Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The customer is always right (except this time)

Anna Yong

Apparently a RadioShack employee punched a customer trying to return something this past weekend.
So the question is, how often do CSRs trying to handle returned mobile phones feel the same way?

Mobile Device Management (MDM) can prevent the number of returns devices by 20%. (Statistically, 63% of devices have “No Trouble Found”, and 31% of those are only configuration problems – problems addressable via Mobile Device Management – so 63% * 31% = 20%). Essentially reducing the customer service frustration factor by 20% right? Isn’t that worth it?

Friday, April 24, 2009

When Systems Override Logic - Why you should not let IT dictate business rules

Jason Lackey

Today I got to celebrate Friday by spending a fair amount of time on the phone dealing with a mobile operator's customer care department. I had a phone, in this case an HTC Kaiser, aka HTC Tytn II, which I use for demos. In this case it was SIM locked to a particular operator. Unfortunate but understandable, except in this case I had actually walked into the brick and mortar store and paid full price. Since I had paid the full, unsubsidized price, I figured that I should be able to get it unlocked without further hassle or backtalk.

A reasonable assumption, yes, but there is the hoary old adage about assumptions and what they do to you and me and that was the case here. Unlock codes are keyed to IMEIs. In theory all you need in order to get the unlock code is the IMEI. It is certainly possible to buy a phone from this particular operator at full and unsubsidized price without having an account with them so you would expect that there would be provision for unlocking devices without reference to any particular account, right?

Well, not so fast there, cowboy! Whoever built this operators CRM system made the reasonable (although in this case not necessarily true) assumption that an operator's CSR would only be interested in talking to someone with an active account. OK, well, I have a number of SIMs from this GSM operator, but I use them in a variety of different phones. For me there is no link between a SIM and a phone that I stick it in, but I guess the assumption in some markets is a bit different.

OK, so after I tell the guy a phone number, a corporate demo account number, he of course needs the FAN (Foundation Account Number) which I don't have, nor do I have any of the magic words. Bummer. OK, plan two, grab my boss who has service throught the same operator and use his number. His plan is personal, he knows the magic words. So far, so good, we have now jumped what I felt to be the last possible hurdle.

Not so fast there, cowboy! Time to go on hold a couple times, be passed one place and another and then back to another CSR, who is yet another nice fellow who remains so despite suffering abuse from me because I have at this point spent a good 30 minutes on the phone trying to get the unlock for something that probably never should have been locked in the first place. After further back and forth I am then informed that a ticket has been opened on my case and that in the fullness of time, perhaps another 5 days, I would receive an email with the unlock code.

What does this have to do with IT and business rules? Well, a couple times the CSRs mentioned that they felt it was reasonable that they give up an unlock code and that they wanted to but that their system required certain things, one of them being a MSISDN (phone number). It would appear that fairly reasonable (but incorrect) assumptions were made when their systems were implemented and that those assumptions were still driving the way that calls were being handled.

Operators are understandably reluctant to make changes to back-end systems. Experience has shown that things that don't get changed tend to work and that the best way to break things is by starting to make changes. Certification can take a number of months and involves fairly rigorous testing and a lot of time and effort on the part of vendors and operator personnel. Thus it is of considerable operational advantage to be able to change the behavior of software without having to change the code.

As an example, let's say that you need to update the firmware on several zillion phones to fix some sort of bug - a fairly common thing, but not talked about much. Let us further suppose that the lawyers you have at the operator hear that you are doing outrageous things like fixing phones with no opportunity for legal to contribute, obviously a wrong and bad thing that would need to be fixed by some sort of long verbose, latinate, rambling EULA popup. Well, if you have a flexible MDM system, making that EULA popup happen (or making it go away after you fire the lawyers) is actually a pretty easy thing when you are workign with drag and drop workflows. If, on the other hand, workflows are hardcoded into the product, you are going to have to go back to your dev team, or your vendor, ask for code to be changed, which will take some time, and then go through recertification, which will also take some time, usually measured in months and long days and missed teeball games and the like.

Thus, more often than many would probably suppose, business processes and rules often get written by software vendors. Sure, change would be nice, but is often too expensive in terms of time, money or effort, unless, of course, you have drag and drop workflows....

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Patience is a virtue, but fix my problem right NOW

Anna Yong

How many of us believe that “ patience is a virtue”? But as every customer service representative can tell you, we (as a general population), don’t practice this as a mantra. If we really did, every call for customer support would be a congenial conversation, no one would be upset with being on hold, we would enjoy the elevator music, and the website for (which helps customers bypass phone systems and talk to a live person) wouldn’t exist.

Having established that a world like that doesn’t exist, let’s turn to the realities of life. Customer service representatives are dealing with customers who are calling about a problem and want it fixed “right NOW.” Satisfying (or disappointing) consumer demand for “fix-it right now” makes every CSR interaction a chance to keep, or lose a customer. In fact, “ The vast majority (95%) of a contact center’s satisfied customers indicate they will remain with the company. Further, 92% of customers satisfied with the contact center experience will recommend the company.” For a mobile operator, satisfying customers this means a 95% probability of $500- $1000 of revenue per year, per year, per customer. And for the opposite, disappointing a customer means a high likelihood of losing $500-$1000 per year. (statistics according to the Contact Center Satisfaction Index from CFI Group -

Ultimately, just ensuring all calls a handled by a single CSR in a single year satisfies customers’ demands means half a million dollars or more each year. Isn’t that motivation to find better ways, such as MDM, to “fix it right now” for the customer?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Zen and the Art of Handset Maintenance

Jason Lackey

You may be familiar with Robert Pirsig's 1974 work, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which depending on your perspective is either a littery classic or the confused ramblings of a somewhat addled fellow who spends too much time hand wringing, fretting and wrenching on crappy old BMW boxer twins.

Yesterday, I noticed that the headlight on my Suzuki Hayabusa, a machine which although sharing two wheels, is vastly different from the 1930's tech BMWs that Pirsig fiddled with, had lost its headlight. Normally replacing a headlight is a trivial act, and perhaps for someone more nimble with smaller arms it would have been. For me? Not so much. I ended up having to remove the entire front end of the machine (full fairing, lots of plastic) in order to get at a single light bulb. While Pirsig seems to have taken great joy in wrenching, I am handicapped by a lack of mechanical skill and an inability to enjoy the journey, just a desire to get to the end, at least with regards to mechanical tasks.

Anyway, what does taking apart the front end of a Hayabusa to change a lightbulb have to do with phones? Well, as I was crawling on the floor, trying to reach into awkward places hard to get at, I was reminded of my experiences upgrading handset system images. Take for example, the Samsung Blackjack - a good, popular phone that delivers a lot of bang for the buck in a small, convenient form factor.

Just like I like my motorcycle, lots of people like their Blackjacks, but that does not mean that they are really easy to work on. For example, if you want to upgrade the firmware on the device, instead of a seamless, transparent OTA effort, you have to do the following:

1. Ensure you have a data cable with the proprietary form factor connector.
2. Back up all your data on the phone, all will be lost.
3. Be sure you are running the right version of Windows or have the right version of the update software, XP updater and Vista updater are different.
4. Disable popup blockers
5. Download update software
6. Remove SIM from phone
7. Install SGH-i607 Modem USB drivers (verify correct version too)
8. Go into Device Manager and change Blackjack USB settings from ActiveSync to modem
9. Open ActiveSync, turn off USB
10. Turn off the phone, disconnected USB cable
11. On PC, run update program
12. With phone off, connect USB cable
13. With phone off, press and hold Right Soft Key and Camera button, with buttons held down, press Power On with third hand (gripping hand?)
14. On PC, click Start on updater program
15. Wait several minutes while update happens, but don't disconnect cable or remove battery or you will brick the phone

Makes doing the headlight on a Hayabusa seem....almost pleasant. Where's my wrench?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Beauty - More than Skin Deep

Jason Lackey

Much of the noise in the industry since the coming of the iPhone has been around UIs. I suspect that this phone caught many sort of like the impact that created the Chicxulub Crater caught diplodocuses chewing their cud in some ancient swamp - more than a little off guard.

Suddenly, design became more than just a hardware thing, the importance of design came to the UI as well. One of the more eyecatching examples, HTC's Touchflo 3D, pictured above, certainly is beautiful to look at but sadly is far from perfect. Sometimes slow to respond, often inefficient in terms of use of available space, the UI also suffers from inconsistancy, ended up being just a shallow, thin skin over something different, in this case, Windows Mobile. Thus the user has to adapt to two different ways of doing things, two different looks and feels, two different ways of failing or doing the wrong thing.

However, it looks really good. One of the things that pegged the lust meter for me for the Touch Pro T7272 I have on my desk here is in fact that sexiness of TouchFlo 3D.

Recently, Phil Goldstein at Fierce Mobile wrote about the need to go deeper than just the surface in the quest for UI goodness, and he is right. Although there are companies such as Yappa which do a good job of adding necessary eye candy to UIs, Phil quotes Avi Greengart, "Having a prettier set of animated weather cards isn't going to be enough."
There are different approaches one could take. One, like the iPhone and some of the more recent Blackberry offerings, would be to concentrate on executing well against the traditional way of doing things. Make the phone stuff work intuitively, make it easy to get at contacts etc.

Another approach, which Noah Kravitz of Phonedog wrote about recently, would be a "people centric" view. Instead of breaking up the user experience based on whether it is phone calls, emails or SMSs, the contact becomes the fundamental reference point or key field, and things are arranged around your communications with a particular contact.
Given the difficulty that handset makers have had with executing well against well established paradigms, it would be surprising for the first efforts at the people centric thing to be real stellar. However, new approaches like this and others will undoubtedly change the way that we think about and interact with mobile phones.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Android - not just for phones anymore

Jason Lackey

As announced by KDDI (Japanese), Android has a real home outside of mobile phones, in this case in a set top box by Motorola. Interestingly the au BOX was announced last year but has seemingly lost its old OS and been assimilated by Android.

This is interesting in a couple ways. One is that it should bring a decent web experience to the livingroom TV. The other is that this is one of the first major consumer facing applications for the Android OS outside the mobile world. Combined with whispers of netbooks running the OS, one can easily imagine a role for Android larger than just on phones and one can also imagine the synergies that could be found when having largely the same OS on your desktop, laptop, home theater and phone. I have to believe that those offering triple play services would probably prefer to support one OS rather than several and it might be nice to be able to use a single management platform rather than many....

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cap'n Crunch, In-band Management and the CSR

Jason Lackey

In the good old days before computer hacking, malware, botnets and distributed denial of service attacks, there were things like ham radio and phone phreaking. One of the things that make phone phreaking, or hacking the phone system, possible was the use of in-band signalling. This is where signals in the phone call itself were used to control the switching equipment. This is in contrast to out of band signalling, a more secure approach where data and control are on different channels.

You may have seen 2600: The Hacker Quarterly at the news stand. If you are old enough, you may be tempted to believe that name has roots in the game console world with the Atari 2600, which for many was their first game machine after Pong. As it turns out, 2600 comes from 2600 hz, the frequency of certain switching commands used by old AT&T (and other) switching systems to release trunk lines. Interestingly, John Draper, a legendary hacking figure, somehow figured out that the plastic whistle that was packaged in some boxes of Cap'n Crunch breakfast cereal could be readily modified to produce a 2600 hz tone which could then be used to do interesting and illegal things to the phone system.

What does this have to do with mobile phone CSRs? Well, interestingly I was on the phone with TMobile support, who really are a delightful bunch, somehow managing to be cheeful, friendly and helpful in the face of dealing with the general public. Anyway, during the call I was surprised when I was temporarily cut off. The CSR came back on the line and was all over herself apologizing when she explained that there was something about her voice which caused their phone system to do funny things. Evidently the systems they have in place use some kind of in-band control, and just like Cap'n Crunch and his 2600hz whistle, she was causing the phone system to do unexpected things.

Funny how seemingly unrelated things can sometimes end up having connections.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My OS is Legion: for They are Many

Jason Lackey

Providing support on mobile devices is certainly hard enough. Connections cannot be seen, smelt or touched, there are many platforms and on each of the many platforms usually many different devices, most of which have different form factors, screen sizes, keyboard and button layout and design.
Subscribers demand the latest and greatest and efforts to deliver on these demands have contributed to a longstanding problem in the industry - platform proliferation.
For those of you old enough to remember the Bad Old Days of computing, there used to be many platforms for desktops. Commodore had a couple, Tandy/Radio Shack had a few flavors of Trash-80, Apple had the infamous II+, Atari had the 400 and 800 with player missile graphics, color registers and sprites, then there were things like the Exidy Sorcerer and other CP/M machines not to mention all the weird and wonderful MSX machines from Japan. Those were wonderful days where there was real variety and differentiation in the world of the small computer, but there were huge drawbacks to this in terms of compatibililty - nothing was compatible with anything else and both hardware makers and software makers found it difficult to enjoy any sort of economy of scale. Later as the industry matured and the PC (and to a lesser extent the Mac) became the default standard(s), at least prior to the later rise of Linux. To some this was a withering of opportunity and a shrinking of choice, to others it was instead an opportunity - an opportunity for more developers and engineers to reach a critical mass with their products, an opportunity for everyone to do more with less and an opportunity for skills to survive upgrades to newer, faster hardware.
The mobile world is in a similar position today. On the smartphone front we have the iPhone, Symbian (S60 and for a little while more UIQ), Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Android and LiMo. This is not even starting to talke about the various RTOS featurephone platforms. While the overall mobile market and opportunity is huge, that opportunity is diluted across too many platforms, resulting in too much duplicated effort and not enough economy of scale. In the end the consumer, along with the CSRs trying to support those consumers, are the losers.
Enter Crazy Eddie
Crazy Eddie, apart from being the East Coast electronics chain that crashed and burned, was a mythical character from the Niven/Pournelle scifi epic The Mote in God's Eye. A certain alien civilization was locked into an unending cycle of explosive growth and total destruction, with no way out. There was always at least one Crazy Eddie who would always try to do the right thing at the wrong time. One example was in a city where the waste output had grown to take 100% of all possible removal capacity, in a civilization that on a good day when everything was perfect that was choking on its trash, Crazy Eddie would lead the garbage men on strike for better conditions.
In a way, both Android and the up and coming Palm Pre's WebOS remind me of Crazy Eddie - right thing at the wrong time. God knows we could all use a strong competitor to the iPhone and it seems safe to say that both Symbian and Windows Mobile, in their current forms, are having trouble delivering on that front. Certainly there is room for far better smartphones and better UIs and it is clear that Android, which not quite an iPhone killer, is showing good promise in its 1.0 incarnation and Cupcake is looking like it may be rather tasty. WebOS is looking equally, if not more appealing, but it remains to be seen how it will do in the wild.
So what is Crazy Eddie about these promising new platforms? Well, what the industry really needs right now is fewer platforms, not more. With so many platforms, a lot of effort is spent reinventing the incompatible forms of the wheel and then scrambling to find the roads that they work on with less left over for developing applications and content and true differentiators. While we are not in danger of a Highlander scenario (There can be only one!) I think that it is safe to say that operators, subscribers and developers would all like to see fewer, better platforms.
Anyone for a garbage strike?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Like Fertilizer in your Baby Food: 25,000,000 Phones with Fake IMEIs

Jason Lackey

The world is a funny place and there are many who will do some very odd and even criminal things in order to turn a profit. One recent example was the melamine milk scandal, where a chemical used in fertilizer and plastic production was added to watered down milk to make it test higher for protein than it actually was. Some would say that we in the US have little grounds for criticism, having been down a similar path famously portrayed in works such as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, others would suggest that perhaps something was lost in the Cultural Revolution that seems unlikely to be replaced by Capitalism. Regardless you see some funny things coming out of China and GSM handsets (cell phones) that have bad IMEIs are one of them.

While a bogus IMEI is unlikely to directly cause painful death or kidney stones, it sure does make tracking down a particular handset a real challenge. In light of the recent Mumbai terror attacks, which were coordinated with mobile phones, authorities in India have a justifiable desire to be able to track individual devices, which is something that unique IMEIs help accomplish. Should things go as planned, as of 15 April 2009 devices lacking proper IMEIs should be locked out of Indian networks.

To see the IMEI of your GSM phone, you can dial:


- which on most phones will return the 15 digit IMEI.

The phones with missing or bogus IMEIs are "unbranded" Chinese made devices, sold through informal channels at user friendly pricepoints.

Up to 8% of handsets in use in India today may be impacted by this problem. I would not be surprised to find that in a number of cases valid IMEI ranges have been used by the handset makers, which would add to the difficulty of identifying which device claiming to have a particular IMEI is the real owner of that unique identifier and which one(s) have dupes. In some cases over a thousand devices have been detected on some networks with the same IMEI.

The sad thing about this whole effort is that using real IMEIs would have been trivial for the original maker of these phones, but now the Indian consumer gets to eat the cost of 25,000,000 phones, many of which represent a considerable investment for their owners.

In the end I see the following outcomes:

Indian Operators - nobody likes to be the grinch that stole the mobile
Indian Consumers - surprise, you're hosed
Indian Device Dealers - think you can sell a Chinese phone in India now?
China Inc - not really doing a stellar job of building the brand here, are they?

Nokia, other well known handset vendors - in times of uncertainty, the known good can command a larger premium

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Backdoor Man - Hacks, Freaks and other Fun

Jason Lackey

One of the cool things about technology is that the more you know the more fun it gets. Who can forget their first easter egg or hack or cool trick, be it typing xyzzy in the original Collosal Cave Adventure (Welcome to Adventure. Woul you like instructions?) or the flight simulator imbedded in Excel 97, there always was a sense of wonder and joy at finding such things.

Some "secrets" are fairly well known, such as the following Nokia commands which often work on other handsets:

*#06# - display IMEI
*#0000# - Software version:
*#7780# - Restores default settings
*#7370# - Factory reset (may need additional code 12345)
*#92702689# - life timer info & other stuff depending on device
*#2820#: Display the Bluetooth device address
*#62209526#: mac address of the wifi card

Other secrets are less well know. Anders Borg, of Abiro - Mobile News, writes about a couple Sony Ericsson codes for OSE-based phones:

#speedy (#773339) then down arrow x4 - turns on HSDPA
#outofcash (#688632274) then down arrow x4 - no cost data (!)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

When Johnny Come Marching Home - The Return of Support to the US

Jason Lackey

The service industry is a tough one, and providing technical support of any kind, much less mobile, is a challenge under the best of circumstances. We have also seen a bit of a sea change, where the real winners have shown that it pays big to resist the temptation to view support as a cost center but rather to look at support as a strategic differentiator. Another sea change is the reversing of the outsourcing tide and the return of customer care to North America. Some examples of this in the media include WXYZ's story on Chrysler bring back call centers to the US and Peter Whoriskey's article in The Washington Post. Even lender Sallie Mae is getting into the act.

If support is nothing but a cost, an expense and unwanted burden, then obviously fobbing it off on the lowest bidder makes sense. If, on the other hand, support is a critical touch point, one of your main interfaces with the customer and a powerful service differentiator, then quality rather than just cost, should be a key factor in sourcing support.

Looking at support, customers tend to complain about a couple things with outsourced support. One is language and the difficulty effectively communicating with those who may not speak an entirely familiar form of English. The other is effectiveness in resolving issues - did the problem get fixed or did the customer burn time and get frustrated with no positive outcome to show for it. With outsourcing, as the labor market has tightened in places like India and as the whole cost cutting mindset behind outsourcing has encouraged overseas call centers to cut corners with training and qualifications, all too often the end result has been to leave the customer unhappy while still spending money.

Of course, challenges create opportunity and this sea change is no exception. Organizations looking to stay with an outsourced model will be under increasing pressure to deliver better results in order to compete with the locals. While accents and dialects are somewhat challenging to deal with, upgrading the tools available to support reps is less so and may actually deliver more in terms of satisfaction. One example of tools that could be used in this manner would be mobile device management, where mobile phones and other wireless devices can be configured and updated over-the-air. Technological solutions such as this can dramatically shorten call times and also provide a better chance of a FCR - first call resolution, the holy grail of customer care.

Another opportunity is where the company has decided to return call centers to the US (Canada too, eh!) - a move which is often very popular, particularly now in these uncertain economic times, as many customer support the generation of jobs in the local economy. However, regardless of how people feel about where jobs are going, the bottom line is that someone is going to still care about how much it all is going to cost. In an environment like that, many of the costs associated with higher hourly labor costs, higher rents and more expensive utilities can be recouped with greater efficiency and if that greater efficiency can be topped off with greater customer satisfaction even better. Here too mobile device management can play a powerful roll. With greater insight into the device and the ability to manipulated configurations and settings over the air, CSRs are provided a powerful tool that can shorten calls while delivering on the FCR promise sooner and more often.

Change and upheaval, regardless of whether or not they are moving in a direction we like, are often painful and stressful. However, this does not mean that even in the face of pain there are not opportunities to be taken advantage of. Any revisiting of customer care should involve a look at the tools that front line care personnel have at their disposal and any honest look at those tools should not only involve things like IVRs and CRM packages but also tools like MDM, which allow not just better tracking of info, but actual over the air delivery of help and fixes.

Customer care, welcome home. It's good to have you back.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Every Customer is Sacred

Dave Ginsburg

No… this isn’t another blog about the state of the economy. What it is, though, is a view into two impacts the economy is having on the new generation of smartphone users that were attracted to email and browsing when times were good, what this means to operator revenue, and how to reverse these impacts.

The first is the shift from postpaid to prepaid. Although prepaid is the norm in many developing regions, it is gaining respectability in developed regions as well. In fact, pay-as-you-go may also be common amongst some mobile broadband users. Prepaid has a real impact on subscriber loyalty, in that without a long-term contract, switching is as easy as not paying the next month’s bill. A few months back we thought that mobility was going to be mostly immune from the troubles, but this is no longer the case. What this means is that, when a subscriber does have a problem, the care experience must be without question. If an issue is not resolved the first time, there may be no second time. The subscriber is gone. Over-the-air frontline and automation care can help ensure a positive customer experience. What it also means is that operators, now dealing with lower ARPU prepaid subscribers, can make use of the same over-the-air capabilities to reduce their operational expenses.

The second, related to the first but potentially more disturbing, is a trend amongst some users to back off from smartphones when their contracts expire. Instead of re-uping, some are reverting to simpler featurephones, citing data-plan costs as the culprit. And, once a customer turns their back on the more advanced services and the revenues they generate, it is more difficult to win them back. Operators can do two things here. One is to increase the availability of lower-end data-capable phones, devices that require lower subsidies since they are cheaper to procure from the device manufacturers. They may therefore be offered with lower up-front costs and data-plans. The largest US operators are now beginning to head in this direction. The second is addressing the data-plan tariff itself. Part of the fee is based on the presumed cost of servicing the customer – dealing with support calls. If the operator had systems in place to reduce frontline OPEX, they’d have a better view to their true costs, and could adjust tariffs downward. Yet another reason for over-the-air care.