Monday, March 30, 2009
Stacey Higgenbotham over at Gigaom wrote about Dell Getting into the Carrier Game today, an event which although happening in Japan is of some interest to the global market not only because of the size of the players, both Dell and DoCoMo being big names in the industry, but also because of the blurring of the boundaries of the traditional roles of the network operator and the device maker.
In the past the network operator was, from the subscriber's perspective, the source of all things. Service was provided by the operator and this included not only basic voice/data/connectivity but also applications that used connectivity. Devices, particularly in the CDMA world, but also to a lesser extent in the GSM world, were always provided by the operator and supported by the operator. If you had a problem, you called AT&T or whoever your operator was, not Nokia or HTC or whoever made your device.
Nokia, ahead of the curve, was one of the first manufacturers to offer over-the-air updates, FOTA, for its devices. While custom ROMs specific to particular operators were available, they were available thru Nokia.
Apple is another example of breaking the mold, where the iPhone is supported not through normal operator support channels (in many cases) but rather support is handled by Apple.
Dell's deal, which sounds kind of similar to Sprint's Kindle deal (where Sprint provides ongoing data connectivity for Kindle) marks a bit of a departure for device makers, although again it is possible to say that Nokia was again ahead of the curve with the providing of services in the form of Ovi. True, Ovi does not include any sort of data connectivity (I suspect they would like to run over a dumb pipe) but it does offer navigation, games, sync/backup and other services which have traditionally been the responsibility of the operator.
In the end, these are likely to be exciting times for both consumers and the industry. Any time of disruption, either from technological advance or external factors such as the global economic cratering event, also tends to be a time of innovation and advance. The wiping of the dinosaurs by a massive comet strike 60 some odd million years ago was traumatic, to be sure, particularly for the dinosaurs, but it opened up the door for the rise of the mammals, who had until then largely be relegated to playing the role of skanky little protorats.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
In a Press Release here, KDDI announced their rollout of the HTC made E30HT, a phone largely identical to the HTC Raphael aka the HTC Touch Pro T7272. This really is a gorgeous looking device with a 2.8 inch vga (640x480) screen.
The picture does not really do the phone justice and they are selling it with a feature called "Walking Hotspot" - a feature which allows up to five different machines to connect to the E30HT as a WiFi base station. Very cool indeed.
However, all this goodness comes at a price. The Japan market is unique and challenging in many ways, particularly for those in the wireless space. Consumers in Japan have grown accustomed to hypersophisticated featurephones - featurephones with very powerful hardware and a rather lengthy list of features and goodies. Good stuff if you are a consumer, a real challenge if you have to support open OS smartphones.
We have seen that smartphones usually end up costing about 4 times as much to support as featurephones. We have also seen that many of the more interesting things that smartphones can do are harder for most subscribers and tend to generate more calls for help, things like better quickstart guides and the like have not really helped and there is a danger that the rise of the smartphone will cause support costs to grow faster than revenue. It is likely that Japan is one of the places where this is most likely to happen, as they have a large subscriber base already used to actually using a wide and sophisticated featureset and they also tend to have little tolerance and understanding of things that don't work. Just like network operators, the average Japanese consumer is very "fussy" and intolerant of flawed products, even if the flaw is relatively minor.
With these things in mind, we suspect that the rise of the smartphone in Japan will be a disruptive event - a previously insular market dominated by domestic players will increasingly accomodate new players from Taiwan and Korea and proprietary RTOS devices will be displaced to some degree by open OS devices and the support load per subscriber will likely go up. Of course, for companies like InnoPath, this is not an entirely bad thing, as InnoPath specializes in providing network operators like KDDI with solutions that enable better support with less effort. Sometime one person's challenge is another's opportunity ;-)
Monday, March 23, 2009
As expected, mobility is one of the more sensitive industries to impact of customer experience on loyalty/purchasing/recommendations. When deciding how to resource frontline care, and what types of process to put in place to ensure a positive ongoing customer experience, understanding the sensitivity analysis below is key to making the right decisions.
Some overall trends:
Some overall trends:
- Meeting needs tends to correlate the most with purchasing more
- Being easy to work with correlates the most with purchasing more and making recommendations
- Enjoyability correlates the most with making recommendations
Looking at the matrix of customer experience and loyalty, here are the industries with the highest level of correlation in each area:
Friday, March 20, 2009
Free markets are funny things. Like other organic processes such as evolution, they produce some funny things and odd tangents, like the platypus, along with occasional bouts of real progress, such as the opposable thumb or prehensile tail.
In some ways the mobile phone market is in flux - new features and capabilities are rapidly being introduced, but it is not always clear where the real value can be found. Certainly we are getting more and faster hardware for our hard earned Euros, Pounds or Dollars, but in a world where many people claim that they just want a phone so they can make some calls the trend toward more and better functionality runs against what some customers really want - smaller phones that are easy to use with long battery life.
Dutch Giant Philips, with their Xenium Series, is going to delight a bunch of people in China, Russia and similar markets where the phones will be sold. Unlike just about anything else on the market, the Philips Xenium X500 will offer *two months* of standby time on a single charge, which can be mixed and matched with up to 16 hours talk time or 40 hours of mp3 joy.
While the other specs may not be hugely impressive, the battery life of the Xenium phones should go a long way to addressing one of the biggest mobile subscriber complaints - short battery life. At least for those who can buy these phones.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Many in the customer service profession have probably been subjected to the story about the old widow and Nordstrom. For those unfamiliar with the tale, an elder woman was a customer of high end retailer Nordstrom for n-number of decades. At some point her husband died, leaving some tires in the garage. With some help, she schlepped the tires to Nordies, which did not sell tires, and tried to return them. The fellow at the counter was a bit perplexed, as Nordstrom did not sell tires, but he rose to the occasion, looked up a reasonable price for the tires and refunded the woman's money. After all, she *always* shopped at Nordstrom. Nice work, good "wow" effect.
An example closer to home involving a call center comes to us via Amdocs, where Bruce Graham writes of his Uplifting Burglary. He parked his car in an underground lot and came back the next day to find window smashed and stuff strewn. When he called the autoglass repair place his conversation went like this:
- "Hello, Autoglass – how can I help?"
- "Well – I've just had my car window broken by a thief, and I don't quite know what to do."
- "Well, the first thing is are you okay?"
Sometimes it is the little things, like when the woman asked "first thing, are you OK" that make all the difference. This one line, which cost nothing, made a lasting impression. Next time Bruce needs new windows in his car I can guess who he is going to call.
Working in call centers, particularly when dealing with mobile subscribers, presents challenges, to be sure, but also opportunities. Subscribers who have lost or damaged their mobiles are likely to be very upset, but they are also likely to remember how they were treated. This creates the perfect opportunity to make a "wow" moment. If you have had such a situation where you left your customer suprised and delighted with their treatment, why not take a moment to share?
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Sascha Segan, in pcmag.com, writes "Apple's iPhone Shows How Upgrades Should Be Done" in an article available here. While it is clear that Apple is doing a lot of things right, particularly with regard to getting a lot of coverage on an update that is not even available yet, when we look under the hood there is still room for improvement.
One obvious area for improvement is that iPhone upgrades are not done over the air. You need to have a PC or a Mac and you need to have the right cables and you need to have iTunes running on that PC or Mac. Not everyone who has or wants a phone has or wants or can afford a computer and not everyone who has a computer wants to run iTunes. Particularly in developing markets, a persons first exposure to data services and the internet is increasingly with mobile devices.
Another area for improvement is the updates themselves. iPhone updates are system images with file sizes in the neighborhood of 300 meg, fine with all you can eat broadband, not so fine on over the air or even with some of the low caps found in places outside the US. For example, some Australian providers have bandwidth capped as low as 2 GB/month, of which 300 meg is a significant chunk. One way around this is to send partial updates or diff packages. Instead of sending the whole system image, a partial image or just the difference between the old and the new firmware can be sent and then software on the device can use that diff package to create the new version of firmware from the old version already on the phone. This process, usually called FOTA (Firmware Over The Air), is a lot more sophisticated and is in use at many Tier 1 operators in North America and Japan and is also employed by device makers such as Nokia.
It was interesting that Sascha called out Nokia for lack of info on updates, but then again regardless of how many press releases they did I would be surprised if they got much, if any, coverage in North America. That said, it is possible to update many Symbian devices over the air and such updates can be triggered from the phone itself using just a few clicks.
In the end, it is clear that the customer experience can be shaped by different things - technology is certainly one, but policy, procedure and practice are other, equally or perhaps even more important aspects of the overall experience.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
A technology which has already done much to save subscribers, operators and handset makers, FOTA, or Firmware Over The Air, still evidently has a way to go. Nokia recently released the 5800 XpressMusic, a nice phone to be sure, but one which (like so many others) had some bugs. Many issues with mobile devices are not fundamental hardware issues, which are relatively rare, but more often problems with firmware, which can be fixed with updates.
In the past, firmware updates were done via cables - you patched in to the device and made sure the battery was topped off and loaded a special app onto your PC and downloaded the firmware and used the app to load it on to the phone and hoped and prayed that nothing went wrong during the upload or you would brick your phone.
That was then. Now, many operators and handset makers, including Nokia on many of their models, offer the ability to update firmware over the air. This is far more convenient for the subscriber, who gets the benefits of a phone that works properly (or at least more properly), without having to take the phone to a brick and mortar shop and have a tech patch in and update it. It also works out well for operators and phone manufacturers, who can very inexpensively patch large numbers of phones - a process which often heads off support calls as problems are fixed before the impact the subscriber, clearly good stuff.
If the 5800 was FOTA capable, subscribers would be able to use the phone to trigger updates or updates could be pushed by mobile operators offering the handset. In some cases, the phone manufacturer may want to offer such updates as well. Sadly the 5800 does not seem to be FOTA capable, and thus 5800 owners are invited to call support or visit a Nokia flagship store for a replacement. Ouch.
More from Softpedia News.
• Cheap calling plans are the top reason customers switch carriers, according to the survey by CFI Group, a research firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich. But customer service was a significant factor, cited by 27 percent of cell-phone users as the reason they switched or canceled their service.
o Cell-phone industry wants to play nice after years of customer rage, Oct 2008
• "Customer care centers and service representatives are under pressure to handle the increase in inquiries, while still trying to understand and resolve the customer's issue on the initial contact. This can potentially increase the number of transfers and the hold times for customers. With an increase in hold times, providers run the risk of decreasing customer satisfaction and losing customers to other providers, as switching levels are 83 percent higher among customers who are put on hold, compared with those who are not."
o J.D. Power and Associates Reports: Customer Service Hold Times for Wireless Phone Customers Reach an All-Time High, Aug 2008
• “Best Customers More Likely To Switch: Subscribers buying the most in services and new products were found to be the most likely to be disappointed and more likely to switch to another provider offering better customer experience.”
o New Research Reveals Most Subscribers Are Satisfied, But Many Will Switch Service Providers for a Better Customer Experience, Amdocs, Feb 2008
• “Future churn levels are almost four times as high among those who rate their wireless carrier below average in customer care. Thus, the challenge for wireless providers is to offer an easy and efficient customer care transaction experience.”
o JD Power and Associates, Feb 2008
• "What Do Customers Really Want? - 1. Listen to me, 2. Know more than I do (about your product or service), 3. Be easy to work with
o What Do Customers Really Want? Survey Reveals the Truth, by Kevin Stirtz the "Amazing Service Guy", May 2007