Monday, June 29, 2009

Anoraks, Standards and Micro USB

Jason Lackey

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that standards are something that only anoraks would care about. In some cases, there is some real world utility in knowing what is going on. For example, when buying WiFi, it might be helpful to understand that B/G/N routers running 2.4GHZ radios can get clobbered by microwave ovens, while 5.0GHZ kit is considerably less prone to such interference.

As the demo guy at InnoPath, I have been in more or less constant pain due to what should be a relatively easy problem to solve - charging mobile phones. One would think that something like this would be relatively standard, after all it is fairly well established how to get juice into the phone. However, until now there have been powerful incentives to not be standard. Some were actually altruistic - a desire to prevent the entry of soil and water contamination into the device. other reasons were less so - a proprietary connection helped ensure that the customer would come to you to pay $20 for a $1 part.

Earlier China, demonstrating one of the advantages of central administration, decided that there would be one standard for devices made in China and that would be Micro USB. Apple, Nokia, RIM and others have backed the European Commission and will be doing the same.

One interesting observation is that this illustrates a longstanding trend with the Rise of The Rest and how the US is no longer central to some fundamental industry moves.

The other is the benefit of standards, particularly to the little guy. In this case, the little guy is the consumer, who will now be in a better position to buy reasonably priced chargers which will work with just about any phone. The little guy will now get more for less with less grief, aggravation and hassle.

This also helps illustrate why InnoPath is such a strong backer of OMA-DM, the industry standard for device management. When phones are OMA-DM enabled, the little guy wins with a better user experience, superior support and fewer headaches and other pain.

Standards, not just for anoraks anymore.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Duh, Pick Up the Phone!

Jason Lackey

Sometimes the world of business is filled with surprises. Sometimes, though, the truth is blindingly obvious.

McKinsey recently released the results of some customer care analysis in the wireless space. The big finding? Satisfaction increases as hold/wait times decrease. Willingness to recommend the service to others also increases as hold/wait times decrease. What a surprise! Customers tend to prefer doing business with companies that treat their issues with a sense of urgency.

Things get a little tricky when figuring out where the point of diminishing returns is, however. Below a certain minimum hold/wait time, there may be significant additional costs but there may not be any real increases in customer satisfaction - cost without benefit.

Check out Improving Customer Service in a Downturn from McKinsey.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pixar - Epic Customer Service Win

Jason Lackey

Once in a great while, you run into stories of customer care where the bar gets reset. The Nordstrom's "Old Widow and The Tires" story is a prime example. Movie giant Pixar, in an industry more known for abuse of customers via agents such as the RIAA, has provided another.

10 year old Colby Curtin was dying from a rare form of cancer. In situations like this the patient sometimes looks forward to small things, which can actually mean a great deal. In this case, Colby, having seen a preview for the Pixar movie, Up, wanted desperately to see the movie.

Her condition deteriorated, although she made it to opening night she was in no condition to make it to a theater. Relatives contacted Disney and Pixar asking for their help. Usually stuff like this ends up in the bit bucket, but this time was different. People at Pixar cared.

The found someone in the office, loaded him up with a DVD, some Up character stuffed animals and other movie related stuff, put him on a plane and sent him to go meet Colby.

Young Colby, in great pain, was asked if she could hang on. She replied that she was ready to die but that she would wait for the movie. Unable to open her eyes due to the pain, Colby's mother explained the movie as they watched it together. Shortly after the movie, Colby died.

Although there was no financial or business incentive for Pixar to do this, indeed, the company has not commented on the case, this clearly meant a great deal to Colby and I suppose that for many the name Pixar now means a bit more to them.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bolt-Ons, Blowers and Other Enhancements: Hotrod Device Clients

Jason Lackey

For about as long as there has been an auto industry, there have been people who have modified cars to get more performance out of them. Not everyone is a skilled machinist or is in a position to fabricate power-adding parts, so naturally an aftermarket parts industry grew up along with the automotive industry. These parts, often preconfigured and set up for a specific application, are referred to as "bolt ons" as all you (in theory) have to do is bolt them on. One of the cooler bolt ons is the supercharger, also known as a blower, because a supercharger is a high volume air pump which crams more air and fuel into an engine, allowing for more power (yeah!). A prime example of which is shown above on Mad Max's V8 Interceptor, an early 70's Ford XB Falcon GT coupe suitably ratrodded. From mild to wild in a few turns of the spanner, or wrench.

At InnoPath, one of the things we have seen that our customers want is the ability to hotrod their device management capabilities in the future. We have a pretty good idea what we want now, and we know that in the future we are going to want more and better, but it is not always clear what we are going to want more of and how exactly it is going to be better.

This is where the bolt-ons come in. We have released a new client, our 5.5 embedded client, that allows for "aftermarket upgrades" - a first in a device management client. The basic engine ships with the phone, already the equivalent of a hot V8 with FOTA packages up to 73% smaller than prior clients, a huge improvement. However, this is just the start, because now the mobile network operator can push customer care modules to these devices after they are already in the field, in effect bolting on a blower while the car is driving down the highway. After the customer care modules are installed, the operator is then in the driver's seat and can do a number of different things to help ensure a better user experiences, with capabilities such as device hardware control (DCMO), Software Management (SCOMO) and Lock and Wipe (LAWMO) all being on the bolt-on parts list.

Now, one of the things to know about tuners is that they are never done. The car is never perfect, there is always some additional optimization possible. Maybe they start doing track days or High Performance Driving Events instead of drag racing or autocross, so then it is time to change out some parts. Same can be said for device management standards - they are still evolving and changing and over the air customer car is too. Thus, it is good that the ActiveCare customer support extensions are both modular and field upgradable. The mobile operator, should a new version of LAWMO come out, can upgrade the LAWMO bolt-on and have a horse more suited for the new course.

For more, please check out this InnoPath press release:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Anything Worth Doing...

Jason Lackey

You know, in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords. - The Operative, Serenity (2005)

Customer Care and in a wider sense interaction with the public is something that many give lip service to but few really get right. For example, even Nokia, a company rated Exceptional (93 points) by Vendorrate blows it from time to time. One of the things the Finnish Giant is trying to do is get ahead with Software and Services. Perhaps it is possible to teach the old dog some new tricks, perhaps not. Regardless, when you do something like put up a blog in support of a new service you are trying to push, it might be nice to update that blog from time to time. Of course there are some who would suggest that they might be better of finding some apps to put in the app store but that is a different story. All grumbling aside, they make great phones and we use Nokias like the E71 in our demos because they are not only popular, but they are also sturdy, reliable and have good battery life as well as decent MDM capabilities.

Of course it would be in bad form to single out any one company on this, as it is very common for the web-facing customer service parts of companies to fail. In many cases email aliases are not monitored, forms go off into the ether never to be read, feedback goes into spam filters and the like.

In contrast there is a recent trend of companies using Twitter, blogs, forums and other social web devices to proactively reach out to customers. Even companies such as Comcast, with a Comcastic Vendorrate score of just 63, are starting to work Twitter, Jaiku, FriendFeed and the like. Some of these initiatives, like Comcast's, are even driven bottom up, with employees proactively seeking out unhappy customers in order to deliver on the service front.

Now just imagine, you have tweeted about some problem with your phone, and then whoever is playing the role of Frank Eliason at your mobile network operator is not only able to twit back, but better yet, reach out and fix your phone over the air. Now, that would be something, huh?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Ramen Nazi and Other Customer Service Lows

Jason Lackey

The Japanese are an interesting people. Usually reserved and quiet they sometimes surprise you. A series of movies, "Bakayaro" illustrate what happens when such nice, reserved people are pushed to the edge and snap. Each of the movies was a collection of short features, each of which ending with someone snapping with the exclamation "Bakayaro!", which can be thought of as somewhere between "You Idiot!" and something a lot stronger and obscene.

Of course, not all Japanese are so quiet. There is a famous ramen shop in Tokyo, Ramen Jiro (ラーメン二郎) , a visit to which is documented on NPR, where the Soup Nazi would be viewed as a soft hearted rank amateur. There is no backtalk at Jiro, no, not even talking. "Shut up and eat!". No special orders, no this, no that, eat it all and get out, next.

Some say that Jiro has the best ramen in Japan, particularly at the original shop. Perhaps. Perhaps it is also the shocking contrast to the normal levels of Japanese customer service where even the staff at McDonalds bows and neatly folds the bag with a sharp crease, to go to a place where talking is forbidden as are most other things not directly related to eating ramen.

Polite, no. Focused on the task at hand? Certainly, which is in strict contrast to the story of the Overtime Ambulance Driver.

The driver worked for North East Ambulance Services in England. The run started normally enough, an elder gent by the name of Ali Asghar was felled by a stroke and was thus in need of transport to a hospital. OK, so far, so good. The ambulance picked him up and they started off to the hospital. However, the driver noted he was 15 minutes over his shift, so instead of going to the hospital to drop off the ailing patient, he went back to the depot to hand over the ambulance to the next driver.

Mr. Asghar died. At least they kept overtime to a minimum.

Have any of your own experiences with badly broken customer service? We would like to hear from you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Need a Job? InnoPath is Hiring

Jason Lackey

UI Wizard? Seasoned device pro? Customer deployment engineer with a can-do attitude and Unix skills? Check out our job page, updated Tues, 9 June:

Monday, June 8, 2009

One Ringy Dingy….

Dave Ginsburg

Customer care… the good, the bad, and the ugly. Over the years, TV and now Youtube has poked fun at the typical user care experience. Who can forget the Soup Nazi, or looking back further in time, Ernestine the operator? We’ve evolved, as evidenced by the latest from Virgin Mobile. Or have we? The care organization, be it retail, financial, or here, the mobile operator, is always looking for greater touch… the ability to reach out and see just what is wrong. Sometimes they are successful, and sometimes they are not. But they try.

So, enjoy, and send in your favorites….

The Soup Nazi:
Virgin Mobile:
Newscast on the best and worst of care:

Friday, June 5, 2009

Mobile Satisfaction: Virgin on Top w/ O2

Anna Yong & Jason Lackey

The J.D. Power 2009 UK Mobile Phone Customer Satisfaction Study is out, revealing interesting differences between pre-paid and post-paid customer satisfaction.

Broken down by Pre and Postpaid ratings, on the 1000 point scale, the results are:


  • O2: 734

  • Tesco Mobile: 710

  • Virgin Mobile: 691


  • Virgin Mobile: 718

  • O2: 698

  • Orange: 673

One factor impacting mobile satisfaction seems taken out of the airline frequent flier miles playbook: incentives and rewards. Both Prepaid and Postpaid customers who receive incentives and rewards tend to be more satisfied than those who do not. It is also likely that those customers who are receiving rewards and incentives are using more minutes or additional services to earn those rewards, making them higher ARPU customers - just the ones you want to hold on to. Maybe it is a good idea to throw your best subs a bone from time to time.

A surprise finding was that Postpaid subs report more desire to churn(!) than Prepaid, 17% vs. 12%.

A non surprise finding is that Postpaid subs spend more: £26.87/month compared to £12.09 for prepaid.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Strength Through Joy: Lower Churn Via Happier CSRs

Anna Yong

CIO Today recently reported “contact center staff turnover appears to be higher than one would expect in today's environment.” One of the reasons for higher turnover was attributed to “lack of staff empowerment and flexibility." Most agents want to help those they are communicating with-doing so gives them tremendous satisfaction-but they get frustrated when they are tied down by bureaucratic red tape and procedures”. (

In fact, I would surmise that it’s not only the internal red tape and procedures that frustrates agents; it’s also the tools they have to use, and the hit they take on their metrics when they can't fix a problem or when inefficient tools slow down the process. If front line CSRs were empowered with the right tools, both customer and employee churn would decrease, improving your bottom line.

From this, to this.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

FOTA and the Aluminum Falcon

Jason Lackey

When not playing with phones, doing demos or making collateral, one of the things that I like to do is play with big, fast motorcycles. So far my favorite has been the Suzuki Hayabusa, a machine named after a Japanese falcon with which it shares a nearly 200 mph top speed. In memory of Han Solo and Chewbacca, I sometimes call it the Aluminum Falcon. Interestingly dual length velocity stacks give it an intake resonance which sounds a bit like the warbling cry of a wookie.

Anyway, I head up to the hills for a spirited romp. I was having an OK time but the bike was feeling more like a garbage truck and less like a nimble predator. Must be getting old, either bike, rider or both. I backed off. Yuck, old age sucks, entropy too. Not happy. Maybe it is time to throw in the towel and get my Jitterbug.

Then I checked the front tire, oops, all the tread was chewed off. Time to head down to the local shop for a pit stop. $200 later I am back in the hills and the machine is transformed. What was uncertain, unwilling and trucklike had become eager, aggressive and sticky. Ah, this is the machine I remember. Ah, this is the user experience I was missing. No longer old and hobbled, I am off to the hills. Nice!

Getting back closer to topic, that renewed bond, the restoration of lost luster that I got with a new tire is in many ways like the user experience a mobile subscriber can get with Over The Air management.

Let me explain.

Phones ship with bugs. Complex ones more so than simple ones. However, it is not just the smartphones of the world that ship with bugs, featurephones do too. Regardless of what kind of phone it is, it is grating when you find bugs. In some cases the bugs can degrade if not completely ruin the user experience. One popular featurephone would periodically corrupt its address book and crash - fixed with FOTA. Another had significant issues with speaker volume, to the point of potentially damaging the hearing of users. Another had issues with the integrated speakerphone. Dropped calls, poor battery life, crashes, freezes, a long list of Bad Things - all fixed with FOTA.

In my case, after an over the air upgrade of my aging flip phone, much like the Aluminum Falcon with new rubber, it was like having a new phone. All the stuff that I liked was still there, set up, configured and ready to go. Much of the stuff I didn't like that was making me sour and mean, poof, that stuff was largely gone. Best of all, no pit stop required, do not pass go, do not pay $200.

To be sure, you can indeed update devices with special apps that run on your PC. To be sure, you can brick your phone doing this kind of thing as well. If you want a real chuckle, take a look here and check out the gauntlet you need to run in order to update your Blackjack. Hmmm....doesn't seem to be quite as easy, fast or convenient as one would probably like.

I guess you could also go to a brick and mortar store as well. Last one I was in had a whole bunch of people waiting for help, but no real queuing system, making for long waits and frustration as well as contention and dominance struggles about who was next. With luck, you get a tech who actually knows what he or she is doing and has all the right cables and is allowed to help.

Or, you could click down a couple menus and go to the fridge and by the time you have fetched a cool, refreshing beverage you could be well on your way to stomping those bugs and having a more rewarding, better experience. Think I like this plan. Wonder what happens if I enter *#0000#?

Now, what's in the fridge?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Wireless Broadband - Preparing for the Quad Play

David Ginsburg - as published in CED Magazine

The 4G mobile broadband road is paved by Mobile Device Management.

The road to 4G has two branches: WiMAX and Long Term Evolution. For a number of years now, operators – mostly in emerging regions – have been trialing WiMAX. There have already been a few commercial deployments, notable among them the launch of Clearwire’s Clear WiMAX service in Baltimore and Portland, Ore., and this month in Atlanta. Comcast plans to resell Clear in Portland, and Time Warner Cable has plans to do likewise in an unidentified market later this year. With Verizon, AT&T, Cox Communications and other major providers choosing to pursue LTE, the imminent expansion of 4G is assured.The question is: How will operators transition their users to the new networks?

With the growth of smartphones and other advanced mobile devices, mobile operators, both new and established, are looking to provide a premium customer experience across their mobile broadband offerings, while at the same time reducing operating expenses. Subscribers expect their services to work as advertised, and when they don’t, customers expect to have any problems resolved in short order.The burden placed on the mobile operator will come even more to the forefront with 4G adoption, when many previously tethered subscribers will cut the cord. They will depend on wireless connectivity for their very livelihood and will expect reliability and technical support responses equal to – or exceeding – those of their former landline offerings. They will run more applications on their devices, and these will change more rapidly. They will have more complex security and business relationships, with an assumption that the single device is used for both business and pleasure, and that the device must support protected applications such as banking. This is where Mobile Device Management (MDM) enters the picture.

Briefly, MDM establishes an over-the-air connection between the subscriber’s phone and tech support, streamlining the tech support process, saving time in troubleshooting and reducing device returns. As such, established operators are deploying MDM for both cost reduction and customer satisfaction, the latter relating to customer retention – critical in the current economy.MDM consists of a server located within the care organization, at either a wireless operator or a handset vendor, and a client on the device. The over-the-air link uses protocols defined by the Open Mobile Alliance Device Management (OMA-DM) Working Group and supports a set of “enablers” that define capabilities, including updating, checking and changing configuration settings; loading applications; controlling hardware settings; and, if the device is lost or stolen, locking or wiping all data.With OMA-DM, once the client receives notification from the server, it creates a secure data connection over the air. Alternatively, the connection to the server may also be client-initiated, where the user wishes to perform some OTA action. In either case, the server receives feedback on device management commands sent to the device. This last point is critical and separates OMA-DM from earlier OTA technologies that were one-way, referred to by some as “fire-and-forget.” Through OMA-DM’s closed-loop connection, the server administrator can remotely conduct a number of critical care actions.

MDM plays a crucial, upfront role in WiMAX device provisioning and network registration. When a device first enters the network, MDM plays a role in initial provisioning of network settings and applications (see Figure 1). More recently, OMA-DM has begun to supplant those “fire-and-forget” methods for application configuration due to its flexibility and reliability.In 4G, MDM is used to send configuration settings of basic applications – including MMS, e-mail and Internet connectivity – to the device. However, within WiMAX, MDM also plays a role in network identification – the interaction between the device and the network operator in selecting a preferred network and then authenticating. In fact, WiMAX access in the presence of multiple operators is much like dial access. In most cases, a software client on the device makes first contact with the server for this provisioning. LTE device activation will more closely follow the GSM model, so this step is unnecessary. Once the subscriber is connected to the WiMAX network, OTA manageability ensures that any configuration or usability issues can be quickly addressed.Greenfield operators in regions competing with incumbents look to MDM to provide a positive, ‘out-of-the-box’ subscriber experience, critical when deploying a new technology. Finally, in some locations, incumbents have been issued licenses for WiMAX spectrum, providing them with a non-LTE path to 4G. Here, the advantages that MDM brings to the table echo those presented to greenfield operators, since in many cases these operators will compete with LTE.

Despite wide adoption of WiMAX, LTE is expected to be the technology of choice for most operators due to cleaner migration from GSM, and even CDMA.

In February, the GSMA reported that more than 26 operators globally have made plans to deploy LTE in the 2009-2012 timeframe. These operators span all regions and include both GSM and CDMA. Over the next decade, as 4G deployment follows the earlier 3G deployment curve, hundreds of millions of subscribers are expected to be connected to the technology. In the U.S., Verizon Wireless, looking at an early migration from CDMA, is expected to deploy LTE in 2010, while AT&T, with HSPA at its disposal, will begin deployment in 2011.Globally, major operators announcing support include Vodafone, DoCoMo and China Mobile. All told, operators representing almost 2 billion subscribers have announced their plans. As with WiMAX, MDM will play a major role in provisioning, and in frontline customer support. Naturally, both CDMA and GSM operators that have already deployed MDM will leverage their investments by adding LTE to the list of supported network types.

Once the device is registered and operational on the network, the same set of lifecycle management capabilities are available under WiMAX or LTE (see Figure 2). If the user is experiencing difficulty with e-mail access, for example, they’ll call tech support. With MDM and its real-time OTA connection between the frontline CSR and the device, the problem can now be quickly identified and corrected, with the first step being a quick check of the device to determine current hardware, software and network settings. This information alone will go a long way in creating a more efficient troubleshooting call. If the device manufacturer issues a firmware update or the operator wishes to patch an application it controls, MDM will provide the conduit for pushing it to one device, or potentially hundreds of thousands of devices.And, if the device is lost, tech support agents will be able to quickly lock and/or wipe it. In fact, at a 3G operator of 20 million subscribers, MDM’s positive impact on the frontline could result in savings of more than $100 million each year. Savings for 4G operators, with their more modest initial deployments, will therefore be proportionate.