Archive for January, 2011

Treat Complaints As An Opportunity For Cross-Selling & Upselling

Monday, January 24th, 2011

In this blog, James Clark muses why banks find it so difficult to handle complaints.

As products and services are becoming more complicated, complaints about them are getting increasingly trickier to convey, understand and resolve. On the other hand, cryptc n SMS / IM style of comms reglrly adpted by both sides is aggrvtng d prob.

In a recent blog post, I shared a few examples from my personal experience of how complaints were handled by banks and other companies.
http://sketharaman.com/blog/2010/11/21/how-humanlike-are-virtual-agents-part-2/
In the final analysis, it appeared that virtual agents could supplant lower-end call center staff for handling many types of complaints.
However, while there’s no scarcity of process knowledge, training or technology to improve the complaints handling process, I doubt if this is a high priority area for too many banks and other companies (barring a few exceptions like Zappos.com, which have superior customer service enshrined in their corporate charter). When resources are scarce, is it any surprise that complaints department is not exactly the first in line to receive funding for new initiatives?
By treating the complaints resolution process as opportunities for upselling or cross-selling additional products and services, banks might be able to find the justification required to secure additional funding for their new initiatives in this space. Depending upon their internal culture and customer profile, while some can afford to do this brazenly whereas others might have to be subtle about it, this appears to be one pragmatic approach of bringing about a sea change in this area.

In a recent blog post, I shared a few examples from my personal experience of how complaints were handled by banks and other companies.  In the final analysis, it appeared that virtual agents could supplant lower-end call center staff for handling many types of complaints.

However, it’s not the lack of process knowledge, training or technology that is preventing improvements in the complaints handling process. Quite frankly, I doubt if complaints handling is on the boardroom agenda for many banks and other companies – barring a few exceptions like Zappos.com, which have superior customer service enshrined in their corporate charter. When resources are scarce, is it any surprise that customer service executives are not exactly the first in line to receive funding for new initiatives in their departments?

We believe that, in the modern world, a different approach is called for if the status quo around complaints handling has to change.

Players in banking, financial services, telecom and e-tailing could start treating various stages in the complaints resolution process as discrete opportunities for cross-selling or upselling their products and services. With this approach, they might be able to garner the justification needed for elevating complaints handling to the C-Suite and secure the additional funding required to initiate new projects for its improvement. We recognize that, depending upon their internal culture and customer profile, some companies can afford to do this brazenly whereas others might need to be more subtle about it. However, style notwithstanding, this could be the most pragmatic approach for bringing about a sea change in handling complaints, enhancing customer satisfaction and bolstering customer advocacy.

I Really Miss Google Toolbar – on Google Chrome!

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Ever since it was launched a few years ago, I’ve been a major fan of Google Toolbar. So much so that Google Toolbar was one of my first submissions to Free Web Toolbars, a website that contains, among others, a directory of web toolbars that are available for free.

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Google Toolbar on Internet Explorer

In those days, I was using Internet Explorer 6 or 7. Once the Google Toolbar was installed on IE, I could run a Google Search right from the browser, without the need to first visit www.google.com.

Thanks to IE8’s unstable behavior – with several websites I visit frequently crashing on it – I made the move to Google Chrome a few months ago. I found out early on in my adoption of Chrome that I could type in the search term right on the address bar of Chrome and hit the enter key to get Google Search results immediately, without having to visit www.google.com.

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Search directly from the address box of Google Chrome

So, in my initial days of using Google Chrome, it appeared to me that there was no need for a separate Google Toolbar. I soon realized that I was wrong!

On Internet Explorer, if I wanted a map of a certain place (ex: Ulster), I could enter its name on the search box of Google Toolbar, drop down the list to the right, select Google Maps and be taken immediately to the Google Map of the place, without having to go to the home page of Google and then selecting Google Maps. The same is true for Google Images, Google News and many other frequently used Google services.

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As far as I could make out, there’s no equally easy way of doing such a thing on Google Chrome, so I recently decided to download Google Toolbar for Chrome and install it on my PC.

Lo and behold, I found out that Google Toolbar is not available for Google Chrome!

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This is most surprising, to say the least. If there’s some logic behind Google’s decision to avoid coming up with a version of its own toolbar for its own browser, it beats me!

I strongly miss Google Toolbar and have started tracking the progress on general availability of Internet Explorer 9. The day I hear that it’s stable, I might just head back to the world of browsers made by Microsoft and toolbars made by Google.

About Technology “Stress Tests” In Liquidity Risk Management

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

Management of liquidity risk in financial institutions has been a major thrust of regulation enacted in the wake of the Great Recession. Many American and European banks recently went through stress tests to certify the quality of assets in their books. The Basel III framework from the Bank of International Settlements – often called the Central Bank for Central Banks – has raised the percentage of senior capital required to be maintained by banks in liquid and near-liquid assets. Since liquidity risk, in simple terms, is faced when a bank runs out of money, these measures are not difficult to understand.

However, there’s another angle to liquidity risk that has nothing to do with asset or capital and lies outside the purview of regulatory oversight. In plain language, this pertains to a situation when a bank has enough money to meet its commitments but is  unable to push its high value payments messages out the door before the expiry of stringent daily deadlines – called cutoffs – imposed by payment schemes. In other words, if a bank has to make a payment to a corporate or a financial institution on a particular day, its payment instruction must reach the clearing agency (say, TARGET2, which is the RTGS scheme operated by European Central Bank for Euro cross-border payments) before the cutoff time (5PM CET in the case of TARGET2). When it comes to multi billion dollar payments – large banks do many of them every day, by the way – missing the cutoff is almost tantamount to default since the intended receiver of the payment might (wrongly) conclude that the sending bank has failed to make the payment because it doesn’t have enough money to do so.

From my experience at a Top 5 UK bank that processes around EUR 250 billion of payments every day, I learned how liquidity risk of this sort can be caused by technical instability, inaccurate reference data, and other mundane but critical problems that plague high value payments landscapes in many banks.

In one instance at this bank, a faulty EUR 100 payment message corrupted the payments message queue, which in turn prevented the processing of a 10 billion Euro payment by the cutoff time. In another instance, the software’s insistence upon 11-character BIC codes led to thousands of payments bearing 8-character BIC codes getting diverted from the STP route, with barely enough time for them to be manually repaired and resubmitted before cutoff. Both ‘incidents’ caused grave threat to the bank’s liquidity position and called for extensive damage control measures from its top management.

These examples clearly underscore the importance of “stress tests” on a bank’s high-value payments processing technologies and system landscapes. Covering throughput, end-to-end latency, ability to withstand burst volumes and a plethora of other technical stuff, these tests could be carried out either by a bank’s operations team or outsourced to an external technology vendor who has a good grasp of the payments and liquidity domain.

These examples clearly underscore the importance of conducting periodic “stress tests” not  only on a bank’s capital but also on its high-value payments processing technologies.

The Disintermediation of Search

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Citing the difference between how we buy something today and five years ago, FORTUNE magazine wonders if the search party is over. The FORTUNE article uses the following example to explain its view:

Say you want to buy running shoes to train for a marathon. Five years ago you would have simply Googled it, looked at the list of results, weighed your options, and made the purchase, perhaps by clicking on one of the sponsored links that accompanied your search. Today you might still do that, but increasingly you might pose the question “What running shoes should I buy?” to your friends on Facebook, or maybe write “Who knows about training for marathons?” on Twitter. By the time shopping service Groupon sends you (and 25 of your friends) an offer for the perfect shoes and registration for a race, you’ll probably just pounce on it.

Judging by the number of times we use Google every day, it might be sacreligious to predict its diminishing role in the Internet. However, if we pause to think about the increasing number of occasions in which we head directly to websites of branded e-tailers (ex: Amazon), social networks (ex: Facebook), status update sites (ex: Twitter) and group buying services (ex: GroupOn), then disintermediation of Google and other search engines doesn’t appear to be such a far-fetched notion.

Before we discuss these occasions, let’s take one scenario where Google undeniably rules: Information search. However, search results for information (ex: Dakota Building) are full of organic (unpaid) results, which don’t generate any revenues for Google which makes money only when users click links ads in the inorganic search results.

Given that advertisers buy search engine ads – also called sponsored links or inorganic (paid) results – to attract surfers having a purchase intent, such ads are mainly found on pages featuring search results for products (ex: Digital Camera) and services (ex: Plumbing) used as keywords. The key question is, what’s the role of Google Search when it comes to shopping?

Not much, as it appears not only from anecdotal evidence but also from my personal experience.

Here’s a list of the various websites that my family members and I visited to buy something or the other in the recent past: Amazon.com (Kindle), BestBuy.com (Apple iPad), Flipkart.com and LandmarkOnTheNet.com (books), IRCTC.com and ClearTrip.com (plane and train tickets), BookMyShow.com (movie tickets). As you can see, Google is conspicuous by its absence from this list.

If people increasingly head to the websites of leading merchants without passing Google Search along the way, they don’t see – or click – sponsored links on Google search results pages.

When you add Facebook, Twitter, GroupOn and other attractors of direct traffic into the equation, disintermediation is a clear and present danger to Google and other search engines. Not too surprising that projections for growth rate of the search business have dropped from a peak of 40% a year to 15-17%.

In hindsight, disintermediation of search should almost be obvious if we reflect upon our typical buying behavior. Let’s assume that we hear about a brand or a store from the yellow pages, through a magazine article or some other way. We visit the store and buy something. Whenever we decide to visit this store the next time, we’re likely to go to the store directly. Google Search is akin to the entity that first introduced us to this store but is no longer in the loop when we go back to it.