NEW DELHI: Hindustan Unilever, the FMCG group, is empowering its employees to become more involved in marketing, innovation and distribution as it tries to foster a customer-centric culture.

The firm now asks all staff members to obtain a "consumer license" to work on its brands, which requires spending 50 hours of "face time" with shoppers.

"Our consumers are moving faster than marketers do; whether in terms of rural or urban changes or the way they consume media and entertainment," said Hemant Bakshi, Hindustan Unilever's executive director, home and personal care, told the Economic Times.

"We previously thought customer interaction was something that only marketing and sales should do. But we realised that unless everyone in the company saw consumers as their first stakeholders, we would not keep pace."

Similarly, every meeting held by senior managers all start with discussions about consumer learnings and experiences, and how they might be applied. "It's a lot about leadership behaviour and role modelling," Bakshi said.

The firm also runs the "Consumer Shoes" scheme, whereby employees can trial new products, and requests open and honest criticisms of existing lines.

"Our mindset in the past has been 'why are you saying this about the product? You are not the consumer,'" Bakshi said.

"But we can switch it around and say 'You are a potential consumer and therefore your feedback is of value. In fact, you are an informed and expert consumer whose opinion is of greater value.'"

The company has also run the "Bushfire" project for three years, with staff from various departments visiting retailers, and working with them to create a "perfect store".

Building on the resultant insights, Hindustan Unilever developed the POPeye system, allowing employees to log data about any products retailers were struggling to get hold of after placing an order.

Upon verifying this information, its salesmen are sent messages on their handheld devices asking them to remedy the problem. The staff member that logged the initial complaint is also sent a message when it is resolved.

Currently, Hindustan Unilever takes approximately 1,000 calls per month regarding this issue, rising to 11,000 during its last round of Bushfire activity in early May 2012.

Data sourced from Economic Times; additional content by Warc staff