Five Ways To Fight Online Jingoism

December 9th, 2016

In Do You Face Online Jingoism? I Do, I’d given several examples of online jingoism.

fight-jingoism-fi

Image Courtesy: Radhika Iyer*

Jingoism may not bother 90% of Internet users who reportedly only skim through articles and updates i.e. “consume” content. If you’re one among them, you can safely skip this blog post.

On the other hand, jingoism can harm the remaining 10% of Internet users that use digital media professionally as a part of their content marketing strategy.

If you belong to the latter cohort, welcome to this post, where I’ve outlined five ways to fight online jingoism.

#1. Mask Your Location

You can use ÜberTwitter to obfuscate your physical location in your online profiles. For example, take the following Twitter profile:

ut-twitter-location

As you can see, where people generally write their country or city name, this user has entered his lat-long coordinates, so his location is not visible. This is the first time that I’ve seen someone taking this approach, whether they’ve done so to hide their location or otherwise.

Certainly, you can pluck out the two numbers and enter them in Google Maps search box to learn that this user’s location is Bangalore. However, you can use this technique to obfuscate your location well enough to ensure that you don’t become a sitting duck for jingoistic remarks.

#2. Involve The Publisher

In response to the jingoistic remarks described in Example A in Do You Face Online Jingoism? I Do, I appealed to the publisher to change its policies that indirectly encourage such remarks:

Ketharaman Swaminathan – GTM360 Marketing Solutions – Pune | 24 June, 2016, 09:54

This is not the first time I’ve come across a country-agnostic comment by one commenter (e.g. John Candido – Black Cabs – Melbourne) to be parsed / interpreted / steered by another commenter towards a specific country inferred from the former’s profile.

This is not such a big deal except when the latter is anonymous and there’s no country listed against them.

To establish a level playing field, I request @Finextra to either (A) stipulate that comments from anonymous members should not include unprovoked references to a country (hard to implement?) OR (B) mention the country of anonymous members (easier to implement?).

While I’m biased, I’ve a strong reason to believe that this technique works. More on that in a bit.

#3. Preempt The Attack

Whenever I guest blog on global media outlets, I anticipate jibes – subtle or otherwise. So, wherever possible, I preempt them by providing a multi-country exposition of the central theme of my articles. Take my Finextra post titled Secret Of Survival Of Bank Branches for instance.

Using an example from India, I argued in this post that banks want branches because that’s where they can sell their products most effectively. Going by past experience, there was a good chance that my post would invite comments to the effect that India needs branches because it’s backward whereas advanced nations don’t need branches because, well, they’re advanced. So, I added the following US-specific reference to reinforce my point:

HBR reinforces my belief: In its article titled Know What Your Customers Want Before They Do, the authors note, “… financial services firms find that a human being is often the best channel for delivering offers.” So, it’s not only India.

This worked. No one left a jingoistic comment.

#4. Bait And Snap

In this variant to #3, your central theme is true for both Country A (typically a developing country) and Country B (typically a developed country). While you know this, you drip-feed this information to the audience. In the first pass, you assert your point only for the developing country. If and when jingoists retort with the inevitable “what you’re saying is not true in advanced countries”, you snap back with evidence of how your point is equally applicable in developed countries!

I used this strategy in my comment on the article titled In-store mobile payments fail to take off in North America:

Ketharaman Swaminathan – GTM360 Marketing Solutions – Pune | 20 October, 2016, 13:39

@FinextraMember / @DineshKatyal:

ChasePay is a mobile payment offering from a bank and it supports instore payments in USA (Source: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20161019005338/en/Wakefern-Accept-Chase-Pay).

Going by the technology used by my bank in India to support instore mobile payments on its mobile payment app PayZapp, I’d hazard a guess that ChasePay works on QR code.

chasepay01Hardcore jingoists will sniff out the bait and avoid making jingoistic comments. Mission accomplished. If amateur jingoists fall for it, lash out with your follow up comment in which you cite evidence that your assertion is equally true for developed countries! Like I was equipped to do with the following articles that confirm that ChasePay in USA also uses QR code for instore payments (just as PayZapp does in India):

Chase Announces Chase Pay, Its Own Digital Wallet

Wakefern to Accept Chase Pay

No one took the bait. Don’t know if that’s because there are no amateur jingoists on this platform or my strategy #2 has worked!

#5. Take It Head On!

In this approach, you hit back at the jingoist with a tinge of reverse-jingoism of your own. Like I did in the case of Example B described in Do You Face Online Jingoism? I Do. I played @BenedictEvans statement against himself with the following tweet:

He probably didn’t know how to counter my “stagnant market” jibe because I haven’t heard back from him after that!


 

If you know of any more ways to fight online jingoism, please share them in the comments below.

 

*: Radhika Iyer is my niece and a final year student at MIT Institute of Design. She runs her blog called Design for X.

Overcoming The Space Time Challenge in CEM

December 2nd, 2016

In Omnichannel Couponing Drives CEM Success – Part 1, I’d highlighted the challenge of space in the couponing phase of a CEM program. To recap, space-related issues range from where to insert the code, how to make the code large enough to be visible but small enough to fit on the existing package through to ensuring that there’s enough space on the label to provide instructions on how to submit the code.

Subsequently, I’ve come across a few more CEM programs run by FMCG brands. The space challenge continues. In addition, time has emerged as another challenge.

Read on for illustrations of the “space-time challenge” and our suggestions for overcoming it (Spoiler Alert: No quantum mechanics knowledge required!).

 #1. SNICKERS PAYTM CASHBACK

stccem-fi-2Consumer gets INR 20 cashback credited to their account by purchasing a Snickers chocolate bar costing INR 35 and paying for it with their PayTM mobile wallet.

As in the case of the Nescafe-PayTM CEM program described in Omnichannel Couponing Drives CEM Success – Part 1, the Snickers CEM program also used website-based enrollment. Unlike the Nescafe case, though, the code on the inside surface of the Snickers wrapper was easily visible since it was printed in red color on a silver background. Kudos to PayTM for continuously finding ways to enhance the customer experience.

The URL for entering the code – www.paytm.com/snickers should you be interested – was also clearly readable on the wrapper.

After entering the code and submitting it on PayTM’s microsite, I was a bit peeved to see the message that it would take 24 hours to credit the INR 20 to my PayTM wallet. But, my displeasure was short-lived. When I logged out and logged back in after a few minutes, the amount was already credited to my wallet. Not sure why PayTM needed to use this disclaimer!

snickers05Otherwise, couponing went through smoothly.

I bought another bar of Snickers and repeated the couponing process. It went through smoothly. The wrapper said “usage limitation applies” but evidently I didn’t hit it with my two purchases. This time, the amount was credited to wallet immediately.

#2. TIC TAC “SHARE & WIN”

tictac01I saw a poster of this famous mouth-freshener product last month.

I bought a pack on 24 October 2016 (you’ll know soon why the date is important). The CEM program used SMS-based couponing.

I couldn’t find the code anywhere on the box. It became visible only after I emptied the contents and tilted the pack to one side.

The number to which the code should be SMSd was printed in very small font size. I thought it was 95405 95406 or 95406 95406.

I SMSd the code to both these numbers. Nothing happened.

I Googled for “Tic Tac Share & Win” and clicked through to YouTube. Unlike the actual pack, the code was easily visible in the video.

 

snickers06-fi

This shows that #CurrencySwitch is not the only program that exhibits a disconnect between idea and implementation! But I digress.

I saw a different number on the video: 95405 95405. I SMSd the code to this number. Again, nothing happened.

I then found out that the program had expired on 30 June 2016.

I felt a bit cheated that the product carrying the program label wasn’t removed from the shelves even four months after the last date of the CEM program.

On a side note, the pack and the aforementioned promo video were both silent about what I would win from this “Share & Win” program. Combined with the lack of response to my couponing, this made me wonder if this CEM program was a scam.

#3. RELISPRAY SULTAN

Purchase of a can of this pain relief spray entered the consumer into a sweepstake for winning a free ticket for a recent Bollywood blockbuster.

In a marked departure to a typical coupon, the one on this pain relief spray was not printed on / affixed to the can. Instead, it was printed on a separate card tied to the can.

The scratch panel covering the code was of excellent quality. When I used a coin to scrape it, not a single digit of the code was defaced. I could easily read the code. This is uncommon. This program used SMS as the couponing method. It was quite easy to read the number to which the code was to be submitted.

I texted the code to the given number. Nothing happened. I didn’t bother to head over to Google this time. It seemed obvious that the program had expired, just like #2 above.

Another scam?

 


Although CEM has nothing to do with quantum mechanics, the above examples show that it faces the same space-time challenge!

It’s clear that quality and legibility of the coupon continue to be a major determinant for the success of a CEM program. This is an issue of space.

It’s also obvious that time is another critical success factor for CEM programs. Consumers – me included – are justified in getting exasperated with Relispray and Tic Tac leaving their couponed products on the shelves well after their respective CEM programs had expired. The negative vibe caused by this could wipe out whatever positive buzz the brands were trying to create with their CEM programs.

Getting space and time of coupons right would accelerate the mainstream adoption of CEM programs.

Some suggestions for overcoming the space challenge can be found in Omnichannel Couponing Drives CEM Success – Part 2.

To overcome the time challenge, manufacturers need to predict in advance how many units of the product would sell during the duration of the CEM program and release only that quantity of the couponed products to the trade. This will ensure that negligible quantities of the couponed product would be left behind on store shelves after the program expires. If this seems like rocket science, it was – until recently. But technologies are now available that can help companies to get a good guesstimate of the CEM-driven sales uptick by correlating their historical sales data with insights drawn from other similar CEM programs.

Using a suitable CEM platform, CMOs and brand managers can overcome the space-time challenge in their CEM programs and maximize the bang for their marketing buck.

What Happens When You Use Excel To Collect Data For Your Software

November 25th, 2016

In Why Overcoming The Tyranny Of Excel Is A Lousy Positioning Theme, we’d cautioned software companies from pitching their software as a replacement for Excel.

Since then, we’re happy to see more innovative positioning around Excel by technology providers. For example, BI vendor Domo pitches its suite of data visualization products as complementary to – not substitute for – Excel.

Kudos to Domo, even if we say so ourselves!

In this blog post, we’ll cover another disturbing trend in software: Telling the customer to use Excel before they can use the software.

This was a common practice in the mid 1990s when ERP vendors used to circulate Excel-based “Master Data Collection Forms” for collecting bulk data like customer master, item master, vendor master, and so on. We’re dismayed that, despite the availability of far more advanced technology 20 years later, vendors in many product categories still use Excel sheets for the same purpose.

There are at least two reasons why this is not a good thing:

#1. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE

dilbert-cognitive-dissonancePut yourselves in the customer’s shoes.

You’ve just bought a software after listening to a vendor tell you how it’s better than Excel (among other things). Then you’re told to use Excel before you can use the software. If you’re like most customers, you’d feel let down badly, or undergo what’s called “cognitive dissonance” in Consumer Behavior.

In the days of onprem software, enterprises were committed to the success of the implementation because they’d paid the license fee for the software upfront, so software companies didn’t have to bother too much about cognitive dissonance. However, in the SAAS world, a customer that suffers from cognitive dissonance is a customer that’s likely to cancel their subscription by the end of the month. So cognitive dissonance has become a critical issue now.

#2. ONBOARDING FAILURE

Excel is error-prone. In almost every onboarding we’ve seen, Excel uploads have eventually led to poor data quality, incorrect classification of hierarchical entities and additional efforts for reconciling Excel-inputted data with “true” data. In some cases, errors in Excel have caused catastrophes, as highlighted by GTNews in “The Perils of Excel”: “Elementary spreadsheet errors have in this case potentially impacted the economic well-being of perhaps billions of people, who have been exposed to austerity policies based upon false data.”

This threatens onboarding and, thus stymies revenues of a SAAS company.


 

It’s therefore clear why software companies should eschew the use of Excel for collecting master data.

But that’s easier said than done, given the widespread usage of the practice. Before we propose a solution for this apparent conundrum, we need to understand why Excel is so popular in the first place.

excel-data-entry-fiFrom personal experience and discussions with several companies, Excel is used widely for collecting master data for the following reasons:

  1. In Excel, you can enter data at high speed from the keyboard. In software frontend, you need to look at the screen and use the mouse. This slows you down.
  2. After entering a row in Excel, it’s easy to hit the Enter key to go to the next row immediately. On a software frontend, you need to hit the Submit button at the end of a screen and wait for the screen to be refreshed and the next blank screen to come up.
  3. Excel accepts anything. Software throws out errors when its validation logic spots a discrepancy between the data entered and the field definition. For some fields, software allows you to only select entries from a drop-down box. If you can’t find your data on the list, you’re stuck.

In short, Excel is faster for bulk data entry and does not ground you with fatal errors.

Against this backdrop, any alternative for Excel should address these fundamental issues.

mde01The key to doing so is the realization that screens in software are designed for entering small amounts of transaction data over a long period of time rather than for entering huge amounts of master data over a short duration. Using the same screen for onboarding causes all the problems that have established Excel’s predominant position in the process of collecting master data.

To address this, we recommend development of a separate set of screens that mimics the way Excel works in gathering bulk data. Each screen should allow entry of data without validation, which should be run on a batch of data instead of when each screen is saved, as most software products do today. In other words, validation should happen “offline” instead of “online” as in the current design. The same error queues and messages used for validating Excel-inputted data should be reused for validating data entered via frontend screens. This will ensure that master data can be inputted using the software as easily and with equal – if not better – quality as via Excel.

We admit that development of this separate “Onboarding UI” will increase development efforts. But it will also eliminate cognitive dissonance and minimize onboarding failures. From the experience of a customer that has followed this approach in their software, the incremental efforts will pay back many times over by reducing churn and enhancing CX over the lifetime of the SAAS software.

PSA: Don’t Get Defensive About Not Going Cashless

November 18th, 2016

psa-cashless-fiThe Indian government recently demonetized the INR 500 and 1000 notes and announced plans to introduce new design notes in INR 500, 1000 and 2000 denomination. In the wake of this move – trending as #CurrencySwitch among a few other hashtags – many people have been asking why India hasn’t taken this opportunity to go totally cashless.

Many Indians have been replying with statements like “Indians are illiterate” and “Indians are not tech savvy”.

This is a Public Service Announcement to Indians to stop going on the defensive on this subject.

Not just because literacy levels in India have improved considerably in recent times or because Indians are far more willing to try out new technologies.

But because going cashless is less about literacy or tech-savviness and more about hurdles related to business model and consumer behavior. Obstacles include high MDR cost, friction of making cashless payments, aversion to being tracked, fear of overspending, reluctance of banks to issue merchant accounts, and so on.

I’ve blogged about these challenges here and on Finextra  over the past few years. Here’s a quick recap, updated with recent developments following the announcement of #ExchangeSwitch on 8 November 2016.

#1. High MDR Cost

“Merchant Discount Rate” or MDR refers to the fees paid by merchants for being able to accept cashless payments. For credit cards, which are the most popular form of cashless payments in India, MDR is around 2%. For many categories of merchants, this is a prohibitively high cost e.g. khirana stores (India’s equivalent of mom-and-pop grocery stores) who work at around 5% gross margin. There are other forms of cashless payments such as mobile wallets, prepaid cards, and so on. While they may charge lower fees, they come with their own challenges related to friction, speed, concerns around shareholding pattern, etc.

#2. Friction

Online card payments are subject to two-factor authentication. While 2FA has the noble intent of increasing security, it makes the payment journey tortuous and causes very high levels of failed payments.

Offline – or instore – payments are subject to PIN. While friction in offline payments has reduced since the Chip+PIN regime was introduced last year, hooded POS terminals are few and far between. As a result, there’s no privacy while entering PIN.

Online or offline, even tech-savvy people have gone from card to COD payments.

#3. Aversion To Being Tracked

Every cashless payment involves a third-party apart from the consumer and merchant. This means every purchase made with a cashless method of payment is being tracked. Even if people have nothing to hide, they tend to get put off by spam when their purchase information – what, where, how much for did they buy – falls in the wrong hands.

#4. Fear of Overspending

Cash is tangible whereas cashless MOPs are intangible. It is widely perceived that credit / debits can lead to overspending. As Santosh Desai points out in Times of India,

It is easier… to spend money using a credit card, for the outflow seems more theoretical than it does when paying in cash. The difference between Rs 2,000 and Rs 20,000 is a slip of the pen in one case and a complex exercise involving withdrawing money from the bank, carrying it in one’s wallet and counting it (twice) before handing it over.

Overspending is not a concern in my 25+ years of using credit cards because I maintain a meticulous record of all charges I put on my credit card. However, that’s only me and I can appreciate why most people do believe card payments can lead to overspending.

#5. Reluctance of Banks to Issue Merchant Accounts

To accept card payments, merchants need a POS terminal, telephone connection and a basic knowledge of operating the PIN keypad. Most merchants I come across can handle all this. But they’re not enough. One major prerequisite of accepting card payments is a merchant account. For the uninitiated, this is a contract between a bank (“acquiring bank”) and a merchant. Because of their conservative risk management norms, banks have traditionally shied away from issuing merchant accounts to khirana stores, vegetable vendors, cabbies and other so-called “micro merchants”. As a result, many merchants from whom consumers make everyday purchases are unable to accept card payments even if they wish to despite #1 above. Going by post-#CurrencySwitch announcements from State Bank of India, India’s largest bank, this may change going forward but it’s still early days.

#6. Delays in Receipts

Because of #5 above, taxi drivers are unable to accept card payments on their own. They do accept card-linked mobile wallet payments via their aggregator company e.g. Uber, Ola. If you thought this would easily push one big category of everyday expense to cashless payment modes, you’d be mistaken. As a cabbie once told me:

When customers pay by cash, I get the money immediately. However, when they pay by card, the money goes to the aggregator. It takes me anywhere from a week to a fortnight and a couple of fareless trips to the aggregator’s office to collect it. So, accepting electronic payments is not good for my business.

As a result, most cab drivers are reluctant to accept cashless payments.

This problem has only escalated since #CurrencySwitch:

#7. Card on Delivery Limitations

Because of friction in online payments, I’d gone back to Cash on Delivery for online shopping. Then Amazon India and a couple of other ecommerce companies started offering Card on Delivery. With this payment mode, I can avoid paying online but still pay with my card when the consignment is delivered. I’d rate this as the most convenient method of payment for online shopping. It also saves the ecommerce company a load of trouble of handling cash. Given these two benefits, I’ve been expecting this win-win MOP to go mainstream. But that hasn’t happened.

It was only from this post-#CurrencySwitch article on Economic Times that I learned why:

Therefore, ecommerce companies that outsource deliveries to third-party logistics firms can’t offer Card on Delivery.


currency-in-circulationTo paraphrase Hamlet, there are more things that come in the way of going cashless than are taught in an engineering course.

India is not alone.

No country has gone cashless. 85% of world’s transactions happen in cash according to Business Insider. Currency in circulation in USA has actually risen according to The Wall Street Journal.

So let’s not put ourselves down about not going cashless. For a cashless – or even less-cash – regime to happen, many more things need to fall in place than just literacy and tech-savviness. My post How To Really Kill Cash provides a few pointers.

Jai Hind!

Do You Face Online Jingoism? I Do

November 11th, 2016

face-jingoism-fiThe Internet is full of jibes of people’s nationalities. They appear on articles, blogs, reviews and comments. Often sarcastic and sometimes venomous, they run down the author’s or commenter’s nationality without any provocation.

Let me quote a few personal examples of where I’ve come across such remarks in the recent past:

 (A) BLOG

The Finextra article titled Brits expect cashless society within 20 years is about Britain, so Brit-specific comments are okay. Country-agnostic comments are also okay e.g.

John Candido – Black Cabs – Melbourne

I agree that the end of cash is not expected tomorrow or even next year. But the prospect for a cashless society’s eventuality is clearly inevitable to me, even if it isn’t something that a lot of people cannot foresee for the time being. There are just so many signs of cash’s inevitable decline that I don’t give cash a snowball’s chance in hell to survive the next let us say 50 years or so.

Now let’s take the following response to the above comment:

A Finextra member

Please tell me the signs of cash’s inevitable decline in the United States, Germany and the Arab world, where cash is still king and does not show any signs of declining in the foreseeable future. It may be the case in Australia, where less than half of one percent of the global population resides, but in many large, and often sophisticated countries, cash is still the preferred apyment (sic) method.

The reference to Australia in this comment is entirely unwarranted. It’s quite likely that the anonymous commenter picked it up from the reference to Melbourne in the earlier commenter’s profile.

Like his or her name, the anonymous commenter’s nationality is also undisclosed. This makes it a non-level playing field.

(B) TWITTER

Let’s take this thread on Twitter, which began with the following tweet from @BenedictEvans of the tech VC firm Andreessen Horowitz:

I retweeted it with my comment:

Now look at his reply:

Duh, how does “emerging markets” come into the picture?

I suspected where he was going with this but I replied, tongue-in-cheek:

Now he came to the point:

Maybe it’s only me but the implication that people in emerging markets only have low-end devices is obviously racist.

(C) LINKEDIN

linkedin-jingoismIn this post (www.linkedin.com/hp/update/6164098515766210560), LinkedIn member Susana Joseph writes about how fellow member Ian Viner sent her a promotional message to get her CV written and, when she declined his offer, made the following remark:

You wouldn’t have a clue how to write a CV – nor would anyone else in India either.

I don’t think the xenophobia in this message needs much explanation.

When I tried to locate this post now, I got the following error message: “Sorry, this update isn’t available. It may have been deleted.”

Maybe Susana Joseph has deleted her update. Maybe LinkedIn really retains members’ posts only for one month as I remember reading somewhere. Or whatever. But you probably won’t be able to find this thread.

 


The above remarks display racism or xenophobia or nationalism or whatever this behavior is supposed to be called. Despite looking up a thesaurus and consulting an MFA graduate in creative writing, I wasn’t able to find a single word for it. Therefore, I’ve used the term “jingoism” as a catchall phrase to refer to this behavior in this blog post.

If you have a better word than jingoism to collectively describe racism, xenophobia and nationalism and / or come across the behavior on blogs and social networks, please share in the comments below.

If jingoism gets your goat and / or affects your business, you might want to fight it. In a follow-on post, I’ll describe five ways to do that. Watch this space.

Strange Happenings In Amazon

November 4th, 2016

I exhibit cult loyalty for Amazon among a few other brands. As I wrote in What Drives Cult Loyalty?,

I’ve been shopping on Amazon for over 15 years in Germany, UK, USA and, finally, India, during which period I must’ve bought at least 100 items from it. Knock on wood, Amazon hasn’t even bungled a single order so far!

I think I didn’t knock hard enough. As if to make up for a decade and half of excellent Customer Experience, I faced problems with almost all of my recent orders on Amazon India.

#1. GIFT COMES TO GIFTER

amazon-india-raksha-bandhan-01My wife placed an order for a Raksha Bandhan gift for her brother. This Indian festival celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters. To ensure that the consignment reached before the festival – it fell on August 18 this year – she paid extra freight charges. Lo and behold, instead of her brother, I got the gift on the morning of Raksha Bandhan! As befits a gift order, there was no invoice on the package. However, there was no mention of Amazon anywhere on the package either. In fact, the gift was delivered in the packing of another ecommerce company. Several months later, my Amazon buyer dashboard still shows the order status as “Dispatched. Expected 23-Aug-16”, which is strange since it’s already November!

#2. PRIME – LOYALTY OR DISLOYALTY PROGRAM?

Amazon recently launched its Prime program in India. I quickly signed up for it. While Prime promises 1-2 day free delivery, Amazon committed nothing earlier than 5 day delivery period when I actually placed my orders. And, in a recursive twist, the delivery of Amazon Prime Welcome Kit itself took over 20 days!

amazon-fi-1

#3. COD VANISHES MYSTERIOUSLY

While shopping for razor cartridges, I went to the product page and selected the COD (Cash on Delivery) payment option. I saw a fairly long list of sellers. I clicked the one in the Buy Box and proceeded to checkout. In the penultimate step, Amazon informed me that COD was not available for this seller. I thought this was strange – if COD wasn’t available, why did Amazon show this option to me in the first place when I’d set my filter to COD? All my cult loyalty for Amazon couldn’t stop me from feeling cheated on this occasion. I abandoned the shopping cart, went over to another ecommerce website and placed my first order there. Now, this competitor of Amazon has been wooing me for 5+ years, but I’d stayed loyal to Amazon India. But this one shady act of Amazon India achieved for the competitor what five years of its special offers could not. At the time, I thought this was something specific to Amazon India. It was only when I read Amazon Says It Puts Customers First. But Its Pricing Algorithm Doesn’t about Amazon USA a month later that I realized that I probably had my first taste of Amazon’s dodgy algorithms.

 


After 15+ years of being loyal to Amazon, it may be too early for me to give up on the ecommerce giant. But companies are known to give CX the short shrift when shareholders ask too many uncomfortable questions about their revenues and profits.

So I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Why Are Reviews So Powerful In Social Media Customer Service?

October 28th, 2016

Since I wrote Customers Of The World Unite, You Have Nothing To Lose But The Call Center Hold Music, many more brands are now providing customer service via social media, with some of them like Bajaj Allianz GIC (@BajajAllianz), Hootsuite Helpers (@Hootsuite_Help) and Ministry of (Indian) Railways (@RailMinIndia) doing a great job at it.

I’ll conveniently attribute this welcome trend to the self-serving assumption that more and more brand managers have read my blog post The Business Case For Social Media Customer Service:)

reviews-fiBy social media customer service, I’ve so far implied interactions between consumers and brands via posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks.

In this post, I’ll cover another form of social media interaction: (online) Review. A review is an evaluation of a product / service posted by consumers typically after they experience the said product / service. For the purpose of this blog post, reviews can also mean consumers’ comments. Reviews and comments can appear on a brand’s website, blog and social media pages (e.g. BajajAllianz), an ecommerce company’s website (e.g. Amazon) or on specialized review portals (e.g. Yelp, MouthShut).

Like social media posts, reviews are out in the open. Since no brand would like to see their dirty linen washed in public (hopefully!), reviews invoke response. For example:

  • reviews02A business associate had a bad experience with a plumber sourced from a home-services aggregator. He left a caustic review on its portal. The next day, a rep from the company called to ask him what went wrong and inquired what they could offer him to get him to remove his review.
  • The CEO of a leading executive recruitment firm had posted an update on LinkedIn. Someone commented that the company’s paid job search service was useless. He’d apparently complained about it via email but had received no reply from the company. The honcho replied back within a few hours on LinkedIn.
  • I had a problem with the CD shipped by a leading e-learning provider. After trying in vain to reach the company via telephone and email, I left a detailed comment about my experience on the company’s Facebook Wall. A couple of people from the company called me the next day to inquire what prompted my scathing remarks and asked me what they could do to remedy the situation. You can find more on this incident at http://lnr.li/Ml7Js

Apart from these first hand experiences, I chanced upon a blog post titled How To Respond To Negative Reviews. When I noticed that it was written by an executive in a leading TELCO that’s not exactly known for its CX, I was left with no more doubts that brands have turned very sensitive to reviews and comments.

I’m also getting the feeling that reviews are more effective at eliciting service than social media posts. I can think of at least three reasons why this might be the case.

#1. Reviews Are Permanent

Social media posts are ephemeral and vanish within a few hours of being posted; whereas reviews are like an email inbox and stay visible permanently until the reviewer deletes them (some brands are known to delete reviews but that’s blog post for another day).

#2. Reviews Are Democratic

The visibility of social media posts is restricted to the reviewer’s social graph. To take Twitter – by far the most popular social network for customer service – as an example, a tweet typically reaches only the reviewer’s followers. Therefore, a rant by someone who has 10 Followers on Twitter doesn’t have the same visibility as that by another who has 1 Million Followers. In an ideal world, brands should take both tweets equally seriously. But, in the real world, don’t be surprised if most brands ignore the first tweet and only take the second one seriously. On the other hand, because reviews are published on a property owned by the brand / ecommerce company / review portal, their reach is not limited to the reviewer’s social graph. Everyone’s review is visible to every visitor of the website.

#3. Reviews Enjoy Larger Audience

Since the website on which reviews are published are well promoted, they have a much bigger audience than an individual’s friends / followers / connections. Therefore, a review – anyone’s review – is seen by many more people than a social media post. Therefore, every review is an equal and far bigger source of potential damage to a brand’s reputation.


It’s clear that, compared to social media posts, reviews are a bigger source of potential damage to a brand’s reputation. Not surprisingly, brands seem to be taking reviews more seriously than social media posts.

Rating follows Review.

Inconsistency is a serious challenge here.

Left to their own devices, one user might give a 5* rating if there’s nothing wrong with a product / service (i.e. if it “meets expectation”) whereas another user might only give a 3* rating for that level of performance and reserve a 5* rating only if everything goes well and more (i.e. only if it’s “outstanding”).

Since I belong to the second category, I’ve been giving 3-4* rating to most of my Uber rides. I recently heard on the grapevine that Uber drivers want raters to be in the first category!

Brands can overcome this challenge by stating their rating guidelines upfront. Like I’ve done on my book review website myBookAlert.

reviews01

Guidelines Can Drive Consistency of Ratings

While raters can deviate from them, published guidelines, by their very existence, will encourage more people to use them, thus helping drive greater consistency of ratings. (I’m even prepared to revisit my driver ratings if Uber spells out its rating guidelines!).

How brands respond to reviews and ratings is a big topic that deserves a separate blog post. Spoiler Alert: I urge brand and social media managers to check out Capterra’s blog post on how to create positive outcomes from negative reviews. While the article is targeted at software companies, most of its guidance can equally well be used by other industries.

Should Your Sales Dodge The Price Question Or Answer It Upfront?

October 21st, 2016

dap01

In a typical sales cycle for a technology solution, a vendor demonstrates its product and lists its features and benefits before getting into discussions about price. And a typical technology solution buyer goes along with this sequence of activities.

However, there are some prospects who want to know the price upfront.

If you want to dodge the price question until you reach its due stage in your standard sales cycle, check out this blog post for tips on how to steer the conversation to value.

However, the more important question is, should you?

To answer this question, it’s important to understand why some prospects raise the price question right in the beginning. In my experience, this happens when a prospect quickly wants to:

  1. Check whether they can afford your price (“affordability”)
  2. Assess how well your price compares with their budget (“expendability”)

dap-fiIn case you’re wondering what’s the difference affordability and expendability, as private individuals in a B2C setting, we tend to buy only one big-ticket item at a time and there’s hardly any difference between these two terms. However, a company buys multiple big-ticket items simultaneously. Therefore, in a B2B setting, affordability means how much money a company is able to spare for the given item regardless of other items whereas expendability is a measure of how much money it wishes to spend for the given item mindful of other items.

By steering the conversation with such prospects to value, it’s quite possible that the prospect might be impressed with your value proposition and induced to increase their budget. However, until the budget has actually risen to the level required to fund the purchase of your product, your sales is unlikely to accept the lead since it’s not yet BANT-qualifed (It’s another story that sales might hasten its own demise by sticking to dated concepts like BANT). Besides, no amount of value selling will help the prospect generate the money they don’t have to buy your product.

Therefore, you’re unlikely to convert such prospects. You may be better off quoting your ballpark price and moving on to the next prospect in your target lead list. Ducking the price question is not a great idea with this segment of the market.

dap03I experienced this from the buyer’s side when I helped a customer purchase a market intelligence software recently.

The inside sales rep of a leading vendor in this category kept chasing me for an appointment to demo his product. Everytime I asked him about the price of his software, he steered the conversation to value. Nevertheless, I eventually acceeded to his request for demo since I happened to know the company’s CTO and had a soft corner for it.

After the demo got over, I repeated my oft-asked question about price. This time the rep gave me a straight answer. It was in $$$$$. There was no way my customer could spare that kind of cash, no matter how much value the product delivered. Ergo, there was no chance of this sale happening.

Had the rep indicated a price range for his product in the beginning of our interactions instead of ducking my price question repeatedly, we could’ve saved each other a lot of time.


Therefore, in B2B technology solution sales, it’s better to get the price question out of the way as early as possible if your prospect raises it ahead of everything else.

Let me hasten to clarify that this advice is applicable ONLY for prospects who raise the topic of price upfront. For all others, price discussions should take place at their customary later stage in the typical sales cycle.

Reliance JioFi Second Impressions

October 14th, 2016

In Reliance JioFi First Impressions, I’d shared my initial experiences with the Reliance JioFi Portable 4G Pocket WiFi Router.

One month later, here are my “second” impressions:

UPDATE DATED 16-SEP-2016:

It’s confirmed that voice on JioFi happens via data packets. However, I understand it’s called Voice Over LTE (VoLTE) and not VoIP as I’d previously labeled it. I still don’t have any reply to my tweet asking @reliancejio how many MB of data would be consumed by a 5 minute voice call. Wonder if the company’s tone-deaf Twitter account has something to do with the recent departures of its Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Digital Marketing Officer.

UPDATE DATED 20-SEP-2016:

It’s now over a week since I activated JioFi. Speeds in the interim period have ranged from 5.75 to 12Mbps. These were all at my home (Kalyaninagar, Pune). Today, I tried JioFi in my office which is located in a building on Nagar Road, Pune, which hosts many cell towers. I got 30Mbps!

jio-speedtest-results-20sep2016-fi

This is absolutely the highest Internet speed I’ve ever witnessed. (But that’s only me – Hathway apparently delivers 50 Mbps in some parts of Mumbai).

That said, while JioFi has posted consistently better results on speed tests compared to my other connections, it is not perceptibly fast for browsing. In other words, I don’t find any significant drop in page loading times with JioFi. I understand that browsing speed is determined by ping time (lower the better). JioFi’s best ping time so far has been 50ms, which is much higher than figures like 9ms I’ve observed on other connections in the past.

UPDATE DATED 21-SEP-2016:

People tell me the real benefit of higher speed is to cut down file download times. Today, I had a first hand experience of that: I downloaded the MyJio app from Play Store. The 16MB app downloaded in just 6 seconds. That’s really quick! For the numerically-inclined, the speed works out to 21Mbps (16*8/6).

UPDATE DATED 24-SEP-2016:

I was at my parents’ home today. Their landline broadband connection (from another ISP) delivered 2.46 Mbps. Although that’s 1/15th of JioFi’s top speed, I found browsing to be much faster on it. It had a ping time of 30ms, which is much lower than anything I’ve seen on JioFi. This confirms what I’d heard before, namely that browsing speed is determined more by ping time rather than upload / download speed.

UPDATE DATED 6-OCT-2016:

I heard from a few people in my circle that Reliance has stopped selling new connections. However, there seems to be a gray market for its SIM cards on the high street.

UPDATE DATED 10-OCT-2016:

During the past two weeks, JioFi’s 4G connection has been out for more than 50% of the time. I’d earlier thought I could “jiofy” on Reliance Jio alone. But, with this kind of outage, I’ll “marofy” if I canceled my other Internet connections (This is a lame one even in the native Hindi, so I won’t dare translate it!).

That won’t stop me from being greedy, though:)

SAAS – What’s In It For Vendors?

October 7th, 2016

sbv-fiSAAS promises zero upfront cost, freedom from maintenance and relief from headaches of updates, and so on.

These are all benefits for its customers.

What’s in it for software companies offering SAAS solutions?

Shorter sales cycle is the most obvious benefit. Because they don’t need to incur huge licensing costs while signing up for a SAAS solution, SAAS lowers the entry barrier for buyers. This often translates to shorter sales cycles for SAAS vendors (provided they’re able to achieve the SAAS multiplier effect).

But, while the onprem sales cycle can be longer, the vendor gets a big “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” by collecting license fees for the entire lifetime of the software soon after booking the order. On the other hand, all that a SAAS vendor gets upon booking the order is the first month’s subscription fees. As illustrated below, there’s a big difference between the two numbers.

ONPREMISE SAAS
License Fee $2000 per user (onetime) N.A
Subscription Fee N.A $75/user/month*
Deal Size 1000 users 1000 users
Month 1 Revenue $2,000,000 (1000*2000) $75,000 (1000*75)

*: This is ~1/27th of license fee. This figure is based on anecdotal evidence of SAAS subscription fee being 1/20 to 1/30th of onprem license fee.

2 million dollars versus seventy five thousand dollars. That’s the difference in order booking. That’s a big hit to short term revenues. Which is a big problem for sales leaders measured on quarterly numbers.

Why then are software vendors – IBM and Oracle to name a couple – pushing SAAS so heavily?

I have no inside track into these companies but, from my experience of building and marketing SAAS products during the past 2-3 years, I can hazard an educated guess as to the benefits of SAAS for software companies.

#1. No Piracy

It’s no secret that piracy is still a thing – even in enterprise software.

SAAS can only be used by people registered directly with the product owner. This effectively eliminates piracy of SAAS.

#2. Zero Revenue Leakage

sbv02In the onprem world, the vendor signs a license agreement for, say, 1000 users. Most software products don’t block usage beyond the contracted number of users. In other words, there’s nothing in the product to stop the customer from adding the 1001th user and beyond. In fact, it’s customary for users of onprem software to keep adding users through the year. Since the software is administered by the customer, the vendor may not even know about excess users – users exceeding contracted number of users – at the point of their addition to the system. On prem vendors typically regularize their license agreements every year by asking their customers to declare the exact number of users at the end of the year. I personally experienced this practice when I was responsible for the rollout of PeopleSoft at one of my former employers. We declared the actual count. However, not all people / companies may be as transparent. When excess users are not declared, the onprem vendor loses license fees for them. While Microsoft conducts audits – and even raids – on customer premises to expose and bill excess usage of its products, such practices are not very common in the industry.

Excess usage is not possible in SAAS since every user needs to be registered on the cloud, which is owned and administered by the vendor (not customer). Therefore, SAAS virtually eliminates revenue leakage.

#3. Tighter Control of Receivables

When an onprem customer delays payment, the toughest action a vendor can take is to threaten to stop support. This is not very effective because the customer can still continue to use the software. Besides, I wonder if onprem companies are culturally attuned to actually follow through with their threats. I say this based on a data point of one: At one of my past employers, a field operations manager wrote a letter to a customer threatening to stop service due to nonpayment of AMC and then signed off the letter with the customary “Thanking you and assuring you of our best service at all times” line!

With cloud software, the vendor can literally turn off the tap if the customer delays payment à la electricity, gas and telecom companies. I know many companies – including some small ones – that actually do that.

#4. Higher CLV

While SAAS is sold for a zero or very low upfront cost, you can see from the following illustration that the total fees collected by a SAAS company over the lifetime of the software far exceeds revenues from onprem software.

ONPREMISE SAAS
Life of Software 5 years 5 years
Annual Maintenance Charges 15% of License Fees N.A
Lifetime AMC Revenues $1,500,000 (0.15*2000000*5)
N.A
Customer Lifetime Value $3,500,000 (2000000 + 1500000)
$4,500,000 (1000*75*12*5)

As against onprem revenues of $3.5M, SAAS revenues are $4.5M, which is 28% higher.

According to common wisdom, SAAS helps vendors by giving them recurring revenues. But, IMO, what actually counts is the relatively high MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) and, hence CLV, of SAAS – you’d agree that there isn’t much point in earning an MRR of US$ 10 / user / month and taking 17 years for SAAS revenues to match onprem license fees of US$ 2000 / user collected at the start of Year 1.

#5. Data

In the onprem world, all customer data stays on the customer’s infrastructure. Whereas in the SAAS model, they reside on the SAAS provider’s infrastructure. This means the SAAS vendor has access to data of multiple organizations that it can mine to gather insights. According to Fortune, both Salesforce and Oracle have announced plans to do so. Nature of insights include:

  • Is there a major client that you haven’t heard from in awhile or who has been name-dropping your competitor in email or on social media? It’s time to reach out.
  • If you have hundreds or thousands of sales prospects on a list, how do you tell the potential winners from the duds?
  • Detect if a competitor is mentioned on an email thread.

Assuming these insights have commercial value, data offers a potentially new revenue stream for SAAS vendors.

We have a little experience with this ourselves: For a Customer Engagement Management platform developer, we spec’ced an Uplift Manager module that has the capability to mine response, conversion rates and other performance metrics of targeted offer campaigns run by different companies to various target audiences. Using the insights gathered therefrom, the module can guide ways to boost the performance of subsequent campaigns.

Of course, this may need the buy-in of customers. Going by our experience with the aforementioned Uplift Manager, customers see tremendous value from this functionality and are open to onboarding on to this module.

*****

sbv01With so many benefits, is it any surprise that software companies are promoting SAAS so aggressively?

On a side note, IT services companies don’t seem to be too enamored with SAAS.

And for a good reason: According to the CEO of a midsized IT services company I met recently, implementation of an onprem ERP product requires 5-6 consultants for 1-2 years, which translates to billable efforts of 5-12 person years; whereas a SAAS ERP project hardly needs 3-4 consultants for 4-6 months (i.e. billable efforts of only 1-2 person years). As a result, SAAS causes a dramatic drop in an IT services company’s billing.

As of now, SAAS has not had a significant impact on IT services revenues. That’s perhaps because “for many leading software developers, SaaS still remains something of an afterthought … only 8 percent of the revenues of the top 100 software companies come from SaaS models”, according to a McKinsey article published last year.

But that’s so 2015. Judging by their recent high decibel announcements around cloud computing, SAAS is no longer an afterthought for leading software companies. If and when SAAS goes mainstream, it can be a disruptive force for the IT services industry.