Archive for August, 2012

How To Measure Fraternity Strength

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Everyone is a member of some fraternity or the other – school, university, neighborhood, employer, social networking group, and so on.

Intuitively, we know that some fraternities are strong whereas others are not. My chance encounters with a few of my fraternities in the recent past got me wondering if there was any way to measure a fraternity’s strength rigorously. When I did a quick Google search, this is what I found:

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Google Search Results

Since the mighty Google substituted “paternity” for “fraternity” from its very second result, I’m jumping to the conclusion that there’s no ‘prior art’ in the field of fraternity strength measurement. Therefore, I’m proposing the following principle (patent pending) in an attempt to fill the gap in this space.

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In plain English, if you’ve been separated from a classmate for decades but can get back on backslapping terms with him or her in a few minutes, your school or college’s fraternity strength is high. On the other hand, if you take a long time to break ice with an ex-colleague with whom you’ve been out of touch for barely a year or two, your ex-company’s fraternity is not so strong.

Let me illustrate this principle by rating the strength of a few fraternities to which I belong.

  1. IIT Bombay. University. I lost touch with most of my batchmates when I was graduated from here in 1985. I reconnected with many of them during my batch’s Silver Jubilee Reunion in 2010. It hardly felt that we’d been separated at all. N = 25 years. t = <1 second. FS = Very High.
  2. Wipro. Past Employer. I’ve been out of touch with most of my ex-colleagues since I left the company in 1991. Recently, one of them pinged me on Facebook Messenger, wanting to talk to me soon. I rarely do IM, whether FB or others, so I celebrated the rare occasion by offering to take his call right away. Since the said ex-colleague took a couple of minutes to call me, ‘t’ is higher than in the case of IIT Bombay. Since N is several years lower than with IIT Bombay, the Wipro Fraternity Strength, while high, is not in the same league as IIT Bombay’s.
  3. MHD. Past Employer. I left this company in Muscat, Oman, back in 1996. I recently re-connected with two ex-colleagues. With the first one, our meeting followed a few prior emails. The second one bumped into me recently at a hospital; modesty prevents me from saying who recognized whom when this chance encounter happened. Because the backslapping with the first ex-colleague was pre-planned and barely happened with the second, I’d rate the Fraternity Strength of MHD as only Fair, certainly not as high as that of IIT Bombay or Wipro.

Thanks largely to its fantastic anthem, my daughter’s school will likely have a very high fraternity strength – in the same league as IIT Bombay’s, if not greater. However, my daughter is still in school. It will be two more years until she loses touch with her classmates and many more years before reunions will happen. So, there’s a long way to go for my prediction to be put to test.

In all the aforementioned examples, you’d notice that I’ve avoided rating any fraternity’s strength as low. Instead, I’ve carefully used terms like ‘not so strong’ or ‘fair’ for the fraternities whose strengths are, ahem, ‘not as high as that of’ the others. Let me assure readers that, in using such terminology, I’m not trying to obfuscate the situation. Fact is, a ‘weak fraternity’ is an oxymoron – such a fraternity wouldn’t form in the first place.

Some of you might be tempted to bust the above FS scores – if not the underlying principle of fraternity strength itself – on the grounds that they’re based on interactions among just one or two people of fraternities that have thousands of members. To such statistically-minded readers, I’d claim that this theory can be validated by first calculating the fraternity strength for each individual interaction and then averaging them all out to arrive at the overall Fraternity Strength. Happy computing!

UPDATE DATED 27 SEPTEMBER 2017:

Five years after I wrote this post, I’ve got some data to test my prediction about the fraternity strength of my daughter’s school.

Conclusion: My prediction is right even without the reason I’d given for it!

If You Must Use A Long Form, At Least Pre-Fill As Much Of It As You Can

Friday, August 24th, 2012
EMAIL360 Website LeadGen Application

Website LeadGen Application

EMAIL360 is a cloud-based software that delivers the most powerful features of marketing automation solutions at a fraction of their cost. EMAIL360 helps marketers start the conversation with their website visitors by collecting the barest minimum contact information. By doing so with a 1-click form and without complex reCAPTCHAs and page transitions, EMAIL360 provides a frictionless experience, boosting conversion of visitors to leads in the process. Many high-tech marketers, media websites, etailers and others that have implemented EMAIL360 have seen 2-3X uplift in website leads compared to lead forms published on their contact us pages. Click here, here and here for a few success stories of EMAIL360.

However, if you want to collect more information than the visitor’s name and email, you might want to use a longer online form. Before you go ahead with publishing such a form on your website, be aware of the following downsides of your action:

  1. Your visitors will have to leave their current page to navigate to the CONTACT US page of your website, which is where they’re accustomed to finding online forms. There’s no guarantee that they’ll return to the content that got them to your website in the first place.
  2. In case you need different specialists to respond to leads for different products and services showcased on your website, you’ll need to manually route your incoming lead forms to the appropriate person in your organization. This could increase your operating costs and lead to delays and leakages in handling your website leads.
  3. Your form will need a reCAPTCHA or equivalent to keep away spam. Problem is, codes like these tend to confuse website visitors, many of whom might bounce off your website in frustration. Because reCAPTCHA is an ongoing project, cracking them will only get tougher with time. Have a look at the following reCAPTCHAs and judge for yourselves whether we’re overstating this problem.

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Due to the above factors, long registration forms cause friction and lead to website abandonment. Some studies put abandonment rate as high as 90%, but even if it’s only 50%, it means that half your SEO, SEM and social media marketing investments go down the drain. Per contra, by using a solution like EMAIL360, you can double the bang for your demand generation buck.

However, for whatever reason, if the additional contact information is simply indispensable for your specific situation, go ahead with a long form. But try to pre-fill as many fields in it as possible, based on what you already know about the website visitor. For example, take a visitor who lands on your website by clicking a hyperlink on a promotional email sent by your company for a certain offering. The very fact that the visitor has received your email means that s/he has signed up for it – we’ll assume that you don’t engage in spamming – so you probably know her name, company, title, and so on. Instead of presenting a blank form and exasperating the visitor, you can delight her by pre-filling these fields. Ask the visitor to only enter any remaining information such as a question that’s highly specific to the showcased offering (“Do you plan to buy social media monitoring software in the next 12 months?”) and is, therefore, unlikely to have been included in your generic sign-up form.

While this seems obvious, we rarely come across companies who follow this practice. All we see are blank forms day-in-day-out, such as the one shown below from a company that has our business card from when we attended one of its events last year.

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Yet Another Blank Form!

Against this backdrop, SumTotal Systems’ recent email offering a whitepaper was a refreshing change. When we clicked on the download button given on the email, we were pleasantly surprised to see a form that was pre-filled with all our contact information. We were able to download the whitepaper with a single click. That’s a great example of a frictionless solution.

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Pre-Filled Form

We won’t be surprised if @SumTotalSystems saw a spike in response and conversion rates for this campaign. By following its example, you can too!

TransPromos Help Billers Grow Advertising Revenues

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Electronic delivery of bills and statements promises to save stationery, printing and postage costs for banks, mobile network operators, municipalities / boroughs, utilities and other types of billers. Attracted by the cost savings potential, a large number of billers have adopted eBilling / eStatements technology in recent times. To actually realize the savings, many billers have launched campaigns to promote their electronic document offerings and encourage paper turn offs by their customers. Some of them have followed the ‘carrot’ approach: An MNO we know offers a 1% discount on the bill amount for eBill adopters. Whereas others have resorted to the ‘stick’ – an insurer and another MNO we’ve come across forcibly send you electronic bills and statements if you happen to have disclosed your email address to them. In theory, ‘paper reinstatement’ is just a phone call away. But, to make it happen in actual practice, you’ve to navigate through phone trees and listen to hold music for 20-30 minutes before you getting through to a live operator to log your request.

The primary purpose of this blog post is neither to voice our concerns about electronic documents nor proffer our comments about the professionalism of the aforementioned billers who forcibly enroll their customers for eBills and eStatements (although we’ve done both on many other occasions). Instead, it’s to bring TransPromos into this discussion and examine how they introduce the revenue dimension into a topic that has hitherto been driven by cost alone.

TransPromo is a portmanteau word ‘formed from the words “transaction” and “promotional”. By adding relevant messages, companies can piggyback promotion or even advertising onto existing transaction-related documents, such as statements, invoices, or bills’ (Source: Wikipedia).

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Third Party TransPromo: Ski Pass In Credit Card Statement

Depending upon whether they feature products and services from the biller or third-party companies, TransPromos can be termed as “First Party” or “Third Party” respectively. For many reasons, including the one explained in our post Whither Cross-Selling And Upselling With eBills And eStatements, First Party TransPromo are not very common in actual practice. Therefore, in this post, we shall only focus on Third Party TransPromos e.g. An offer for ‘40% discount for Domino’s Pizza’ carried on a credit card statement. Using demographic data and transaction history, it’s possible to craft Third Party TransPromos at an extremely granular level and target them at a “customer segment of one” (assuming that the said customer has opted in to receive offers in the first place).

When phone bills, credit card statements, utility bills and all other categories of transactional documents are added up, they can easily address 20-25% of the total population of many countries. Therefore, TransPromos have a reach that’s arguably unmatched by any medium of communication. Unlike TV ads, unsolicited mail and email, transactional documents are expected by their recipients, prima facie bestowing TransPromos with a high degree of ‘openability’. This unique combination of reach and openability makes transactional documents highly coveted by FMCG and CPG companies for advertising. (It’s another matter that not all billers might want to ‘rent’ their bill and statement real estate for ads.)

Openability, however, is not uniform across all channels of delivery of transactional documents.

Let’s take printed documents first. When a mobile phone subscriber receives a printed bill in an envelope bearing the mobile network operator’s logo, s/he’s bound to open it. According to an executive at a leading MNO we’ve spoken to, printed bills have open rates of almost 100%.

Now, take electronically delivered documents. They come in two flavors viz. PULL and PUSH. In a PULL technology, the customer has to take a conscious decision to visit the biller’s website / portal, enter her credentials to log on and then view / download her bill / statement. In PUSH, the biller emails the bill or statement to the customer as a PDF file that is often password-protected. As we’d pointed out in our blog post How Suitable Is Email For Delivering Bills And Statements?, it’s unnatural for people to have to enter a password to open an email attachment. Because of such intrinsic sources of friction, neither PULL nor PUSH based electronic documents enjoy anywhere near 100% open rates.

Print trumps electronic documents for TransPromos in one more area. With eBills and eStatements, consumers have to enter a password before they can see ads. This goes against the basic grain of advertising whereby consumers should put in efforts only to avoid ads, not to view them!

With so many fundamental differences between them, advertisers are likely to attach different value to print and electronic document real estate. And, in our experience, they do. Many advertisers we’ve come across are willing to pay a premium for advertising on printed documents compared to eBills or eStatements. This suggests that, by thinking beyond cost reduction, billers could unlock additional value from their paper bills and statements. By continuing with paper, they might lose a few pennies to higher operating costs, but they’re likely to gain a lot of dollars from greater advertising revenues. They might want to keep this in mind while deciding their future strategy regarding document delivery channels.

IITB-IDC’s Letterbox Shows Severe Lack Of Imagination

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

idc02A recent Economic Times article titled India Inc’s Design Deficit lists a few examples of innovative design to have emerged from India in recent times. While it admits to the relative paucity of success stories in this department, the article claims that India’s design deficit owes itself to a shortage of funding rather than lack of imagination. I beg to differ.

While I wasn’t personally impressed by any of the examples, it was the New Letterbox from the Industrial Design Center (IDC) of my alma mater IIT Bombay that really got my goat. Here’s why:

Over 30 years ago, the joining batch of B.Tech students – which included me – was taken around on a trip to all departments in IITB as a part of the induction program conducted on our first day in campus. At IDC, the professors showed us a slew of products designed by their department and gave the pride of place to – ahem – a new letterbox! At the time, the standard letterbox in India was cylindrical and rectangular designs were just entering the scene. The rectangular variant featured a flat top that allowed people to write the address on the postcard or envelope before dropping them into the letterbox. In the then prevailing design, the flat top sloped from top to bottom on the front. As a result, if one person was using it to write the address, s/he would block the slit, so the person at the back would have to wait until the person ahead of them moved out before they could drop their letter into the letterbox. In contrast, the IDC-designed letterbox featured a flat top that sloped the other way. As the address-writer was standing at the back doing their thing, the letter dropper could concurrently access the slit at the front and finish their thing. The denizens of IDC were very proud that they’d done their own bit to push the needle on ‘multitasking’, which was the buzzword those days. I suspect that not many of us in attendance were convinced that this was a great sign of innovation. But, because that was our first day away from home for most of us, we were perhaps too nervous to contradict the IDC faculty.

gg01Cue to 2012. The new letterbox design from IDC continues to be rectangular. Apart from using plastic instead of metal and looking a little sleeker – reminds me of an ink cartridge for some reason – it looks and works exactly like its predecessor did 32 years  ago. The design was not greatly innovative then, it’s certainly not innovative now. In fact, by selecting an item like a letterbox that’s virtually rendered obsolete by email and social media in this day and age, IDC shows severe lack of imagination. By removing economic constraints, only more money would’ve gone down the drain on such design projects.

It’s not as though there’re no examples of good design from Indian businesses. I personally love the container of Gowardhan Ghee. For the uninitiated, ghee, a Sanskrit word, “is a class of clarified butter that originated in South Asia and is commonly used in South Asian (Indian, Bangladeshi, Nepali and Pakistani) cuisine and ritual” (Source: Wikipedia). In India, mothers tend to stuff their kids with ghee to make them look chubby. Have one look at the oblong jar on the left. I think it perfectly conveys the product’s function and promise, which is the hallmark of great design. Tell me if you disagree.

Ghee is a class of clarified butter that originated in South Asia and is commonly used in South Asian (Indian, Bangladeshi, Nepali and Pakistani) cuisine and ritual.


The Business Case For Social Media Customer Service

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

In a previous blog post titled Customers Of The World Unite, You Have Nothing To Lose But The Call Center Hold Music, I’d written about customer service via social media and how it could be a great experience for customers of airlines, banks, insurers, mobile network operators and other service providers. We now look at social media customer service from the perspective of service providers to figure out “what’s in it for them”. Unless service providers derive some benefits from this channel, we can be sure that most of them will simply shut it down, citing budget, ROI or compliance reasons.

Cross-Selling Via Twitter

Cross-Selling Via Twitter

A recent study by Aspect found that “consumers get most frustrated with their banks and insurance providers when communicating with them through the contact centre, affecting cross-selling and upselling opportunities and resulting in loss of customers.”  I can vouch for this based on my personal experience on several occasions, most recent of which was when I wanted to upgrade my smartphone’s 3G plan (see How Mobile Network Operators Can Use Mobile Apps To Boost ARPU for my experience with that transaction). As I’d pointed out at the time in my post titled Whither Cross-Selling And Upselling With eBills And eStatements, I circumvented the pain of dealing with the MNO’s call center by sending a tweet to its Twitter handle. I got a call back from its CSR and was able to conclude the transaction by sending out my order confirmation for the upgrade by email.

Even if my behavior is not representative of the average customer, service providers will likely find social media to be far more effective for cross-selling and upselling than call centers. And here lies the business case for social media customer service. While customer service generally refers to logging and redressal of complaints, many service providers find that up to 20% of incoming communications are related to queries and requests about new products and services – not complaints. By using social media as the primary channel to capture customer queries, requests and complaints, service providers have the opportunity to engage more deeply with their customers in their preferred channel, thereby improving customer satisfaction and boosting revenues.

Having said this, my behavior might not be representative, so service providers still have some work to do in this area. The aforementioned Aspect study also found that “social media are not considered by consumers to be main methods of communication”. So, service providers need to make their social media channel more visible and encourage their customers to use it. More on that in a later post, but since I’m personally sold on this channel, I can’t resist adding my two bits for customers immediately:

  • You can achieve a lot more with a 140 character tweet than a call lasting 140 seconds / minutes.
  • If you’re not comfortable with Twitter alone, use the telephone in addition. To paraphrase a famous saying by Al Capone, you can get a lot more done with a call and a tweet than with a call alone.

and ending with this clarion call:

Customers of the world unite behind social media customer service. You have nothing to lose but the call center hold music.