Archive for February, 2012

Laughter Is The Best Medicine

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

From: S Ketharaman

Sent: Friday, February 10, 2012


Subject: Laughter Is The Best Medicine

Dear Editor of The Economic Times:

“Welcome Insomnia”, “Duvvuri Yossarian?”, “Mamata’s Maps”, “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist or even a frequent flyer to comprehend that our aviation industry is in the doldrums” – these are but a few recent examples that make me wonder if ET has decided to subscribe to the notion that “laughter is the best medicine” when it comes to editorializing about what ails India today. I appreciate your new style and I’m sure so will most readers with a good sense of humor. I just pray that the various government authorities featured in your editorials don’t LOL the problems and instead take your proposed remedies seriously enough!

Thanks and Regards.

Ketharaman Swaminathan

Games Airlines Play

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

I was recently flying back from Hyderabad to Pune. A few minutes after checking in, I received an SMS message alerting me to a 90 minute delay. Instead of 2055, the flight was now scheduled to leave HYD at 2230. No reason was given for the delay. Not a great situation but not particularly disturbing either since I’ve suffered much worse flight delays before.

At around 2215, the airline made an announcement that its flight # so-and-so had arrived from Bangalore and would now proceed to Pune. After a few minutes, boarding for the PNQ flight was announced. When we were asked to get into a coach, I was wondering why we needed a bus to reach the aircraft that we could see was parked just outside the terminal. Once inside the coach, I was making some polite conversation with the coach driver about some fancy gadgets mounted on the dashboard. It was then that I incidentally learned that the airplane meant for PNQ had arrived way back at 1800 itself and was parked far away from the terminal. It was to board that aircraft that the bus ride was required.

Why then was our flight delayed? Apparently, the pilot for PNQ flight had failed to report for duty. The airline had to requisition a replacement captain from Bangalore, who was the one who had arrived in the flight from BLR. The aircraft from BLR did not fly to PNQ. Midway through the flight, the captain regretted the delay, saying that it was caused due to the delay in arrival of the aircraft from the previous flight. Although he was evidently trying to cover up for his truant colleague, his announcement was a blatant lie.

Flight delays are nothing new. Most passengers have gotten used to them by now. But, I doubt if they’ll get used to airlines lying to them about reasons for delays.

This is just one of the games airlines play with their customers.

A few years ago, I used to travel from London to Manchester quite often. Default mode of travel would be the superfast Virgin Pendolino train from Euston to Crewe. Once, I’d to visit Manchester over a weekend. Like most weekends, train service on this and other routes all over England was severely curtailed due to repair works, so I’d to take a plane. I was surprised to find the flying time shown as 1h15m when the train took only 1h50m. When the flight actually landed in Manchester airport a mere 25 minutes later, I inquired around. I discovered that airlines inflate flight duration substantially so that, even if they get delayed, they can claim excellent punctuality record.

During the HYD-PNQ flight, I realized that airlines in India have also learned this trick. The HYD-PNQ ticket showed a flight duration of 1h30m whereas the stewardess announced that it would take 50 minutes to cover the distance, which is what it took.

These are just a couple of games that airlines play. If readers know of others, please share your experiences in the comments.

Use Marketable Items To Provide Targeted Solutions

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

At the NASSCOM Leadership Summit currently underway in Mumbai, India, the CIO of a leading American company advises Indian IT companies to “come up with targeted solutions for clients’ problems rather than putting a whole lot of effort into a generic sales approach”.

Marketable Items created by GTM360 help IT product and services companies to do exactly that.

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Why Marketable Items?

Why Marketable Items?

Whenever we talk about our Offering phase and the resultant Marketable Items, the first reaction from most of our customers is, “we already have a product / we offer application development, maintenance, support, etc., so our offering is ready”.

No, these are not targeted solutions. They are all technology offerings that IT companies have been using in their “generic sales approach”, which used to work fine when cost arbitrage was a powerful differentiator for IT companies located in India and other offshore locations. In the present day, when these companies face increasing competition from their own offshore brethren, their conventional approach no longer works. They need to go to market with targeted solutions going by the advice of the aforementioned CIO. Marketable Items help them do that: They are not product features, canned demos or technology services like application development, maintenance, upgrade and support. With their razor-sharp focus, Marketable Items usually leave out more attributes of the product / service than they cover.

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PayPal’s “Auto Withdrawal” Feature Isn’t So Auto After All

Friday, February 10th, 2012

A lot of water has flown under the bridge since we wrote Is It Adios To PayPal From India?

pp01-250wNew updates to PayPal business / merchant accounts in India include:

  • Increase in limit for receipts against export transactions from a measly US$ 500 to a respectable US$ 3,000 per transaction. The higher ceiling should cover a bulk of export transactions for which people use PayPal (although we’ve customers in the USA and the UK who don’t mind wire transfers for lower amounts)
  • Auto withdrawal of PayPal balance to the linked bank account on a daily basis – hopefully, this reduces the risk of merchants suffering from arbitrary holds placed on their accounts by PayPal.

However, in our experience, auto withdrawal doesn’t happen so automatically:

If you add a new bank account now by using the “Add / Edit Bank Account” link under the “Profile” section of the PayPal website, you’ll see “I would like this to be my auto withdrawal account”. You need to check the box on the left of this statement. Otherwise, auto withdrawal isn’t activated.


If you’d set up your linked bank account – like we did – prior to September 2011 when the auto withdrawal feature came into force, you might find that this feature doesn’t apply for you by default. We realized this when we hadn’t received an auto withdrawal confirmation email from PayPal even three days past the receipt of funds into our PayPal account. By chance, we stumbled on to the following procedure to activate auto withdrawal: Click the “Add / Edit Bank Account” link under the “Profile” section; Select the bank account; and click the “Make Auto Withdrawal” button. After this, you should be able to see the “Auto Withdrawal” remark appearing in the Status column.

Nowhere on PayPal’s website or in any of its emails announcing the launch of auto withdrawal was it stated that it was upto the merchant to activate this feature manually. Since PayPal stands to earn interest on the float created when your money stays in your PayPal account instead of getting withdrawn to your bank account, we won’t find it easy to accept oversight as the reason for this omission. This is hardly a shining example of great website usability.

On second thoughts, as long as you get your money out of your PayPal account before PayPal freezes it for one reason or the other, you should go laughing all the way to the bank instead of worrying about lack of usability.

Why Pay For Content When You Can Get It For Free?

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

As I’d pointed out in this blog post a couple of years ago, just because micropayments support convenient ways to pay for digital content doesn’t necessarily mean that people will pay for it. People will pay for content only if they can’t get it for free easily and when they find enough value in it worth paying for.

These are hardly pathbreaking insights into consumer behavior but it seems like Wall Street Journal doesn’t get them.

WSJ keeps sending me regular emails urging me to sign up for a paid subscription (see Figure 1).



When you click the link to an article on these emails, or on third-party newsletters and blog posts for that matter, you’ll reach a certain page on the WSJ website where you can read the first few lines of the article (see Figure 2).



If you wish to read beyond that, you’ll be required to sign up for a paid subscription. At least, that’s what WSJ would tell you.

You really don’t need to pull out your credit cards to sign up for a subscription to read the full article. Instead of clicking the “TO CONTINUE READING, SUBSCRIBE NOW” link at the bottom of the teaser page, simply Google for “wsj” followed by the title of the article – which you can copy and paste from where you first saw mention of the article – the very first search result (see Figure 3) will take you to another page on the WSJ website where you can get the full article for free (see Figure 4). Yes, it’s really that simple, try it out!



When just a few more clicks will get me WSJ’s content for free, there’s a fat chance that I’ll sign up for a WSJ paid subscription!



Now, do these extra clicks pose more friction? No. Subscribers would anyway have to pass through the paywall logon screen where they’d need to enter the username and password of their WSJ account before they can get hold of full articles. This step that only subscribers have to follow perhaps causes greater friction – sigh, yet another username and password to remember! – than the extra clicks required to gain gratis access via Google Search.

I’m guessing that this apparent anamoly exists because WSJ has likely permitted Google Search to trawl through its entire website, including pages that lie beyond the paywall, in order to juice up its SEO mojo. One unintended consequence of this is that the link for the full article shows up on the Google SERP (search engine results page). By clicking it, non-subscribers can directly get inside WSJ’s walled garden that carries full articles without getting blocked by WSJ’s paywall.

Wall Street Journal might want to take note that GigaOm Pro and San Francisco Business Times – two other paid content sites I checked – don’t permit a similar free-of-cost backdoor entry into their walled gardens. I’m sure there’re many others. If readers are aware of other media websites where this hack works – and doesn’t work – it’d be great if they could let others know by leaving behind comments below this post.