Archive for April, 2012

How Mobile Network Operators Can Use Mobile Apps To Boost ARPU

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

I’ve used 3G in the UK several years ago but it was only recently that I “onboarded” on to this high-speed mobile network in India. I took baby steps by first signing up for the entry-level plan offered by my Mobile Network Operator (MNO). This came with 200 MB upload / download and cost INR 100 (~US$ 2). Twenty days later, Onavo told me that I was running periliously close – as in 94% – to exhausting my monthly quota of free data usage. For excess usage, my MNO quoted 2 paise per 10 KB, which had sounded innocuous when I’d first heard it. Kudos to my MNO’s marketing department for packaging this tariff in such an obfuscatory manner, but I thankfully realized that it translated to INR 2,000 per GB (~US$ 40 / GB). I shuddered at this exorbitant rate – around 8-10X of landline based broadband plans – and quickly decided to upgrade to the next higher plan which offered 500 MB for INR 200 i.e. INR 400 / GB.

Having used my new smartphone for so many things that I have previously done on a PC or telephone, I explored the possibility of doing the aforementioned upgrade transaction via my smartphone. Unfortunately, I couldn’t, since my MNO had no mobile app. What was worse was that its INR 200 / month plan was launched recently and it wasn’t possible to activate it even via SMS (which is how I’d activated the first plan before). The only way forward for me was to call the MNO’s Customer Care.

In general, I’ve never liked call centers, what with their phone trees, endless amount of waiting and listening to hold music. But, after my glorious experience with mobile apps during the previous month, an encounter with call center almost seemed like torture. I procrastinated for several days. But, eventually I went ahead and made the call because the alternative – incurring huge charges for busting my data plan – was even more unpleasant.

This experience got me thinking about whether I’m ever likely to buy additional products and services if my MNO forced me to use the phone or, worse still, told me to visit its physical store to place the order. Unlikely, especially for simple and discretionary items. On the other hand, if I got the opportunity to browse its Value Added Services (VAS) at my leisure using a smartphone, the chances of my ordering something or the other would go up dramatically.

If personal experience is anything to go by, MNOs and TELCOs have a tremendous opportunity to boost their ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) by launching mobile apps and letting their customers manage their accounts and order value added services through them. This is even more true in the case of 3G and other high ARPU customer segments. Such apps don’t even have to be enabled for (micro)payments, which could be a major source of friction for the relatively small amounts applicable for many VAS items: I noticed that, when these purchases happen over the phone, the MNO simply adds the charges to the monthly bill and presumably uses the recording of the telephone call as proof of order. For an order placed via mobile apps, clickstreams – or, are they called ‘tapstreams’ on smartphones? – should provide even more unequivocal proof.

A Practical Guide On Work-Life Balance

Friday, April 13th, 2012

From: S Ketharaman
Sent: April 06, 2012
To: editet@timesgroup.com
Subject: Work Life Balance

Dear Editor of The Economic Times:

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In the past, whenever I’ve come across articles on restoring work-life balance in the media, I’ve found their suggestions to be highly impractical in today’s world and have never managed to get past their first or second paragraphs.

That is, until I saw “Work On Bringing Balance To Your Life” by Priya Kumar in a recent edition of The Economic Times.

So far, the sum and essence of what I’ve heard about work-life balance can be reduced to one sentence: “Spend equal time on work and family”. For the first time, I read a very different viewpoint in Kumar’s article viz. work-life balance doesn’t mean giving the same priority to all facets of life. This perspective makes a lot of sense and resonates very well with the zeitgeist of modern times. Ms. Kumar describes several signals – or red flags – that are strongly indicative of work-life imbalance in a person. This list is especially useful since many signals in it can be spotted not just by the said person but also by others around him or her. By giving a set of remedial actions against type of red flag, the article stakes a credible claim to be a practical guide to restoring work-life imbalances. Counter-intuitive as it might seem at first glance, the author’s advice to spend less – not more – time with family makes a lot of sense when a person displays the attitude signal.

Props to Priya Kumar for an excellent article. I’m now personally sold on the need to maintain proper work-life balance and convinced that it can be done even when subject to the pressures of today’s world.

Thanks and Regards.

Ketharaman Swaminathan

Pushing The Envelope On Adopting Cutting Edge Technology – Part 2

Friday, April 6th, 2012

In Part 1 of this blog post, I had lauded ICICI Bank for pushing the envelope on adopting cutting edge banking technologies by launching a Facebook App and Online Account Opening offering. In this Part 2, let me share the results of my personal experience with these initiatives and voice a few concerns around their implementation.

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ICICI Bank's Response To Online Account Opening Application

After completing the online account opening process, I received the following message on the bank’s website:

“Thank You. Your application has been saved successfully and Account Number XXXXXXXX abcd has been allocated to you”.

When I received only the last four digits of the account number (abcd), I felt a bit cheated since much of my praise for the bank’s initiative was centered around its promise of issuing an “Instance Account Number”. Its marketing communication was definitely misleading when compared to its actual performance.

Not only that, the website message went on to request me to keep a cheque ready for INR 10,200 or more, being account opening amount. I was wondering “why only cheque?” Since I’ve chosen the online channel to open the account, should it not strike the bank that I might be equally interested in an online channel to fund my account and logically offer me the option of electronic fund transfer? Called NEFT (National Electronic Fund Transfer), such an option has been existence in India for several years and is widely promoted by most banks including ICICI Bank, which is India’s largest private sector bank.

Sorry ICICI Bank, what happens in FB must stay in FB!

Sorry ICICI Bank, what happens in FB must stay in FB!

I posted these observations on the bank’s Facebook Wall since it was here that I had learned about the Online Account Opening functionality.

Instead of receiving a straight answer, I got a reply asking me to explain my problems via email to its Customer Care email address. I was immediately ticked off. For one, since I had already taken the trouble to list my questions and concerns on its Facebook Wall, there was no way that I was going to waste my time repeating everything over email. Secondly, I believed that, like “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, whatever happened on FB should stay on FB. I did not appreciate the bank’s tactic to redirect me, and virtually everyone else who had posted on its wall, to another channel. I expected the bank to understand that, had I wanted to use email, I would not have bothered with Facebook. When I replied back declining to use email for the aforementioned reasons, ICICI Bank replied back saying that I had to continue the discussion only over email since it wished to “maintain customer privacy”.
Duh? Customer privacy? Did ICICI Bank not realize that I, as the customer, should be the one more bothered about customer privacy?
To me, the bank’s behavior suggested that it did not get the notion of customer privacy or, worse still, chose to use it as a bogey to avoid public admission of the obvious limitations in its online account opening offering. Either way, I did not find any point in continuing the conversation.
It is still early days for ICICI Bank’s new initiatives. Hopefully, it will quickly understand that customers are no strangers to online and social media channels and enhance its online account opening functionality and modify its Facebook behavior such that the gulf between what customers expect and what the bank offers narrows down. If it succeeds in doing so, ICICI Bank could well serve as the lighthouse for the entire BFSI industry towards adoption of cutting edge technology to cut costs and enhance customer experience. On the other hand, if it fails, ICICI Bank risks seeing its new initiatives fizzling out.

Instead of receiving a straight answer, I got a reply asking me to explain my problems via email to its Customer Care email address. I was immediately ticked off. For one, since I had already taken the trouble to list my questions and concerns on its Facebook Wall, there was no way that I was going to waste my time repeating everything over email. Secondly, I believed that, like “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, whatever happened on FB should stay on FB. I did not appreciate the bank’s tactic to redirect me, and virtually everyone else who had posted on its wall, to another channel. I expected the bank to understand that, had I wanted to use email, I would not have bothered with Facebook. When I replied back declining to use email for the aforementioned reasons, ICICI Bank replied back saying that I had to continue the discussion only over email since it wished to “maintain customer privacy”.

Duh? Customer privacy? Did ICICI Bank not realize that I, as the customer, should be the one more bothered about customer privacy?

To me, the bank’s behavior suggested that it did not get the notion of customer privacy or, worse still, chose to use it as a bogey to avoid public admission of the obvious limitations in its online account opening offering. Either way, I did not find any point in continuing the conversation.

It is still early days for ICICI Bank’s new initiatives. Hopefully, it will quickly understand that customers are no strangers to online and social media channels and enhance its online account opening functionality and modify its Facebook behavior such that the gulf between what customers expect and what the bank offers narrows down. If it succeeds in doing so, ICICI Bank could well serve as the lighthouse for the entire BFSI industry towards adoption of cutting edge technology to cut costs and enhance customer experience. On the other hand, if it fails, ICICI Bank risks seeing its new initiatives fizzle out.