Archive for May, 2012

Customers Of The World Unite, You Have Nothing To Lose But The Call Center Hold Music

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Around the end of 2009, my HP OfficeJet printer had broken down. I promptly logged a call with the local office of Hewlett Packard’s service partner. After several futile attempts over the next three days to get its engineer to visit my office to inspect the defective unit, I gave up with the vendor’s local office and decided to escalate my complaint to its head office. Thankfully, the company’s Vice President for Business Development happened to be one of my LinkedIn connections. I sent him a quick message explaining my problem. He apologized on behalf of his local office and immediately connected me to his company’s Vice President – Service. From there, it was relatively smooth sailing all along. Long story short, I continue to be a happy user of this printer three years later.

This was my first taste of using social media for customer service.

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Fast forward to six months ago.

I was flying back from Hyderabad to Pune (for the uninitiated, these are Indian cities situated around 800 kms apart). My flight was delayed. Just before boarding the aircraft, I found out the real reason for the delay (check out my post Games Airlines Play to know what really happened). Since this differed greatly from the airline’s official version announced over the airport’s PA system, I was quite ticked off. Just before powering off my mobile phone in preparation for takeoff, I sent off a quick tweet expressing my displeasure at the airline’s misleading communication. Less than 90 minutes later, as I was collecting my baggage at Pune airport, I received a call from the airline following up on my tweet. Its representative told me that there was some genuine internal confusion about the cause of the delay and assured me that the airline didn’t have any intention to mislead its passengers. Over the next two days, the airline communicated with me via Twitter and email – when 140 characters didn’t suffice – and cleared the confusion.

After this experience, I was convinced about the power of social media driven customer service and decided to turn to Twitter / Facebook whenever I needed something with any of my service providers – at least those who do have a social media presence and take it seriously.

A couple of months ago, I had an issue with a certain bank and needed to contact its customer service. Normally, I’d have had to log on to its Internet Banking portal, visit the Contact Us page, click on two or three drop down menus to select the nature of my query / request / complaint (QRC). Often, I wouldn’t have found anything fitting my situation and would’ve been forced to contort my brain cells heavily enough before I was eventually able to select one of the available alternatives. With my new found faith in social media powered service, I decided to ditch Internet Banking altogether. I simply posted my question on the bank’s Facebook Wall. In the time it’d have taken me to log a ticket on the bank’s website had I chosen that channel, I actually got a reply to my FB post (see my post Pushing The Envelope On Adopting Cutting Edge Technology – Part 2 for the full FB newsfeed) and the matter was virtually closed. This was an exhilarating experience, unparalleled by web, telephone or any other channel, with the possible exception of branch.

p1-250wI’ve subsequently reached out to many other companies – in high-tech, insurance and telecommunications – via Twitter and Facebook and my experience has been uniformly positive. Therefore, I’m convinced that social media is the best thing that happened to customer service since, er, nothing else (not call center, for sure!). For now, I don’t see any flipside for consumers with this channel. So, let me declare, “customers of the world unite behind social media customer service, you have nothing to lose but the call center hold music”.

I do recognize that not all types of service requests (e.g. account balance) are suited for social media. Besides, there’s the important issue of what’s in it for banks and other service providers. If that question is not satisfactorily answered, they might pull the plug on this channel citing budget, ROI or compliance related reasons. Since I’d hate to see that happening, I’ll write another post covering a few areas of benefits for them that have been exposed by a recent study (Spoiler Alert: Call centers and websites apparently suck at cross-selling and upselling).

Will Mobile Blogs Impoverish Bloggers?

Saturday, May 19th, 2012
I recently shifted a lot of my blog reading from a laptop to a smartphone. In the context of a blog that’s mobile-optimized, let me make a few observations and conclusions that you might find useful:
For some reason, what used to take me 45 minutes per day to read on a laptop only takes 15 minutes on a smartphone.
Having shifted to a smartphone, there’s no way I’ll ever go back to the PC to read this blog.
In the past two weeks, I haven’t seen / clicked a single ad on this blog. Whereas, on a PC, I used to click at least 4-5 ads every day. I do miss some of these ads but this change in behavior could make a lot more difference for blogs dependent upon Google AdSense and other ads.
Needless to say, commenting is lot easier on a PC than smartphone.
At the risk of jumping to conclusions, it would appear that mobile-optimized versions of blogs are great for the reader but web versions are more enriching (pun intended) for the publisher and the community.

I recently shifted a lot of my blog reading from a laptop to a smartphone. Some blogs like TechCrunch can be accessed via mobile web (apart from PC web, that is) whereas others like Finextra, Huffington Post and Labnol (Digital Inspiration) are available as native Android Apps. I found TechCrunch and Huffington Post to be very well optimized for the smaller form factor.

One month after the shift, let me take TechCrunch as an example and list down a few key differences in my experience of “consuming” this blog from a smartphone versus PC:

  1. Believe it or not, it now only takes me only 15 minutes to finish a day’s reading of this blog on a smartphone whereas I could never finish the same amount of reading in less than one hour from a PC before. I know this sound counterintuitive – how can it be easier to read something on such a tiny screen? – but I promise you that it’s not an exaggeration. Go ahead and try it out for yourselves.
  2. In the past four weeks, I haven’t clicked a single ad on this blog from the mobile. Whereas, while reading it on a PC, I used to click at least 4-5 ads every day. If most readers respond to ads in the same way, it could make a huge difference to publishers dependent upon income from Google AdSense and other PPC  ads displayed on their blogs.
  3. It’s a lot easier to post comments from a PC.
  4. There’s no way I’ll go back to a PC to read TechCrunch – or any other mobile-optimized – blog in future.
  5. TechCrunch proves that you can deliver great UX even via mobile web. Per contra, my experience with Finextra suggests that a native app by itself doesn’t guarantee mobile optimization.

At the risk of jumping to conclusions, it would appear that mobile-optimized blogs deliver superior experience for readers but that PC-web versions are more enriching (pun intended) for the publisher and the overall community. The latter conclusion can get turned on its head if mobile versions of blogs generate net additions to readership figures by attracting new readers who never read the blog on a desktop or laptop before. I invite readers, especially bloggers who run both desktop web and mobile versions of their blogs, to share their thoughts in the comments below.

PS: I’ve written this post as a blog reader. In my other role as a blogger myself, I’d used a third-party service called Mofuse to mobilize Talk of Many Things back in 2008 when Android wasn’t a household name and smartphones weren’t as common as they’re today. Mofuse has since then pivoted from its freemium model, so I’m now in the process of deciding whether to upgrade to a paid plan of Mofuse or ditch Mofuse altogether and develop a native Android App for Talk of Many Things from scratch. Stay tuned, I’ll keep you updated.

Whither Cross Selling & Upselling With eBills & eStatements?

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

For a long time, I’ve been hearing about how electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP) solutions enable billers to do more cross-selling and upselling. For the uninitiated, EBPP, among other things, generates paperless versions of bills and statements and publishes them on portals or emails them as PDF attachments, or both; the term “billers” collectively refers to banks, credit card companies, mobile network operators, boroughs / councils, utilities and other types of businesses who need to send bills / statements to their customers periodically.

Around 7-8 years ago, I came across the following example that illustrated how an MNO could exploit an EBPP software’s cross-selling / upselling capabilities:

By mining your billing data, our software could reveal that a high percentage of calls made by a certain customer are to one particular telephone number. Using this insight, our software would prompt you to offer your new “Partner FreeCall” product to this customer and thereby earn a higher fixed fee every month.

Sounded great then, sounds great now. However, it never seems to happen in actual practice. At least not to me or anyone in my family or friends in all our interactions with billers spread across many countries viz. India, Germany, UK and USA. And, recently, when I was definitely a candidate for one such offer, the biller in question never informed me about it.

I’ve wondered if this total absence of cross-selling and upselling in real life reflected a fundamental disconnect between what a vendor claims its software can do versus what the software actually does. A recent personal experience convinced me that it didn’t, and suggested that there could be larger issues at play.

I recently got a bill of INR 1,000 (~ US$ 20) for my daughter’s new smartphone connection. When I saw this figure, I got a ‘sticker shock’ of sorts because, according to the plan we’d subscribed to, the monthly fixed fee was only INR 150 (US$ 3). The itemized charges revealed more than 600 SMS messages. At INR 1 per message, that itself translated to INR 600, so I ruled out any billing error. Since her GenY friends are equally addicted to texting as my daughter, I checked around and found out they’d subscribed to various SMS packs that let them send a huge number of free texts for a small additional monthly charge.

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Omnichannel Retailing (Telephone Interactions Not Shown)

Armed with this information, I tweeted to my MNO – Vodafone, by the way – to inquire if it had such SMS packs. I soon received a reply that, yes, for an additional fee of INR 35, I could get 1,000 free SMSs. I immediately ordered this pack and, hopefully, the days of sticker shock are behind me. (As an aside, my interaction with Vodafone in the above example started with Twitter, moved to telephone and ended with email. It looks like Vodafone has already jumped onto the omnichannel bandwagon, a subject about which I’ve written herehere and here.)

This was a great example of cross-selling / upselling, except that the biller didn’t trigger it. I wondered why. Surely, my MNO had EBPP. Since its CSR who called me in response to my Twitter update knew all about this SMS pack and could put through my purchase in seconds, the MNO’s inaction can’t be attributed to apathy, untrained personnel or immature processes.

A small back-of-the-envelope calculation makes me believe that my MNO’s lack of proactiveness in upselling its SMS pack is deliberate and has nothing to do with technology. For marketers, cross-selling and upselling mean not only selling more products and services to existing customers but also growing revenues in the process. While the SMS pack in question meets the first condition, it falls miserably short on the second: It fetches INR 35 but results in a loss of INR 1,000 – the normal price for 1,000 texts @ INR 1.00 per text – in revenues every month (or at least until the month that subscribers wake up and take corrective action).

When addon products and services carry such a massive revenue downside, only billers who value customer satisfaction and advocacy way ahead of a hit on their toplines will truly exploit the cross-selling and upselling capabilities of their eBilling and eStatementing solutions. For the others, there’s TransPromos. More on that later.

Waiting For Refund

Friday, May 4th, 2012

This lovemoney.com article titled Tenants: how to get your deposit back describes the trials and tribulations faced by tenants in the UK in getting their security deposits back after they vacate a rented house.

Meridian PlaceThe article and all comments in response to it were focused around refund issues arising out of disputes over deductions. For the uninitiated, tenancy agreements in the UK – and many other countries – mandate that, when vacating the house, the tenant should leave the house in the same condition as it was when they occupied it. Any differences in the condition – burned carpet, for example – will attract charges that can be deducted by the landlord before refunding the deposit.

I went through a different – and arguably worse – experience, namely, years of delay despite reaching agreement on the deduction amount fairly fast.

Around four years ago, I was getting back to India after spending two years in London. The building management company – a reputed one in Docklands, if I may add – that was managing the apartment completed the takeover / survey on my last day in UK. I got the schedule of deductions some 15 days later by email. Some deductions were reasonable, others were not, but I was already in India by that time and logistically it wasn’t worth my while to get into a dispute. So, I signed the form accepting all the deductions and faxed it back to this company the same day.

Then started the wait.

When I followed up a few weeks later, the clerk in the company told me that she hadn’t received my fax. I reminded her that I’d scanned the signed form and had emailed it to her regular email address the same day that I’d faxed it. She denied receiving the email but promised to get on the job if I re-faxed the form. Which I did immediately. A month later, there was still no response. I decided to escalate this matter to the company’s Estate Manager. He blamed some system problems, promised immediate action and spent the rest of the international call – I was paying, sigh! – telling me stories of how he enjoyed himself during his previous trip to India and how he looked forward to connecting with me the next time he visited India a couple of months later.

Months have turned to years. My reminders are getting more and more strident. Long story short, I left the apartment in July 2008 and still haven’t received my deposit.