Shaktiman Krishi Seva Kendra: A single window network of service centres

16 March, 2013

Shaktiman Krishi Seva Kendras, a unique initiative by Indo Gulf, helps educate and train farmers to facilitate higher yield and profits

Fifteen years ago, Indo Gulf's fertiliser unit started its marketing operations. This was well before its commercial production went on stream. In a unique seeding programme, the company procured Urea from other manufacturers and branded it as 'Shaktiman'. The objective was to market Shaktiman urea as a premium brand, not merely as a commodity. The concept was also to set up the marketing and distribution network well before commercial production started.

Since its very inception, Indo Gulf's strategy has been to provide solutions rather than to merely sell a product. The company created a network of area offices, buffer godowns, stock points, wholesalers, retailers as well as Service Centre Networks, manned by field officers and agronomists, to serve both the direct customer (the wholesaler) and the ultimate consumer (the farmer). This unique customer relationship management initiative was not just about keeping customers satisfied, but to create and sustain an interactive platform to gain an insight into their needs. The ability to woo customers with speed, accuracy, creativity and flexibility has made 'Shaktiman' urea, the 'most preferred brand' of farmers, and led to a notable increase in market share.

To provide a clearer perspective on the achievement, Mr. N.L. Jain, Executive President of the fertiliser unit explains: "In April 2000, the Government of India imposed severe restrictions on fertiliser units. Urea is a controlled commodity. Under the Essential Commodities Act (ECA), the government allocates the geographical area and the quantity to be sold by each unit. The upward re-assessment of capacity and the downward revision in energy consumption norms posed a threat to the profitability of our unit. To main our profitability and strengthen our growth, we set up a task force to draw up and implement a long-term strategic marketing plan aimed at improving our brand equity, leading to a better price realisation."

Mr V.S. Sharma, Vice President Marketing, dwells on Indo Gulf's unique marketing approach, which hinges on Consumer Service Delivery Excellence: "In the fertiliser business, wholesalers and retailers are our channel partners. In turn, they cater to farmers, the end consumers of urea. It is necessary to educate farmers, who are so price conscious that they often compromise on quality. Spurious fertilisers, for instance, are a major concern. We have built a network of 'Shaktiman Krishi Seva Kendras' (SKSK), which help educate and train farmers to facilitate higher yield and profits, and help them with application of modern agricultural techniques. We have also set up 'Shaktiman Krishi Swayam Rozgar Kendras' (SKSRK), established with the dual purpose of introducing the concept of a 'change agent' in rural development and providing support to qualified agricultural graduates with an entrepreneurial bent of mind. In this way, we offer value-added extension education services to consumers for agro-economic development, through a multi-input service centre network." The Entrepreneur Service Centre Network has increased rapidly, from 17 in the year 2000-01 to 45 in 2001-02 and 65 in 2002-03.

Another important consumer service offered is soil testing. Indian soil is of good fertility and productivity. However, improper use of nutrients has resulted in the soil losing its fertility over the years. Critical analysis of soil and exclusive advisory services to farmers play an important role in optimising their productivity. Soil samples are collected in each identified village prior to the cropping and sowing process and are tested in an exclusive laboratory, free of cost. The results are handed over personally to each farmer prior to the start of the actual cropping cycle. Soil tests done have increased phenomenally; the company has conducted over 50,000 so far. An extension of soil testing services is pre-sowing training, constructing soil fertility maps in 'Shaktiman Villages', crop demonstrations, Shaktiman farmers' meetings and visits to the agricultural universities for 'Shaktiman Brand Ambassadors', who have benefited from the training and help in educating other farmers.

Mr S.P. Singh, Senior Area Agronomist, explains: "Through consumer empowerment, we were able to increase farmers' crop productivity at selected service centres by a minimum of 25 per cent. Balanced fertiliser use on the basis of soil tests conducted at the soil testing laboratory, Jagdishpur, combined with adopting the latest cropping techniques demonstrated by Indo Gulf agronomists, has resulted in a quantum jump in the yield obtained by the farmers, maximising their returns."

Mr. Abhijit Deb, Deputy Manager (Marketing Services), reiterates the importance of holistic brand management, with a focus on improving the capability of marketing processes, delighting both external and internal customers. He says: "Continuous consumer and customer focus, satisfaction determination and relationship management – in terms of service delivery as well as providing a scheduled platform to communicate with senior management – are an integral part of the action plan. This has helped in retaining and sustaining brand loyalty and a better price realisation for our product. Such emotional bonding with the trade segment has translated into repeat purchases of the brand, even at lower or optimal trade margins."

Packaging also has a major role to play. To counter the perception of inadequate differentiation packing, bags were introduced in a unique golden yellow colour under the brand 'Shaktiman Urea Gold'. This was a dynamic and well-analysed move, and it helped in differentiating the product from the industry practice of white bags. Indo Gulf then rolled out a Consumer Service Excellence and Process Oriented Action Plan. The results:

  • Per hectare income of the farmers at selected crop demonstration plots grew by 30-35 per cent on an average. Along with increased direct contact with the Shaktiman farmers from extension activities, this had an exponential ripple effect in knowledge dissemination for consumer value creation across the marketing area.
  • Faster achievement of sales targets was a direct measure of consumer preference for the brand, since faster sales approximates to an increased consumer off-take, especially at a higher price level as compared to competitors. In all the seasons during this two-year period allocated quantities were achieved ahead of the competition.

Impact on consumers and channel partners

This plan had a ripple effect among channel partners and consumers – the farming community – which has always identified 'Shaktiman' to be its most preferred brand. Research and brand tracking has shown that there was a positive shift in brand image in the consumer mind share that "Shaktiman cares". A recent brand standing study carried out in November 2002 by TNS Mode confirms this trend.

Upping the Customer Satisfaction Index:

  • The Service Centre Network is being expanded for deeper market penetration and rural reach, to consolidate the gains made from 2001-02.
  • Delivery systems are being revamped to provide the product at the farmer's doorstep during the agricultural season.
  • Spurious fertilisers are a major concern of farmers. To check this, the Service Centre Network aims to provide a multitude of services and products under one roof, along with good agri-inputs.
  • A new value-added extension education programme for soil testing has been launched through the Shaktiman Krishi Seva Kendra Network, in line with consumer demand.
  • Specific training modules on conducting extension education programmes are being modified and upgraded for field personnel, to ensure that are equipped with appropriate knowledge to guide consumers.
  • A Total Quality Management (TQM) and Environment Control (EC) cell has been set up to make customer-driven quality an enterprise-wide endeavour. With active coordination from the marketing team, TQM practices and documentation systems have been incorporated into all functional disciplines. Sales, marketing and logistics were included in the second phase of TQM launched in 2001.

Indo Gulf's endeavour to create consumer delight and sustain brand recognition through intensive farmer education and training through the unique single window network of service centres – the Shaktiman Krishi Seva Kendra (SKSK) – is unique. Its long-term strategic marketing plan, evolved and successfully implemented in the face of government regulations, has resulted in increased value creation for both the consumer and the company.

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