7 leading practices if your organization engages blue-collar professionals

In the last few years, modern businesses are changing the way consumers engage with professionals from the unorganized, or the blue-collared sector in India. Be it a car sharing platform, where a push of a button is all it takes to engage with a driver in the neighborhood, or a food delivery or home services business, where a delivery boy or a plumber is a critical cog in the wheel.

Technology continues to have a critical role for these businesses. However, competition catches up with that. However, the experience that a business offers to its consumers is what differentiates your brand, and can be difficult to replicate.

Unfortunately, many businesses struggle with one aspect while trying to offer this experience, i.e. to organize the unorganized, and to derive accountability, professionalism and high quality from their blue-collared staff, on-roll or off-roll. This happens because they have little prior experience in engaging with blue-collared professionals in India. There is little understanding of their motivations, aspirations, and skill-gaps, and what it takes to achieve the desired behavioral transformation.

For people who want to build a successful business that essentially gets fueled by professionals from the unorganized sector, here are seven tips on engaging with the professionals.

1. Use Aadhaar for trust and accountability (India specific)
Use Aadhaar, the unique and lifelong identity, not just for identity verification and establishment, but also as a foundation for other background checks. Aadhaar has now been issued to 104 Crore people in India, and since the 12-digit number does not change over an individual’s lifespan, if all professionals are verified and registered using one common network, Aadhaar helps in unification of “incidents” and “reputation” of professional, thus enhancing accountability.

2. Have fair business policies
The professionals from the blue-collared sector are smarter than what most people assume them to be. They have the ability to read through policies that are unfair to them. Eventually, you’ll lose them to competition, or the service delivery quality will suffer, if you have not modeled fair policies and you try to take them for a ride. And you’ll not get the policy right the first time. Iterate till you get it right. Have a little extra in the policy for them, as compared to your competition, and the returns on that ‘something extra’ will be non-linear.

3. Be open and transparent
Be very clear on the incentives/payouts. Give the professionals visibility using an app (or SMS/IVR if they don’t use apps) about their earnings. They will appreciate the transparency, and there will be no surprises or dissatisfaction when it comes to payments at the end of the cycle.

4. Train and train-more
The wide skill-gap can be bridged with continuous training covering the process, technology, and most importantly soft-skills. In order to avoid the problem of Chinese whispers, it’s important that the businesses make investment into a standard training video that can be disseminated digitally, and is constantly updated. Thorough customer feedback should be collected, and passed on to the workers in the form of positive reinforcement. There is no substitute to learning from on-the-job mistakes. Finally, use every touch-point to train your staff, in the form of posters, banners, pocketbooks, standard automated outbound calls, text messages, etc. Couple all this with a random audit process. All yes, all of this should be in the local language!

5. Differentiated incentives
Professional from the blue-collared segment have primarily worked on fixed pay (which many times is same as minimum wages), and hence there is little motivation to enhance the delivery quality. Well defined and publicized differentiated incentives, that are linked to customer feedback/ratings, drives them to raise their game. A culture of meritocracy must be promoted while engaging with the blue-collared segment. Needless to say, you should have the flexibility to modify incentive models as you go along, depending on your business parameters.

6. Benefits
Put yourself in their shoes, and see how you can help them in their daily lives w.r.t. benefits like healthcare, education for their children, savings, etc. This does not necessarily require you to make additional investments over and above the payments you make to them. Just help them navigate the complex Government system, that already provides these benefits free of cost. Make them aware of any free or subsidized benefit disbursement touch-points; the government officer; maybe a neighborhood NGO. Start with getting them to open a bank account to bring them into mainstream economy. Make sure they get an Aadhaar, if they don’t have one already. Thorough documentation on identity and address also helps you pass on the trust to your customers.

7. Respect and appreciation
A sense of mutual respect is the key to getting the blue-collared staff completely clued into your business. This will also help prevent attrition. And appreciation works in a terrific manner. Make sure the appreciation is well publicized in the form of regular awards. Gamify the incentives and appreciation if possible to create healthy competition.

In the end, it boils down to understanding your people a little more. But then, we are all learning here. Feel free to reach out to discuss more at piyush@ongrid.in.

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