Archive for October, 2012

Bridging Social Media With Traditional Customer Service Channels

Friday, October 26th, 2012

We left no doubt here and here that we’re big fans of airlines, banks, insurers, telecom operators and other industries treating social media as their go-to channel for providing customer service. In the weeks following these two posts, we were introduced to a bunch of cloud-based tools that monitor tweets and other social media updates, identify customer complaints by analyzing their sentiment and automatically convert them to service requests on a company’s existing telephone and email based customer service system. For a quick roundup of such applications, check out 5 Tools to Turn Social Listening into Customer Service Action by Ashley Furness, CRM Analyst for Software Advice.LOGO HEATMAP360 200 Bridging Social Media With Traditional Customer Service Channels

In the past, social media monitoring tools have only been able to display item feeds and have lacked the ability to reply to tweets and other updates from within themselves. As a result of this shortcoming – which Furness terms “functionality gap” – it was possible to respond to social media messages only by bridging these tools to conventional systems which automate the end-to-end process of logging service requests, replying to them and escalating the tickets that need extra attention from the service provider’s company. By establishing this bridge, Furness expects companies to increase their response rate to social media messages, which currently stands at an abysmally low figure of 38% i.e. 62% of such messages currently go unanswered.

Our personal experience of trying to elicit answers on social media from various companies closely matches with this response rate, so we won’t quibble about it. However, we contend that there’s no functionality gap any longer. Many social media sentiment analysis applications, including ourHEATMAP360, feature dashboards that not only help service managers see the sentiment of individual messages but also reply to them easily and via the original social network on which they were received. That is, if customer John Doe tweets a concern to a company, HEATMAP360 makes it possible for the company to reply easily via Twitter.

h360 02 Bridging Social Media With Traditional Customer Service Channels

View and Reply to Social Media Updates from HEATMAP360

Having used Twitter in the first place, we suspect that John Doe would prefer to receive a reply by Twitter. With the current crop of social media sentiment analysis applications, it’s possible to use the social media dashboard itself to reply back to John Doe, which makes a lot of sense under this context. By doing so, companies might find that they’re able to resolve a complaint in a few minutes instead of going back and forth to obtain John Doe’s email address first, convert the social media message to a service request next, and then use the conventional customer service system to send out a reply by email.

Although social media monitoring / sentiment analysis platforms allow real time response to customer complaints, how come 62% of messages posted on social media never receive responses? Based on our work with a few banks, insurers and telecom companies, we attribute this low response rate to the following factors:

  1. A company that doesn’t do social media – yes, there are many of them – thinks it doesn’t need to monitor social media, thus precluding a response. This narrow-minded perspective ignores the reality where the company’s customers do social media and are often raving and ranting about the company on social networks. This behavior might be myopic but it’s by no means rare.
  2. Many tweets have very little actionable info. We wonder how any bank can reply to a tweet likekiranmanral: I smsed no one today. Only ICICI smsed me. Damn. Can’t even outrage on the 5 sms limit. #fml.
  3. Many tweets contain NSFW content e.g., beltranmegan: So much hate for vodafone. What if im dieing, ill fucking die a horrible death because i cant call for help because i jave no service. By replying to them, a respectable telecom company runs the risk of being seen as endorsing foul language.

As an aside, a leading bank that pioneered social media customer service in India – and perhaps the world – pulled out of this channel within three months. Not sure why, but we won’t be surprised if the second or third factor above played an active role in its decision.2766149676 Bridging Social Media With Traditional Customer Service Channels

As the above examples of social media complaints show, it’s not easy even for human beings to convert a tweet into a structured service ticket. It’s that much harder to do this via software. Instead of trying to do so and delaying the response, we advocate staying within social media. If more information is required before you can provide a sensible reply, please encourage your customers to send multiple tweets or use a third-party tool like Twitlonger. But, don’t force them to use email to provide more details – please appreciate that if email was your customer’s preferred medium of communication, they wouldn’t have used social media to reach out to you in the first place.

In many companies, once a customer complaint enters a conventional customer service system, it is subject to SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and TATs (Turn Around Times) with associated penalties. If an ambiguous social media message gets converted to a formal ticket on the customer service system, it would be virtually impossible for the service provider to meet its SLAs / TATs, which would result in unwarranted penalties. Therefore, it might be in everyone’s interest to flesh out the complaint via social media until it’s clear enough to be logged into the formal customer redressal system.

Under the circumstances, it’s too early to bridge social media with conventional customer service systems. To paraphrase the famous saying about a certain infamous casino city in Nevada, “what happens in social media stays in social media”.

When Does Marketing End & Sales Start?

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

salesfunnel01-250wThe typical sales funnel goes through various stages from Target Audience through Suspect, Lead, Qualified Lead, Opportunity and Deal. It’s owned by a combination of several teams within the vendor organization viz. product management, business development, presales, field sales, and so on. In the current context, we shall group product management and business development as “Marketing” and presales and field sales as “Sales”.

Virtually as long as businesses have existed, there has been a debate around when marketing ends and sales starts. Driven by channel marketing, inside sales, sales enablement and a few more relatively new functions, this debate has intensified in recent times.

At a high level, every employee must work towards achieving the company’s goals. Since there are very few goals that are more important for a company than to source, acquire and service customers, it follows that everyone should think and behave like a sales / marketing person. Against that backdrop, is the boundary between marketing and sales even worth discussing about?


We find the analogy with football / soccer useful in this context. It goes without saying that all 11 players should play for their team to win. That means scoring goals. However, that doesn’t mean that every player should only concentrate on taking the ball to the opponent’s goal post – that would result in total chaos and guaranteed defeat. That’s why there are well-defined tasks for different positions in football. For example, a midfielder should function as the link between defence and attack. Players are expected to play according to their roles except under extreme circumstances.

Similarly, platitude apart, running a company requires clearly defined roles-and-responsibilities for different functions. Without them, each function will overstep its mandate and the organization will quickly turn dysfunctional. This already happens in many companies where, for example, the product manager would neglect to fix key product issues but teach a salesperson how to sell; and the salesperson wouldn’t be able to sell without making overcommitments but lecture a delivery manager on how to ensure customer satisfaction, and so on.

Applied to marketing and sales, marketing clearly owns the Product / Capability to Lead cycle and sales takes responsibility for the Opportunity to Deal stages of the sales funnel. According to us, marketing’s role ends when it delivers its *deliverable* to sales. This is subject to two conditions:

  1. The “deliverable” can range from lead to opportunity or anything else in between that’s mutually agreed between the company’s marketing, sales and top management.
  2. The handover between marketing and sales should be a two-way street. That is, if a lead “thrown across the wall” by marketing to sales later turns cold for whatever reason – change in management at prospect organization for example – marketing should take the lead back and nurture it until it is adequately qualified to be handed over to sales again.

The funnel stages between lead and opportunity often fall in the gray area. Sales should drive the conversion of lead to opportunity if the lead is ready to buy. In this process, sales / presales levers like Capability Presentations, Case Studies, Approach Documents, Product Demos and Proof-of-Concepts are useful. If the lead is not ready to buy, marketing should own this process and use marketing levers like newsletters, blogs and social media updates to nurture the lead until it becomes ready to buy, at which point marketing should hand over the lead to sales.

Like all processes and frameworks, this one should also be structured with certain amount of flexibility. Just as a goalkeeper shouldn’t hesitate to aim a goal kick directly on the opponent’s goal if he finds it unguarded.

Skating Away With Online Payments

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

For several years, online payments in India have been subject to two-factor authentication, which works as follows: Shoppers reach the checkout page of the merchant or biller’s website where they select their method of payment (e.g., credit card). They’re then ferried across to the payment provider’s website. Here, they enter their credit card details including the CVV number. After clicking the “Pay” button, they’re shunted to their bank’s website where they’re required to enter their VerifiedByVisa (VbV) Code or an equivalent password. Once this password is authenticated, they’re returned to the original merchant / biller’s website with a notification of successful or failed transaction.

This sounds great in theory and gives a lot of comfort feeling to the average online payer that their payment is safe, but doesn’t work so well in practice. Let’s see why.

Before the payment is complete, it has to traverse through 4-5 websites run by as many different parties including the merchant, electronic payment gateway (ePG) provider, acquirer bank, issuer bank and payment processors of the acquirer and issuer banks. Even if each website in the chain works most of the time, the chances that all websites are simultaneously up and running are quite slim. For example, if each website in a 5-website payment chain has an uptime of 98%, the end-to-end uptime of the payment chain is only 92% (being 0.98*0.98*0.98*0.98*0.98). The real-world implication of all this bizarre probability theory is that roughly one in 12 payments gets stuck up at some stage or the other. The problem is exacerbated if the payer’s Internet connection is patchy.

When the payment is incomplete, payers have to repeat it – that’s only the best case scenario. At worst, they might find the transaction value being debited to their credit card because their bank thinks the payment is complete. In trying to reverse the charge, the payer goes through a mini-nightmare: The merchant refuses to ship the ordered items since it hasn’t received the payment. In case of bill payments, the biller suspends service for the same reason. Both point the payer to the bank that has issued his or her credit card. The card issuing bank tells the payer that it has already remitted the money to the merchant’s bank, so s/he should follow up with that bank. Now, *that bank* means the acquirer bank which only has a relationship with the merchant and refuses to entertain the shopper, whom it doesn’t know from Adam / Eve. In short, the shopper enters a long, wild-goose chase and cannot get redressal from any single party, all the while being out-of-pocket of the transaction value (and short of electricity, broadband, cable TV or any number of services in case the doomed transaction pertained to the payment of one of their bills).

Now, the regulator might claim that it has mandated two factor authentication to increase people’s confidence in sharing their credit card details online. That sounds logical on paper but doesn’t seem to be true in practice – “Cash on Delivery” trumps all other methods of payments for e-commerce in India. Even people like me who’ve paying online by credit cards for over 10 years have recently switched to “Cash on Delivery” for all e-commerce purchases. The day is not far when such people seriously contemplate returning to physical stores for shopping and billers’ outlets for paying bills. When that happens, merchants and banks alike would face rising operating costs since their branches are their highest-cost channel. What’s worse, many of them don’t even seem to be aware of the tremendous shopping cart abandonment problem – and the resultant loss of revenue – they’re suffering from this cumbersome payment process. The few that we’ve spoken to simply throw up their hands and point their finger at “regulator’s policy”.

cleartrip01-200wAgainst this backdrop, Cleartrip Expressway is interesting. This new service, launched by one of India’s largest online travel agency, offers to store credit card details (minus CVV) on file. Instead of making a shopper enter them in full for each transaction, Expressway pulls them up from file. The shopper then only needs to supply the CVV number and VbV / MasterCard SecureCode passwords to complete an individual transaction. This eliminates around 35-40 keystrokes per transaction. While nothing to sneeze at even on a PC, this saving in effort is heavenly on the virtual keyboard of smartphones, which are being increasingly used for online shopping and bill payments nowadays. While new to India, Expressway-like functionality has been around on global e-commerce websites for a long time. Expressway’s “1-Click” billing has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Even so, it makes substantial headway in reducing friction in online payments in India. By letting its customers skate away with online payments, we’re sure Cleartrip is enjoying higher conversion of browsers to buyers and greater loyalty from its existing customers.

While it’s still far from delivering an Amazon-like shopping experience, Cleartrip has likely accomplished the best possible alternative under the present regulatory environment in India. Hope more merchants and billers follow the trail that Cleartrip has blazed so that online payments in India become more painless going forward.