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April 13, 2020 | Authored by: Sharath Dorbala

Back to the future: How COVID-19 is pushing technology and subscription business transformation to become more human-first

My name is Sharath Dorbala and I am the CEO of Vindicia, a part of the Amdocs Media division that supports B2C businesses that rely on subscriptions and recurring revenue.

I am more than that however; I am a family man, a user, a businessman and, in general, an all-round normal guy. A human, if you’d like. My life – like yours – was significantly altered by the outbreak of a pandemic. Now, I am partaking in social distancing; I am working from home; I am trying to fuel a household and, of course, I am consuming content on a highly elevated level. The pressure is on to keep life as normal as possible. Life cannot shift abruptly overnight. We feel the need to maintain a type of status quo. The way we think and maneuver is likely still working on auto pilot. Even though life has been shifted, this shift is not yet complete. After the dust settles, whether it be in a several weeks or in a few months, we will have had the need – and desire – to rethink what is truly integral and meaningful in our lives, down to the details. The world we once recognized and accepted will be transformed.

With this in mind, I want to state that we have entered a new world, most notably in the world of service providers. This domain, as with others, is undergoing a change in which – to succeed – a fine balance between fast-paced digital connectivity and the human factor; real human connectivity must be accomplished.

For a little background, the world was recently developing a strong mindset that is best described as “digital first.” It was a revolution that had created an environment of technological innovation, a desperate need for connectivity, all with a digital customer experience at the core. Less interruption, more content, with few glitches in the midst of the process. That was the battle cry throughout most digital industries; and, this was particularly strong in subscription-based facets from music to movies to classes to publications and more. The users wanted more and more from technology – more options and far less from the person or agenda behind the scenes. And, the more channels and providers the better, as long they were relevant to me, as individual.

We may have played with the idea that a human connection was going to come back into play as a key component, even in this digital-first era – yet most imagined a world in which such would be decidedly secondary, particularly with the rising generations that are vastly different than the past; the human factor used to be the main selling pillar, then the Millennials and Generation Z had other ideas of social activities. Now, this balance of the two eras in time is the new game changer in today’s reality. We need to get back down to the basics: What makes a human tick, how do we connect humans with a common understanding of purpose?  More and more of us who had adapted the digital first mindset have started to stare into the weeks to come and wonder how we will cope without going to the gym, taking your kid to a play date, hugging your parent, going to the office and grabbing drinks with friends.

Connectivity is at the heart of the new world that consists of lockdowns, quarantines, stay-home orders, remote work conditions; the list goes on. A significant portion of that world is connected digitally – but, there is also a new appeal to seek out a deeper human connection. As humans, we are social beings, who crave real social interactions. “From tapping to clapping” – from liking friends pics on Instagram to standing on balconies around the world and clapping to honor medical teams, this may be the image that most suitably fits this stretch in history; maybe it’s the new "social campfire.”  In this context, we are now seeing that there is a limit to digital first and how much content we can afford – or really need. COVID-19 has reduced interpersonal interaction among residents and digital devices can be useful in supporting people's need for social interaction. But that scenario has a missing piece. Social distancing is so hard because it is contrary to human nature. Our emotional dependence on each other can make keeping our distance even harder.

So, as we are sitting at home – we start to think. We start to prioritize. We have a plethora of options to choose from, services, luxuries, necessities, and more in our lives. Some of these precure an accompanying fee, a subscription, and a large portion of these entities we have similar relationships with; from close to pure digital. What do we do? How do we choose what stays and what goes? This is the question that we want service providers to be on the right side of. The service you provide needs to be humanized and connect with them with a common alignment of purpose. We need to go back to our roots and think about what it is we as human beings connect with, what drives our emotions and choices that we take. What do we strive for? It is not material. It is value and values; receiving important added elements in one’s life and knowing that they, their provider, are doing good for the world around them. As I speak daily to CEOs in our client base across the globe, whom operate in global media, entertainment, ecommerce, publishing and other industries, I realize more than ever that this is your time to nurture your relationships with your customer base by feeding their basic human needs. I’ll continue to accentuate; technology and innovation are still a major key in our industry. Companies today need to use it to generate more meaningful touchpoints to connect with customers and subscribers

We are always busy accumulating innovative ideas from our customers across the globe as to how to deal with key current challenges and arising pain points. I’m an optimist; I believe in the glass half full. We can get through this time by concentrating on creating an environment to foster new ways of thinking, how to set yourself apart from the crowd and really allowing yourself to understand what is needed during this period of unknown. It is important to point out that technology and innovation are still the main drivers – the tools that will help to move the needle –  but understanding the social responsibilities and priorities that accompany it – and where these stand with the customer base is what will set you apart to gain the upper edge. If you offer incentives, fresh offers, gifts or even set an example with philanthropy and donations – this can create a pillar of trust, an essence of humanity. This is what is going to increase your customer base, serving as a main tool to reduce churn. We have to adapt to successfully foster relationships (and alleviate voluntary churn). Changing the culture of a company to embrace transformations, new ways of working and thinking is perhaps the hardest challenge for any organization to face – but I believe that we all have the power to change because we are all in this together. According to Vindicia research, our subscription intelligence data shows that taking a proactive approach to passive churn use cases gives you an opportunity to know who these subscribers are and increase engagement with them to see how to better improve your services to them, the human connection…and yeah, leads to as much as a 6% revenue gain.

With this mind, I would like to reiterate that the Vindicia team continues to operate, proactively analyzing and healing failed transactions, uncovering the best options to reduce passive churn, enabling your subscribers to stay connected with the services relevant to them. I want you to know that at this critical time, you can count on us to tirelessly maintain and strengthen your business.

Please reach out with any additional questions and concerns. We are here for you.

About Author

Sharath Dorbala

Sharath Dorbala is Chief Executive Officer of Vindicia. He is a Silicon Valley-based veteran in the technology industry with over 20 years of experience. Prior to joining Vindicia, Sharath was responsible for product strategy and management at Apttus, leading their market-leading B2B CPQ and eCommerce solutions. Before Apttus, he was the Head of Mobile Financial Services Division at Amdocs, enabling affordable financial inclusion for the bottom of the pyramid in emerging markets. He partnered with ITU, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and regulators worldwide to help promote and increase awareness of mobile wallet solutions in emerging markets. Sharath is strongly influenced by Daniel Pink's "A Whole New Mind" and believes that the next generation of technology products must follow the right-brained principles. Prior to this role, Sharath was Head-Products for Amdocs CRM product line. He oversaw the launching of several new customer-centric initiatives like multi-channel self-service, retail, device management and personalization solutions. He holds an MS in Information Systems from Northeastern University, Boston and an MS in Economics and Management from BITS, Pilani, India.