Archive for December, 2011

My Ungoofy Traveler Moment

Friday, December 30th, 2011

pic04-250wIn the Wanderlust section of a recent Corporate Dossier supplement of The Economic Times, Mr. Rajiv Duggal, Managing Director of the leading travel agency Kuoni India, recounted his following goofy traveler moment:

Leaving Munnar for Cochin airport, miscalculating the time taken, getting stuck for 30 min at a railway crossing and seeing my flight take off in front of me!

When I read this, I was reminded about my near goofy traveler moment several years ago.

After visiting a few customers around Itarsi in Central India, I was headed back to Itarsi railway station to catch a train to Bhopal, which is where my company’s area office was located. Just as my bus was nearing Itarsi railway station, the barrier of a railway crossing on the way came down and my bus had to stop there. After 15 minutes of waiting, I got a bit jittery about missing the train. In those days – hopefully not any longer – missing a train in those parts of India often meant waiting for almost a day to get the next train.

Five minutes later, I decided that I’d waited long enough. I got off the bus and decided to run to the station even though it involved ducking below the barrier on both sides, dashing across the railway tracks and sprinting for about a kilometer beside a national highway.

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By the time I reached the railway station, my train to Bhopal had already pulled into the platform. Huffing and puffing, I made it to my coach with just a few seconds left for the train to depart. As the train slowly pulled out of Itarsi and made its way to the level crossing, you can imagine my sheer joy when I saw the level crossing still shut and my bus standing exactly where I’d jettisoned it around 30 minutes earlier! Had I hung around in the bus until the barrier lifted, I too would’ve experienced a Duggal-like goofy traveler moment of watching my train go past me!

If I ever make it to Wanderlust, I’d have to think of at least one – or two, as in the case of Mr. P Balaji, MD of Sony Ericsson India – goofy traveler moment of my own. But, until then, let me stay with this ungoofy traveler moment!

Is Email Principally Unsuited For Delivering Statements?

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

In the past, I’ve given several reasons to explain my preference for printed bills and statements. I’ve recently begun to feel that there’s perhaps a more fundamental and deep-rooted reason for my aversion for e-statements. It all began when I recently received an SMS which said:

Your password is a combination of first 3 letters of your name followed by last 5 digits of your registered alternate mobile number.

First three letters of my name … alternate mobile number … eh? I was wondering if this would grant me access to the deep recesses of Fort Knox but it turned out to be the instructions to construct the password required to open my mobile phone’s e-statement delivered as a PDF attachment via email.

Given that the e-statement is sent to my email address to which only I’m supposed to have access, I honestly don’t see the need for the biller – a leading telecom operator in this case – to insist on a password to open it. However, since many billers – banks, utilities, MNOs included – seem to be following this practice, I must be missing something here.

But that’s not the point.

The average email reader is accustomed to opening attachments with one or two clicks. By asking him / her to enter a password to open e-statement attachments, the point is, the biller is asking them to make a major change from their normal email usage behavior. This leads to me to wonder if email is principally unsuitable for delivering statements since it calls for way too much change in consumer behavior.

Which is why I’m not surprised to learn that e-statement adoption hasn’t entered the mainstream several years after it was introduced. According to this NetBanker report, “bill/statement delivery … has remained stubbornly paper-based, despite a decade of trying to coerce consumers to do without the paper security blanket.”  As for the environment-friendliness theme used by most billers to spur adoption of e-statements, this Forrester report puts it well when it says, “‘Green’ messaging is fashionable but less compelling to potential adopters.”

Simplifying the password doesn’t necessarily help. Let me take the example of this Top 3 bank in India where I’ve several accounts, which include the three primary savings accounts opened by me and a slew of secondary deposit accounts created automatically by the bank every time the balance in the primary accounts exceeded a threshold value. Since this bank hasn’t implemented relationship banking, I receive a separate statement for each account. Account number itself serves as the password to open e-statement attachments. For obvious reasons, the body of its email and the attachment don’t contain the account number. Now, since I’ve several accounts with this bank, I’ve no way of knowing which account number to use as password to open a given attachment.

Of course, every time I receive an e-statement from this bank, I could always enter all my account numbers one after the other with the guarantee that one of them will work. Or, I could simply open the envelope and read the printed statement without any hassles of remembering passwords. No wonder I belong to the 37% of account holders who receive a paper statement today who say they will never abandon paper in favor of online statements.

Every time someone from the aforesaid TELCO or bank calls me requesting me to opt for discontinuation of printed statements, I simply point them to my blog to find out why I won’t!

Furthermore, as high as “37% of account holders who receive a paper statement today say they will never abandon paper in favor of online statements” (italics mine).
Unless there’s a drastic change in e-statement technology and in the regulatory environment, banks can count me among the 37%.

Beware Of Losing Sales With Bad Loyalty Programs

Saturday, December 17th, 2011
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Key Ring Mobile Loyalty App

It wasn’t so long ago that I’d blogged about how one particular retailer’s loyalty program actually bred disloyalty.

The ink is hardly dry on that post and I’ve already found another retailer that’s going down the same path and is bound to lose sales as a result of its poorly conceived loyalty program.

Retailer X, as we shall call this retailer, is the retail division of a multidivision conglomerate. My family has been shopping with Retailer X for several years, so when it recently launched a loyalty program, I didn’t hesitate to sign up for it as soon as it was offered to me. However, in this day and age of frictionless enrolment into loyalty programs on the basis of just a mobile phone number, it was a bit strange to find that the checkout attendant at Retailer X insisted that I had to complete a long printed form while standing at the checkout queue. I flatly refused to do this. Thankfully, the store manager saw sense and permitted me to take the blank form home, complete it at my convenience and return it to the store later.

With a painful enrolment process out of the way, I thought that I could begin to literally enjoy the – er – rewards of my labor when I went shopping at Retailer X. However, that was not to be.

Most retailers in India credit rewards for purchases on the basis of any personally identifiable information of the customer like card number, cardholder’s name or even mobile phone number in case the customer has forgotten to carry their card along while going shopping or has consciously left it at home because there simply isn’t enough space in their wallet for all the loyalty cards they’ve signed up for. Retailer X doesn’t. You must hand over your loyalty card to the attendant while checking out or you lose your rewards. They don’t even credit your reward points when you bring along the loyalty card and the previous bill on your next trip. I’m not demanding the superior customer experience enjoyed by users of Keyring and similar mobile loyalty programs in the USA who’re used to storing multiple loyalty cards in a single mobile app instead of having to stuff them inside their wallets. But, it’s quite exasperating when Retailer X doesn’t even follow the generally accepted practice in India.

card02So, what do we do now? Simple: I keep Retailer X’s loyalty card with me and shop at Retailer X whenever I find it convenient to do so. My wife has simply stopped visiting Retailer X now because she doesn’t find it worth the trouble to remember to retrieve the card from me when she thinks of going shopping there. Funny, considering both of us used to visit Retailer X – individually or together – for several years when it didn’t even have a loyalty program! But, that’s typical consumer behavior for you: Having enrolled for a loyalty program with Retailer X, consumers would hate spending money there and be denied rewards by Retailer X’s rigid policy. It’s an irony that, after launching a loyalty program, Retailer X has actually lost a sizable share of our household budget, which is now spent at its competitors’ stores. Since others credit reward points on the basis of card surrogates like name or membership number, we don’t face the same problem with them. Retailer X’s loss is their gain.

Now, there’s a lesson in this for product managers and marketers in retail companies.

In the course of providing product management solutions to many product companies, my company GTM360 Marketing Solutions regularly comes across features that demand additional efforts from users without giving them any commensurate gain. When we recommend a suitable change to these features such that they don’t tax the users, we often get push backs from engineers and product managers of the form that can be paraphrased in the present context as follows:

As a loyal customer, my wife and I would / should make the extra effort of remembering to carry the loyalty card along with us whenever we visit Retailer X individually or together, therefore Retailer X’s policy requiring physical presentment of the loyalty card is not an issue.

If Retailer X feels wants to hide behind this logic, I’m sorry to say it’s making a big mistake and will pay dearly in lost sales. In today’s world, consumers are spoilt for choice and won’t be inclined to take any additional trouble just to conform with any one retailer’s misguided policies. Instead, they’ll shop elsewhere. Retailer X will end up being the loser by taxing its consumers’ loyalty too much.

If it thinks of bringing up ‘security’ to justify its policy, sorry, it won’t work with me. Retailer X will face no different fate.

Speed Up Your Outlook Search With These Shortcuts

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Here’s a productivity tip for Microsoft Outlook users who would be familiar with its search feature.

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Quite often, most people are only looking for specific emails they’ve received from someone, sent to someone or containing some keyword on the subject line. Unfortunately, Outlook doesn’t seem to recognize this and, by default, searches for all emails in which the given text – let’s call it ‘keyword’ – is present – in the TO, FROM or SUBJECT fields of the email. As a result, most searches take a long time and return long lists that are fairly useless in most contexts.

It’s only recently that I learned that it’s possible to use certain shortcuts in the search box to speed up the search and make the results more relevant. Such shortcuts take the form of from:keywordto:keywordsubject:keyword, body:keyword, etc. For example, all emails in the Inbox from email addresses that contain the keyword webinar:

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When these shortcuts are used, Outlook serves far fewer and more relevant results much faster. Shortcuts even work faster than sorting emails by TO, FROM or the other fields.

Thank you Microsoft for such Outlook search shortcuts.

EMAIL360 Website Lead Generation Widget

EMAIL360 Website Lead Generation Widget

While on this subject, let make a general observation about Outlook: From our recent experience, users of Outlook seem to be a dwindling tribe, with an increasing number of people using webmail addresses even for business emails. For instance, 54% of over 100 website owners who have signed up for our EMAIL360 website lead generation widget have done so with their Gmail, Yahoo! or Hotmail accounts. This is despite the fact that each one of them owns a website and could whip up email addresses on their website’s domain names (e.g. me@mywebsite.com) in a jiffy. It could be argued that they might still be using Outlook as their desktop client, but from the plain text formats of the emails we receive from them, we find that hard to believe.

Nevertheless, having found this shortcut, we wanted to share it with the world of Outlook users, however small their population is becoming. Consider it done.

Why You Need An App To Tell You If You’ve Read A Particular Book

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

mBA01We’re in the market for a mobile app for book lovers to find and rate books. These could be books written by a person’s favorite author or recommended by someone in their social graph. We’ve given the working name myBookAlert for this app and have started discussing its specs with a few mobile app development vendors. When we come to the point where we tell these vendors that we want the app to alert us to books that we’ve already read, we invariably notice raised eyebrows. “Why do you want an app to tell you what you know anyway?” is their common reaction, whether articulated in so many words or not.

This is a perfectly natural reaction from occasional book readers for whom each book they read is an experience that they’re unlikely to forget.

However, the situation is quite different for voracious book readers. Take the case of one such middle-aged reader, who has been reading one or two books per week for around 30 years (if this sounds a bit autobiographical, you wouldn’t be wrong!). During this period, they’ve have read around 1-2 x 52 x 30 = 1500 – 3000 books. After reading so many books over such a long period, anyone would find it virtually impossible to remember books by their titles. Nor is it so easy for them to recall that they’ve read a particular book by reading the blurb on the back cover or even after browsing past the first few pages. Of course, as I’d pointed out in this blog post, memory loss begins at different ages for different people, so some people have better memory and might not face this problem. However, most others who haven’t been so lucky with their mental retention power won’t be able to remember whether they’ve read a certain book or not a few years later.

Why is this a problem? Such people tend to buy the same title more than once. For example, I’ve bought at least 10 books twice and a couple of them even three times. After they read beyond the first few pages, it all inevitably comes back to them. When that happens, they tend to chuck the book, so it’s a lot of money down the drain. The problem is exacerbated by Amazon and other leading book sellers who have recently started promoting reprints of fairly old books with somewhat misleading language – “prebook for guaranteed availability when this book launches on so-and-so-future-date” – that lulls you into believing that these are all new books.

It’s to avoid such waste of time and money that voracious readers need help to warn them that they’ve already read a certain book. Which is why we decided to put this feature in our myBookAlert app.