Friday, December 12, 2014

I am sorry, Mr. Narayana Murthy

Dear Mr. Murthy,

I know my apology is coming rather late when you compare my criticism, which was rather quick when you decided to come back to set things right in the company that you started with other friends. 

Now, as promised you have, probably, selected someone with right credentials to lead the company. Hopefully, the company will gain its lost ground and march forward to become one of the greatest enterprises in the world. 

You see I should have heard to my alter ego, my wife. She had more matured thoughts. She was forgiving and accommodating about your decision to come back in order to salvage the company you built. I still have difference of opinion but I think I have to become broadminded and become more empathetic. 

Recently I was watching a clip from a Tamil movie on Facebook. The actor in the scene implored everyone to respect someone who speaks the right things though the person himself may not be setting the example by actions. The actor felt that the world needs good messages, it doesn't matter we act on it or not. And if we look at Infosys, it has a good track record of having good principles and keeping up with it. 

Unfortunately, I became one of the men in the crowd who threw stones at Mary Magdalene instead of being a better person like Jesus of Nazareth. 

I am sure you will forgive me for the harsh words and taunts considering I am one of the many Indians who felt let down by the blip in an otherwise cleaner record. After all, we admired you and your organization for what it has stood for. 

Most importantly I have learnt that I should be more restrained in judging others and be open minded. After all, wouldn't I expect the same when I falter?



Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Google and Its Invites

One of the best things about the four-odd years that I worked at 20:20 MEDIA was the lunch time. Not necessarily for the food that all of us shared, though that as well. It was primarily because Naru would be around. Almost all in the Chennai branch would look forward to hearing his stories and lessons on almost everything in life. They provided great intellectual stimulation and, yet, were amusing at the same time.

Pointing to the food laid on the table he would often say, "First go for the item that is least available. After that anything else."

For a long time, I didn't understand the profoundness in the statement. Now, it does. It is based on the fundamental economic principles of supply and demand. When something is available in short supply, the demand tends to be more. So it makes good economic sense to grab the item before anyone else does. What is available in plenty can be had at leisure.

Google is one company that has used this as a tactic quite effectively by creating "artificial scarcity" while launching products. You see the conventional wisdom during a product launch will be to make it available to everyone instead of restricting supply. But on the other hand, Google creates excitement in the market and makes customers yearn for its products. They probably understand well that as human beings we tend to value things that are difficult to come by. Also, our natural tendency is to show off what has been so acquired. And thus, they are able to create a pull even to their commodity product, such as Gmail, and to concepts that are rather innovative, such as Wave.

Today, Gmail is available to anyone. But way back in 2004, when it was launched in 2004, it was only through invites. It was not available for everyone. You couldn't go to its site and sign up for it. Some "blessed ones" received the invite from Google to use it. And these would get invites that they could share with others. And that's how Gmail percolated.

Since then, Google has used this invite strategy for important launches. But somehow Wave didn't create a "buzz". Then again Google Plus used the same approach. I have no clue whether Google Plus is a success or not. At least, I don't take it as seriously as Facebook or Twitter. But that is not failure of the launch tactic by itself. Actually, the approach did create the necessary excitement.

So when recently a friend, with whom I had apparently shared the precious Gmail invite 10 years ago, shared an Inbox invite as reciprocation, I wasn't greatly excited due to the history of continuous disappointments. But I was certainly keen to check it out.

While Inbox does roll many functions into one app and does make sense to use it, I only ended up uninstalling it. Interestingly, I do use Gmail and Google Calendar quite a bit. Still, Inbox isn't appealing. Probably that I am hooked to Gmail and see it another app doing the same job a waste on the precious storage space on my phone.

On the other hand, I find Google Now, which among other things also picks up information from my Gmail and presents on home screen, more useful.

When I read that OnePlus One is also using the same invite tactic, I was a bit amazed. Is this a good approach for a hardware company? While the reviews do say they are great value for money, why would the brand not rush the product to the market? Are customers so excited about it that they don't mind putting their buying decision on hold till an invite pops up? Aren't there brands which have better pull and probably offer the same or better proposition?

Will OnePlus One become the Gmail of hardware or will it fizzle like Wave needs to be seen in the coming days! 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Social Media and Customer Service: Part 2

Very recently after a bit of shopping and late dinner, I stepped into Ben & Jerry's (an ice cream company and part of Unilever Group) outlet in Leidsplein in Amsterdam. What should have been a sweet experience turned out to be bitter after encountering a service representative at the counter. The young girl  at the counter was surprisingly rude and condescending. Either she was young and untrained or she had forgotten her customer service training.

I was very upset. Partly to rant and partly to give feedback to the organization, I chose to tweet about my experience.

Next morning, I received a reply from Ben & Jerry's NL handle asking me to DM/mail my complaint. I wrote a detailed mail to the company about my experience at the outlet. Three days passed and I didn't get a response. And I tweeted back. This time I got a response that someone will reply on mail.

Soon, I received an email. The representative thanked me for feedback and promised to "make-up" for the bad experience.

Though I was heard, apologized to and "promised to make up to it", I felt their social media customer service was not evolved. Pretty much like the customer service girl at the counter, I felt the social media representatives were untrained to handle complaints. Or probably they were not trained otherwise.

And here is why?

Two things that irritated me were the usage of "Chunky Thanks" and "(n)ice" while I was giving feedback. Here is what corporate houses that use social media have to keep in mind.

  1. Respond appropriately: Earlier I had somewhat similar experience with redBus, too. Customer Service Executives handling social media complaints are probably are not trained to handle the complaints in a holistic manner. It feels as if just responding is counted as victory in social media. There is no follow through or closing the complaint. 
  2. Using associations properly: While it would have been quite appropriate and positive reinforcement to use "Chunky" and "(n)ice" words if one was a happy customer. But when someone is complaining, it only acts as further irritant. Companies have to be careful to tailor their responses according to the situation. 

Maybe social media customer service is quite nascent and hence companies recruit very young and over enthusiastic kids. One doesn't usually come across immature response say in more evolved form of customer service channels such as call center or chat or email. It is probably time then for organizations to consider the channel more seriously. Or maybe corporate houses do consider it seriously and have process; my experience probably is an exception. 

PS: Ben & Jerry's did "make it up". They sent me a branded ice cream spoon! Unfortunately, I don't eat ice cream much and I am little old to be excited with the spoon. If someone wants it, I will be willing to give it away. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Death of SMS - 2

It was early 2000s when fresh from college and couple of months into working that I, for the first time, had a cellphone of my own. Of course, the mobile services in Chennai was introduced sometime in the later half of 1995. It were the days when the outgoing calls were charged at Rs. 16 and incoming at Rs. 8!

In fact, SMS was not even part of the initial mobile service. When it was introduced, it was free!

Then as all fairy tales come to an end, I received an SMS from a friend stating that the messaging service was going to be charged and that if we forward that particular message to ten more people it will create a momentum and authorities will continue to keep the messaging service free. Alas, it was not to be true.

The world has changed much, since.

Now very recently, I received a message on Whatsapp that reminded me of the SMS I had received then. It also urged the receiver to forward that message to all those in the address book and when everyone does it hoped Whatsapp will be forced to keep the service free. As you know Whatsapp becomes paid app after a year's free use.

But that is not the interesting part. I wrote about death of SMS almost a year back. Recently, I met my good friend and ex-colleague Karthik DS. Karthik is Vice President at Akamai. While discussing about messaging apps, he told me that he had asked his team members if they used SMS. Out of the 100 odd people that he manages only one answered affirmatively!

Think about it. How many of us actively use the SMS facility? Even if there are many, I am sure the numbers are constantly coming down.

Today in my opinion SMS is largely used for two things.

  1. Signed in updates: For getting important messages from institutions whose service we avail. Banks, airlines, online sites, insurance...Technically, these are one-way communications. Either you send or receive. 
  2. Unsigned spams: Companies that want us to buy plots, computers, phone or Internet connections. 
Even if we receive an SMS from a friend, we are quick to ask or check ourselves if they are available on Whatsapp. We then would most probably shift our conversations there. 

What is changing? Aren't Mobile Operators worried about losing income? Why have we changed the way we message? 

  1. Zero sum game for mobile operators?: Are mobile operators losing revenues, here? First of all, they have already made their money by selling bulk SMS packages to marketers. Even if they are losing revenues from the end user segment, they will make it up in Internet revenues. There was a time when we used to diligently choose an SMS plan. Today, I am not even sure what SMS plan I am in. Probably, I am paying for a service I don't use!
  2. No more Plain Jane messaging: The only interactive feature or the erstwhile SMS was the delivery report option. The new messaging apps have added a lot more zing to messaging. To start with profile pictures, ability to see who is online, group chats, emoticons, ability to send files. It is certainly more fun. 
  3. Opportunity for Skype and Gtalk: Unlike the traditional messaging, Skype and Gtalk have great opportunity to use their existing strengths to leverage this new consumer behavior. Skype, especially. I am not sure why these companies have not been able to leverage this space. Gtalk at least did something by trying to combine SMS and Gtalk into one. I hated it so much that I decided to keep them separate. Skype on the hand is the company that I bet on. They already provide great calling service. What would it take Skype to emulate Whatsapp? It could do wonders to Microsoft. 
  4. Where is the money?: The messaging services like Line, WeChat and Kakao Talk seem to have cracked the code. But Whatsapp which has over 400 million customers has so far not unveiled any plans to commercialize except for the subscription fees. Will customers relent is to be seen. But on the other hand, Facebook after buying the messaging service is now promoting Facebook Messenger, heavily. After resisting the attempts to download a separate Facebook Messenger, I finally caved in last week. But shouldn't it worry Facebook that its users have to move out of its primary social media app and return if required? 
Messaging apps have already made SMS irrelevant. I may be thinking about this a bit too much, but can these messaging apps next kill the voice calls as we know it? Imagine if all of us had Skype, then we will probably Skype and not call. It will be true VoIP, then. We may not need numbers, just account. A bit too much, do you say?