Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Future (of digital, of media, it’s been one of those weeks!)

One week and two conferences on the future of stuff. The first on Wednesday run by eConsultancy and opened with the normally upbeat and insightful Ashley Friedlein with words along the lines of “when I thought about the future of digital and this years conference I realised there wasn’t much to talk about, we haven’t moved on that much and this year is more about execution”. Clearly by this point the audience was beside themselves with excitement and thankful that we had paid the full fee to be there. But as it happened, unusually Ashley was wrong. There was lots going on and whilst an awful lot was about execution the main thrust was about organisations doing things others had not already done.

Thomas Cook in particular, whose presenter Russell Gould delivered his presentation by video due to the imminent birth of his second child, demonstrated just what was possible if you have big ideas and in particular a big budget. Travel of the future is truly a multi-channel world with interactive store fronts, video catalogues and, thank the lord, no more welcome meetings – well video welcome meetings but presumably they come with a fast forward facility.

The panel that followed however seemed to miss the point entirely about the competitive threat the Web2.0 future presents. Prior to this session on travel we had heard, at length (the panel barely had time to go up on stage) about the pressures on the increasingly commoditised insurance business. The pressure is coming from aggregators who add value by offering the consumer choice. The products which are ultimately commodities are price differentiated and it is only the total confusion that consumers have that keeps them loyal. (That isn’t true I just made it up). It may as well be though with the amount of inventive thought flying around the room.

We were told that insurance policies are priced for a 3 to 4 year lifetime value and at the same time that consumers are bored with organising insurance and treat it as an annual chore which they detest. This makes it open season for aggregators as they can at least price check. It surely won’t be long before we sign up with an aggregator for 5 years and they simply provide an annual report of their market sweep and tell us which provider we will be insured with next year? This must be an opportunity for insurance providers also if they can convince their underwriters.

Surely the travel industry is going to suffer from the same problem, as technological differentiation dissapears faster than our holiday money on fuel supplements? All the travel companies tried to make out they differentiate because they sell “an experience”. What they sell is convenience – from a consumer perspective they simply will not care if an aggregator provides that convenience rather than the agent. The game was somewhat given away when one travel agent admitted they sell anothers product because “they can make money out of it”.

As Seth Godin reminds us in his blog this week “there is no such thing as price pressure”. The price you charge is based on the value you offer – as perceived by the user/customer.

EDM2008 Monday 9th June

I attended EDM08 on Monday which was coincidentally the 8th year the conference had run. It is a fairly small affair with perhaps 100 people (max) but they travelled far and wide to be there and on my table were people from the US, Nordic area and mainland Europe.

EDM stands for European Directories Marketplace and the event is run by Whitaker Associates. It is fair to say I had no idea about how the connection with directories worked before attending but it is of course to do with the delivery of information services and hence this years theme: mobile.

The keynote was delivered by Dr Mike Short Director of R&D at O2 and a man’s whose credentials in mobile are extensive. He is Chairman of the mobile data association (the mda) amongst other things but has spent 20 years in the mobile/telecoms industry. He shared plenty of stats and insight to research that O2 will publish in July both of which I have summarised here in a few bullet points:

  • there were 2.95bn mobile subscribers at June07
  • 3.3bn are forecast by end 2008 (source: The mobile world)
  • There is 115% mobile penetration in the UK which equates to 69 million handsets
  • There were 57 billion sms sent in the UK in 2007
  • 449m picture messages were sent in the UK in 2007
  • 17m accessed the mobile internet in 2007

From O2’s research:

  • Most people would rather leave home without their wallet than their mobile
  • Research that trialled combining mobile with Oyster and Credit card (separately and together) using near field communication technology (NFC) resulted in a greater degree of success when sim and oyster were combined than sim and credit card. It will be interesting to see what conclusions O2 draws from this as it seems to me that it is a moot point. Ultimately won’t they all be combined anyway?

Finally Mike described the phases of mobile, starting at phase one with voice and text, up to present day phase six which is the ‘Content’ phase. Mike believes that phase 7 is the ‘application’ phase.

Following the keynote there were a range of presentations and discussions and I am not going to blog them all. There were some really interesting debates and opinions that I would like to record.

There was some debate around the importance of mobile compared to pc and James Levey of Amdocs suggested that click through rates online were currently at about 2% on average but that he predicts mobile will achieve 4% click through rates in the near future. In terms of search, mobile search currently represents 2-4% of desktop search globally, where China is an exception with mobile search representing 25%. Google predict that the cross over point where mobile search overtakes desktop will be within 4 years and that not long after mobile search will double desktop search.

To put some more context on this it is worth mentioning stats presented by Russell Buckley of Admob. Admob started business in 2006 and are already the worlds largest mobile ad marketplace. Russell talked briefly about global page views on mobile and which countries had the largest global share. Currently he estimates that there are 3bn page views per month on mobile [correction: which Admob see on their network and on which they serve ads on today]. The largest contributors to that number are:

  • US = 50%
  • India and UK = 10% each (total 20%)
  • South Africa = 5%
  • Indonesia = 5%

Interestingly all the above are in English language!

Other presentations delivered nuggets such as ‘in 10 years you will be able to access the knowledge of humankind from a mobile’ and the fastest growing age of penetration of mobile phones in the UK is 7 to 8 year old’s. All exciting stuff. But then I was blown away by Simon Grice of

Simon rattled off more concepts and ideas in 10 minutes than I have in a decade. The few I caught hold of were “Information is the new pollution”. IN a conference focussing on information services and directories he argued that in the future this will be too much and humans won’t be able to deal with the flow of info. Search will become useless because the range of results will be too difficult to filter. Simon suggests that when people get bogged down with information they ask people they know for advice and in this way sites like Twitter and facebook become the information services networks of the future.

Simon also talked about discovery as opposed to search. Search is fine if you know what you are looking for but what if you don’t? For example your local pub is holding an Italian night. If you don’t search for that you may not find out so you need to be told or have a way to discover it that is not necessarily advertising. Location based services have a role to play but it is not clear what role at this stage.

These ideas are worth exploring further, which is what I intend to do.


I read this week that SpeechUsability have been acquired (well had all their assets acquired) by PSS. Although Foviance (the company I work for) have carried out a variety of ‘usability’ work on IVR systems I wasn’t aware that their were any specialist companies. It seems to me that Speechusability is really just one person Dr. Susan Hura an “industry luminary”, according to Todd Funk, President and CEO of PSS (you can’t make this stuff up!).

Speechusability employ user centered design (UCD) principles to create better IVR experiences and Dr Hara has a strong background in the area. Here is her bio from the press release about the acquisition:

“Susan L. Hura, PhD is the founder of SpeechUsability, a consultancy focused on improving the user experience by incorporating user-centered design practices in speech technology projects. Susan started and managed the usability program at Intervoice as their Head of User Experience, and prior to that was a member of the human factors team at Lucent Technologies. She held a faculty position at Purdue University in the Department of Audiology and Speech Sciences where she cofounded a multidisciplinary research team dedicated to studying novel approaches to computer speech recognition. Susan holds a doctorate in Linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a frequent invited presenter at speech technology and usability conferences, and serves on the Board of Directors of AVIOS (the Applied Voice Input Output Society). Susan is also co-chair of the 2008 SpeechTek conference.”

PSS seems to be going from strength to strength and is one of the fastest growing firms in the US and is listed in Entrepreneur magazines top 100. At 48 people and $6.6m revenues after 5 years it is not a stellar grower but is in a good space. Certainly worth watching, particular if they genuinely take usability of IVR seriously, which it would seem they do.

Steve Hurst: Customer Strategy

Customer Strategy log

I had the pleasure of putting the customer experience world to rights yesterday morning over a bacon roll with Steve Hurst, Editorial Director of Customer Strategy, a CMP publication. Steve has been with Customer Strategy (previously Customer Management) as long as I have been with Foviance (over 7 years) and has seen the same developments in the industry that I have observed. As a result we had a wide ranging conversation which frequently resulted in the conclusion that “customer experience only gets better if the CEO wants it to”. It seems in quite a few organisations, they simply don’t!

I recommend checking out Steve’s Blog Industry Insider as it covers ground beyond customer experience. We both agreed that actually customers are pretty much at the centre of everything organisations do – or at least they should be.

One area I was particularly interested in is an interview Steve has lined up for next week with Premier Hotels. One of the aspects he hopes to discuss is the expansion in India and I hope to hear whether they intend to include mobile booking engine as part of their expansion plans. Given the ‘single screen economy’ nature of India this would seem sensible although I haven’t yet seen figures about mobile internet penetration. A ‘to do’ for me. I did read this week about the drive to produce a lower cost mobile (sub $30) and the work Motorola were doing here but I am fairly certain these devices don’t contain web access. The target market for the hotels is the growing middle class in India and these I assume will have mobile access to the web, and presumably desktop access also. Like I say, more research required.

CRM: experience management

I just cancelled my motorbike insurance having sold my RT1150. I was insured with Bennet’s who have been pretty good and handled my claim really well when someone pulled out in front of me and wrecked my previous bike (now being slowly (very) rebuilt in my garage). The experience I just had though made me wonder. It wasn’t bad, it was simply frustrating that their systems worked as they did.

I called up and cancelled the policy and on the phone the very nice lady told me I might receive a few reminders but not too worry about these as my policy was cancelled. So I wasn’t surprised when the first reminder arrived although the wording really annoyed me. It said words to the effect that “as I hadn’t been in contact my policy was not being renewed”. So it was my fault then. I hadn’t been in contact so tough on me.

Despite the warning from the “very nice lady” from Bennett’s I called again to make sure the contact I had made had been registered. You might ask “why bother” which is fair enough. The policy had been cancelled and I had nothing to gain – the danger of automatic renewal didn’t exist. I called because I didn’t want to be remembered as someone who didn’t bother to get in touch. Stupid really, and I’m ‘in the business’.

I then got to thinking about how hard it must be for organisations like Bennett’s to connect their systems together. Presumably they don’t want to send out multiple and pointless letters that cost in processor time, postage and paper, and presumably they also don’t want to appear to be disconnected with their customers. Obviously it must be very hard then right? Well no I have been around technology long enough to know that it isn’t that hard and that even if they can’t afford it manual intervention would do the job perfectly adequately. It must therefore come down to some other reason – perhaps money?

Would it make me avoid selecting Bennett’s again? no probably not, they performed well enough and I have to believe that one day they will fix this system / process error. But how long will I be prepared to believe this before I decide that actually they really don’t care. I am not sure when that point will come, if ever, but what I am sure of is that Bennett’s have less idea than me.