titan rely on a combination of technology and data-driven insights to make decisions. This includes following a process that includes proof of concepts (POCs) and cross-functional team evaluations to introduce technology in the company. While we don’t typically invent digital technologies, we take risks in innovating and implementing solutions that improve experiences, reduce costs, and add value to the enterprise. The team also proactively suggests ideas and creates POCs to demonstrate the possibilities of technology. They have successfully used analytics, machine learning, and AI algorithms to make recommendations and take risks in campaigns and business decisions, backing them up with data-driven reasoning.

Krishnan Venkateswarans’ Tech Mantras 

Titan takes risk in innovating, implementing solutions that improve experiences: CDO Krishnan Venkateswaran

Understand the business well: To be able to unlock the real value of digital across the enterprise.

Focus on the right areas: Focus on customer experience, quality, simplification, agility, cost optimization, and resource utilization.

Engage with colleagues: Engage deeply with colleagues to choose the right focus areas and avoid spreading too thin.

Stay informed: Stay informed about AI and Gen AI, which present interesting possibilities and game-changing events in technology. And explore multimodal AI that merges images, text, and video to understand the possibilities it can unlock in your business.

Avoid spreading thin: Avoid spreading yourself too thin and not delivering needle-moving value by trying to take on too much.

More insightful and stimulating conversations on technology trends in retail are expected at the Phygital Retail Convention (PRC) 2024.

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