Monthly Archives: April 2008

Mobile Customer Experience

I attended Internet World yesterday (29th April) and joined in the round table discussion in the Masterclasses stream run by James Hilton Joint CEO of Inside Mobile, and Andy Smith, Sales Director of Admob. Both were good speakers, who had strong opinions about the industry, bunches of knowledge and spoke with passion – a recipe for success in my opinion.

One of the questions that came up from the floor was how the mobile operators could be assisted in improving the experience they deliver. This was asked by Nadia Kauser from Motorola and the response was revealing about the state of the mobile market. Although technology providers are very focused on what their customers demand they are unable to meet their needs in user experience because it is simply too complicated. With literally hundreds of different devices the best they can hope for is to render screen images in a meaningful way on all the different devices but carrying out  user testing  is simply uneconomical.

James believes that the development of Android is the key to the future of the industry. The software will provide a platform that enables anyone to develop for mobile devices in a meaningful way. In turn this will allow user testing to take place on a single, representative device rather than needing to test on all devices and it therefore becoming uneconomic to do so.

Another question that came up was about whether the panel thought mobile and web would truly merge so that one was the other or whether applications specific to one or the other would still be developed. There was a strong feeling that convergence would be total as screen sizes increased but this only deals with the web through mobile.

There are a bunch of application opportunities that utilise the unique capability of mobile devices – small size, always with you. Take Doug Richards new Venture Trutap. This is an application that leverages all that is good about mobile. It is an IM tool for the mobile that allows you to bring in your Messenger and Yahoo IM accounts and use your mobile to keep in touch. Yes you could use this instead of a PC and probably some people will, but it is an obvious and viable  mobile application.

I recommend your check out James and Inside Mobile as I think they do some clever stuff.

MMA Mobile Manifesto

The Mobile Marketing Association has published it’s manifesto for best practice rules it hopes will increase uptake of mobile. The rules have been endorsed by IAB and dotmobi so hopefully will gain some industry momentum. They are:

  1. Icons are dead and the content itself is the new interface.
  2. The role of the mobile device is expanding beyond the hand.
  3. The structure of the mobile industry is killing application developers.
  4. Fashion is a stronger motivator than features.
  5. The developing world is the new frontier for mobile user experience.
  6. Search requires a radically different approach in the mobile environment.
  7. Presence and IP-based messaging change the dynamics of mobile communication.
  8. Mobile payment applications will lead the next major leap in wireless communications, when our interactions with machines start to outnumber our interactions with people.
  9. Customers cannot be defined by numbers or segments or demographics.
  10. The industry’s love affair with all things ‘2.0′ is blinding us to the reality that customers are spending more time than ever making basic voice calls.

eComm Conference: what will drive wireless innovation (2008)

The eComm Conference 2008 at the Computer History Museum, Silicone Valley has just been taking place (12 to 14th March) and during the conference a session was run on the future of wireless innovation. There is a video of the session available on Google videos here where a panel of experts discuss the question. The experts are Brough Turner from NMS, Martin Geddes from STL Partners, Stanley Chia from Vodafone, Sumit Agarwal from Google, Jonathan Christensen from Skype, Christopher Allen from iphonewebdev.com and Benoit Schillings from Trolltech/Nokia. The video is 86 minutes long so you may want to make a cuppa and get a comfy chair.

Martin Geddes kicks off by explaining why he believes innovation will be driven by business model evolution rather than technology. He uses the iphone launch and market changing aspect of the business model whereby the handset manufacturer gets a slice of the ongoing revenue – different to any other mobile manufacturer. Despite everyone else attempting to convince the audience that technology or user behaviour will be the driving forces in fact mostly they end up referring to business models.

Stanley Chia talked about the changes caused by flat rate charging in Europe and that it is causing significant momentum behind data usage. Data usage has increased by 10 fold in past 6 months because of the changes made and this is expected to continue. He went on to say that operators are starting to realise that the old walled garden model is not viable on a long term basis – 3 to 5 years changes must be made. However they don’t want to become just a big pipe and this is challenging their business model.

If operators views are changing this is really good news. They are a confused species and trying to be all things to all men has only one outcome – a bad deal for the consumer. They don’t want to be a big pipe is a concern although spinning out infrastructure businesses as they realise they are neither strategic nor major growth opportunities (once the market is fully developed) is the likely outcome.

Jonathan Christensen was lamenting the problems with the platform not allowing for consistent VOIP services. 3phone in the UK is a great example of a mashup – Skype experience, fixed price but deteriorating audio quality due to bandwidth. Lots of discussion about the 700Mhz spectrum and the opportunity for this to be completely open. However there is uncertainty about whether new business models will be tried due to the tried and tested and profitable old.

Interestingly the point was made by Benoit Schillings that he didn’t expect their to be harmonisation in mobile device operating systems. Instead he felt there would be development in the bridge that spans between the native technology and declarative environment (Ajax and HTML). This will remove the constraint on developers to do everything in Java or scripting and will give the 90% commonality which is the browser type environment. This would be a more likely outcome rather than expecting one operating system to go and “dominate the world”.

Coming back to Martin Geddes suggestion about iphone I agree with the business model argument but not with the example. I don’t believe other manufacturers will have the same power that Apple had as first to market and I don’t think they will therefore convince operators to share the revenue. Pretty soon the devices will be the same but there are short term advantages to be gained for first to market brands with innovative and desirable technology.

The global economy

I attended the Real Business Entrepreneurs summit last week where the focus was on the possibility of recession, when it wasn’t on the the Governments changes to CGT! There were a number of take-aways worth sharing as many people face their first slow-down whilst in employment. Once again the “Born Multi-Channel” generation have something some of us older folk don’t have!

So what should companies do as they head toward the impending doom? Firstly we need to get things in to perspective. This is not a recession it is a slow down. GDP growth in the UK for 2008 is forecast to reduce from 3% to 1.7% according to the CBI with 2009 no better. Also, unlike previous slow downs, what is happening has not been caused by the economic cycle is has been caused by a credit bubble. This is the most concerning aspect in many ways as the outcomes are unknown.

With the backdrop of uncertainty companies should focus on the following areas and opportunities:

  • Focus on profits and cash: no big surprises there but some companies have been known to increase rather than reduce gearing which increases the likelihood of failure particularly with interest rates unstable and the Libor rate high.
  • Competitive strategy: competitors who are more leveraged will struggle. You need to consider your price policy for commodity products so that they generate either profits or market share or both.
  • Recruitment: there is an opportunity to convert owner/managers of competitors to employees.
  • M&A: look for M&A opportunities in related but recession hit sectors. Also for early stage companies that may be short of cash and therefore cheaper.

As Gus Hedges of Drop the Dead Donkey fame would say “problems are the pregnant mother of opportunity” and this is true of the situation we are entering. Keeping the balance between inward and outward focus correct is probably the biggest challenge owners face.

New Barbarian group website

The Barbarian group have launched their new website and it is very very cool. I love everything about it actually and having gone through it in some detail I just can’t find fault. The language is so engaging when combined with the design it simply drags you in. The way they deal with blogs, the look and feel is great and it represents their work beautifully.

Image of homepage

By far the greatest component of the website (in my humble opinion) is the barbaripedia. This section tells you everything about them and is so well designed it is a thing of beauty. I love the time line that describes their history and the fact the page is full, without feeling packed. The software tab is great and their four reasons for making software are brilliant.

Why can’t all websites be like this?

The User Experience Relationship

I came across “Pleasure and Pain” the day before yesterday, a blog by Whitney Hess about measuring the impact of new technology on human experience – right up my avenue! Whitney has included a graphic by one of her co-workers which I really liked about how people communicate to their customer base. Here it is:

Relationships at work

Whitney then created her own (which I think is great) describing User Experience:

As I am from a customer research business I couldn’t resist this:

Paul B's take on Customer Rssearch Mono

Whitney asks whether companies are willing to “Stop telling and start loving”? I wonder whether they are prepared to stop guessing and start asking?

Starbucks feedback strategy

In March 2008 Starbucks announced it was launching an online suggestion box. “We are completely thrilled at the number of ideas (thousands!),” said Chris Bruzzo, Starbucks Coffee chief technology officer on March 21.

There are a number of interesting components to the My Starbucks Idea strategy. That Starbucks is running it at all is a brave step. The opportunity for people to rant and for this to take up significant management resources is substantial. However a bigger issue, as with all feedback systems, is the need to be seen to acting on what you are receiving. If you are not seen to be acting you take a big risk that you disenfranchise even the most loyal customer.

To deal with the feedback component Starbucks has implemented a couple of good ideas. Firstly when you create a log-in you are then invited to share, vote, discuss and see. Although they have received thousands of suggestions they try and find a way of funneling them so that they can manage them within categories. It is a good idea but in my opinion poorly implemented as the category titles are not sufficiently intuitive and some queries could fit in any number of categories.

Having raised an issue other users are then invited to vote on how important this idea is. This is clever. It puts the onus on the consumer to do the work before Starbucks has to get involved. The volume of votes is incredible and some questions have 50,000 points where every vote accrues 10 points to the idea. This is coffee remember.

In addition to the voting there are also opportunities for discussion where a blog type format allows comments against the ideas and finally the ‘see’ tab. Here you can read about which of the submitted ideas are being acted upon. The language is great and it really creates a feeling of community. But it is not just the benefits of communicating with your consumers that this programme delivers. beyond the shallow requests for free stuff there are some real process issues identified. One I particularly liked is this one;

“I use my Starbucks reusable travel mug almost every time I order and this is what I often see:
– 99% of the time I don’t get the mug discount,
– some baristas have no real clue what to do with it,
– they stick a disposable cup inside it to take down the order and then throw the disposable cup away (I’ve seen stickers but they seem to be out of them a lot).

We need more people to use the mugs and reduce the number of disposable cups used. Push the sale of them (make them cheaper – why not just $5?) and then train staff on how to handle the cups!”

The issue offers Starbucks all sorts of opportunities for improvement. The issues raised range from process problems where inconsistency exists, to training issues, to environmental opportunities to branding and merchandising.

In my opinion Starbucks has failed in many ways to deliver the basic level of consistent customer experience that say Pret-A-Manger has. Unless this underpinning consistency is in place it is impossible to deliver exceptional experience. The programme Starbucks has put in place will equip it with the information it needs to recapture their brand based on experience – where it started. Whether they follow through on the actions they take will be fascinating to watch.

Is Facebook dying?

6th November 2007 Facebook launched its new advertising initiative. It would make money from advertising by allowing its users to become fans of business and recommend this to friends as well as a variety of other features like allowing businesses to create their own Facebook pages. As I sat their listening I came to the conclusion that what I was hearing was the beginning of the end of Facebook.

When Friendster launched in March 2002 it quickly became one of the leaders in social networking. Interestingly Google offered to buy Freindster for $30m in 2003 and was turned down, which has become considered one of the biggest blunders in silicone valley history. So they turned down the money believing themselves to be on a trajectory that would continue and increase their value exponentially. In April 2004 Friendstar was overtaken by Myspace. The reason it was overtaken was due to the technological advances that Myspace offered and whilst this is a different reason to that which I predict will cause Facebook to decline it is the pace of decline that I highlight.

Myspace was launched in August 2003 and it took just 9 months to overtake the biggest player in the space that at the time was considered invincible. What this demonstrated was not only that the users of Friendstar were fickle and lacked brand loyalty but that Friendstar didn’t own the brand – the users did. I think this is the mistake Facebook is making.

I have been reading the blogs about social networks and the mood is unsettled. Mention of the need for an Open Source alternative where the community can own the solution has been muted. They don’t like the fact that ‘their’ social network is being abused in the way Facebook intends. And this is the point. The users believe they own the brand and so does Facebook. One of them is wrong and no prizes for which I believe it is.

Of course this raises the big issue of how social networking sites monetise the value of their asset in a way that doesn’t upset the user base but at the same time differentiates them with the market? As most are owned or seek ownership through a publicly listed company they have a requirement to increase shareholder value and the markets demand significant returns.

I predict not only a massive ‘adjustment’ in Facebook’s user community but also some pretty big balance sheet write-offs as the acquirers realise the short term revenue model is vulnerable. In the long term I think organisations will find ways of generating revenue but a great deal of consolidation and readjustment will take place before we get there.

Why the web is brilliant

Yesterday (8th April) if you searched in Google, for the search term “Argos” you would have been returned the following results:

Google search for Argos

I have no idea who Ian Edgar is, and I certainly cannot comment on whether the statement being made about him is true or not but someone obviously felt strongly enough to insert this statement in to a sponsored link for all the world to see. Today the message is gone and there is no sponsored link, presumably while Argos carry out a review of how this happened, and no doubt heads will roll. In some ways I hope not.

There is the possibility of course that this is some sort of highly creative, and equally highly risky “viral ad” that will be past off as the work of an errant employee. What genius that would be as I would put money on there being more click through’s on that sponsored ad than ever before and more people talking about the brand. There is the question that if it is not the work of genius, who is going to pay for the click’s? And what if sales increased? Will Argos still be unhappy if actually the revenue went up?

The instantaneous nature of the results on the inter-web is one of the reasons I hope this type of thing continues. Beside the obvious humour factor there is a genuine learning opportunity as we establish the impact on sales, user behaviour and brand affinity. Ibet this opportunity is lost this time.

Usability vs. Creativity

Last night I read an article about poetry – not a subject I can claim to have very muck knowledge of at all. It described the creative process and referred specifically to the the structure of a sonnet. A sonnet is a poem that follows strict rules on length and specific structure. By the thirteenth century, a sonnet had come to signify a poem of fourteen lines that follows a strict rhyme scheme. This structure did not inhibit the creativity of the poet, it merely provided a framework within which to operate.

In fact some of the most famous works that even un-poetic people like me are aware of are sonnets. Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 that begins “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” is perhaps the most famous but there are many others. To me all these seem incredibly creative despite the rigid framework within which they have to operate.

As I work in an online business that focuses on usability I found the analogy irresistible. A myth (or at least what I believe to be a myth) exists that says usability consultants and/or usability practices stifle designers creativity. I have felt for a long time that this simply cannot be the case and that the creative people that I have met deal with far bigger issues through technology, brand and proposition than usability could ever create. Perhaps by comparing the restrictions web designers face with those of the poet we can understand that true creativity deals with the barriers that are present and finds a way to overcome them.