Prediction comes true – In-site search market heating up

Not so long ago, I had written a blog post on why Bing should focus on in-site search as a way to fight Google’s stranglehold on the search space. While no one at Bing or Google heard me out on this, Techcrunch now reports on how this space is heating up. Two start-ups have already raised serious Series A capital and are focussed on just this one opportunity – Making the In-Site-search experience better.

Bing GoogleWhile the start-ups and its investors can rest assured of acquisition offers coming their way, it is still surprising to see that Bing and other Google challengers haven’t exploited this opportunity so far.

The Techcrunch article assumes that Google wouldnt want a great in-Site-search product as it would mean fewer hits on Google.com. While people at Google might buy this logic (I wouldn’t – better to cannibalize own product rather than let another player come in), but how can someone at Bing justify leaving this space? Beats me. Any ideas?

Why Financial Services Cos need Designers and fast !

I just came back from depositing a cheque into a relative’s HDFC Bank account. I know, its a crime that I did not use the Online Money Transfer services, especially since I am a self proclaimed Digital guy working in the Financial Services sector.

Anyways, I was filling in the deposit slip with details of the cheque and the beneficiary account details and suddenly there was this huge frustration in filling the same information twice.  HDFC Bank does not use a carbonated Deposit slip like Citibank India does. And it stuck me that once I have experienced the Citibank’s way of filling the information once, I refuse to be forced through the seemingly ill-designed process. I eventually did fill in the bank’s half of the deposit slip but just scribbled the bare essentials in my half of it.

So it got me thinking, why is it that our banks and other Financial Services companies do not “design” with the customer-experience at the center. In today’s world when better designed products and services are beating-the-shit out of their established competitors, why are Banks and Insurance Firms so slow to react.

The rise of well-designed products and services is not something which is purely outside of BFSI sector. Any payments industry person would tell you that Square is a serious threat to VISA and MasterCard in specific business segments. Square’s well designed product and application just removed a few major hurdles in the overall process.

The Branch

The branch is probably the single most important customer touchpoint.  You might argue otherwise that your call-center or the website gets more traffic and handles more transcations. But the reality is that its at your branch that a true face-to-face interaction happens and that too because the customer wanted it. The customer is so keen to do that transaction or resolve that query that she has taken the pains to walk to you.

Have you been to a branch of a Public Sector bank? Chances are that the iron-grill was chained and you had to take care while entering the branch premise. Sounds familiar? What do you think a customer feels while entering such a premise? Is he in a mood to listen to someone telling him to buy an Insurance product or is he likely to just walk out of the branch as soon as his chosen transaction for the day is done?

I recently went to a TCS powered Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) and boy did it feel like a whole different world. The premises were clean, air-conditioned, there was line and crowd control. A token system which ensured timely processing, a display announcing which desk you had to report to and the works. Compared to my first experience this was a complete contrast.

While getting your branch to look like the Jabong ad  might be an easy task, what is needed is a design oriented approach towards all the aspects of the customer touch points. Do we expect the customer to wait on us, if yes, is there a waiting area. Are our clients senior citizens, if yes, what facilities do we have for them (say dedicated desks). Do we serve them just water or tea/coffee too? Is it a self-service kiosk or we have a kitchen hidden somewhere. This very simple question is something that many MNC companies have failed to understand in the Indian context. I have been to a few corporate reception areas, where there is no one to ask you for water, leave aside tea/coffee. If you serve Indian customers, you might have created a big wall right there. Its part of our culture and just because its a corporate set-up we cannot ignore it.

Jabong-bank-ad

Beyond the branch

Opportunity to design better goes beyond just the branch or the physical world interactions. Here are a few others that are ripe for design-disruption:

  • Credit/Debit-Card chargeslips. I remember that a French company presented to us way back in 2004 about printing chargeslips with detachable coupons. In almost a decade the only variations one has seen is probably an ad on the reverse instead of the usual T&Cs. The key thing that any designer would probably do is ask why a customer is given a chrageslip in the first place. If this is to keep as a proof of transcation, then most of current thermal printers beat the whole purpose. The ink just fades away. Does the customer need it to file for expense claims and reimbursement? How does the customer store it? Does it stay in their wallets or does it go into some envelope or drawer. I don’t know the answers but I sure know that chargelsips in their current avatar just don’t cut it.
  • Websites. I remember reading the findings of a Kern report which states that almost all Life Insurance co’s websites had a poor overall user experience.

“Most online insurance websites provided minimal details about the policy, mostly hidden in a PDF brochure, making it very difficult for the customers to find details. The customers had to spend time to search for information, which was distributed throughout the website, in the absence of any reasonable user flow.”

  • Even Mobile apps. A friend on my Facebook network posted this. Enough said.

American Express App

9 challenges in digitizing the sales force

Very few of us embrace change.Most of us would try our best to avoid any change in the status quo. Especially if it drastically impacts the way we work.

Hence any initiative to convert an offline banking/insurance sales channel into a digitally-enabled online one, is sure to face a lot of resistance from the existing teams and one must be prepared to weather these strong head-winds. While there is no single solution which you could adopt, but a deeper understanding of what causes this overall resistance, would help you understand what needs to be done in your specific instance.

 

sales-channel-digitization
Source:Contractlogix.com

Here’s my list of 9 challenges you might face in digitizing the sales channels at your bank/insurance company

  1. Sales force was not kept in the loop. Implementation was just thrust on them one fine day. Time and again we see that the lack of confidence-building measures lead to a clear mistrust in the new system and its capabilities. As the CIO or project owner you should start engaging with the end-users early on. Talk to the sales managers, their executives and articulate the clear value-add this would bring to their lives. Tell them how this system would make them more productive and help them grow in their art. Keep them posted about the progress of the implementation. If possible try and incorporate their feedback in the design/feature specs of the chosen solution. This would create local evangelists for your project and make your implementation so much smoother.
  2. Fear within the sales team, due to the sudden transparency. One of the key reasons, most enterprises wish to move their sales teams onto a digital platform is to bring transparency in the sales engine. There is an accurate real-time understanding of the key business metrics and hence a realistic estimate of the business pipeline. While this might be great for the Head Office staff, this is a matter of great fear for the sales executives and junior sales managers. They know that such a system would mean that anyone can drill down deep into a specific case and verify the details. Or the fact that the country head can also track each person in the sales machinery. This can be really intimidating for a junior sales resource. Imagine a magician’s trick being laid threadbare by a scientist – surely the magician would feel kind of naked. The way to address this fear is to ensure that the senior management refrains from micro-managing the sales team in the early days of the implementation. They should control the urge to dig-out a specific case, jump all hierarchies and talk directly to the sales manager. If your organization is not already used to a hands-on approach by the senior management, such jumping-of-hierarchies would spell disaster.
  3. Information Overkill. One of the advantages of any digital solution is the fact that it can store a whole wealth of data on the prospect, customer, channel and hopefully churn out beautiful reports in the process. If one gets carried away with such beautiful-reports-promise, the system might tend towards an information overkill.And the sales staff would be wasting time collecting “un-necessary” information when they should be out there talking to your prospects. Hence try and look at the system implementation as a phased journey. Get the basic feature spec out, build traction and revisit for further enhancements. It might be a good idea to read the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) approach now being promoted by most Silicon Valley Start-ups.
  4.  Non-existent or inefficient mobile interface. This is really relevant for enterprises where the sales happen face-to-face rather than on the phone etc. If your sales team is expected to be out in the field, your solution should go along with them. Many enterprises fail to imagine and develop a mobile solution and then focus on work-arounds. There are companies that expect their sales teams to call up a central number after each visit and update the details. In some others, the agent first notes the feedback on paper and is then expected to come to an e-enabled site (branch or café) and update the system online. In today’s world with such a high smartphone and 3G penetration, a mobile-first-interface would show a clear value to the sales teams.
  5.  Cluttered Design or too many screens. Unlike the glamorous world of consumer solutions, enterprise solutions have not been blessed with the talent of awesome designers. I personally feel this is a big big drawback because end of the day, the enterprise solution user is the same person. He would react the same way to a better design. If he has a great intuitive interface on his Gmail, Dropbox and Facebook, why not on his Leads Management System (LMS).
  6. Complicated Incentives. Increased transparency of the sales engine, suddenly throws up a bunch of metrics that the business managers love to track. While the incentives are simple to calculate and manage in the offline world, a LMS implementation usually comes with a highly complicated incentive plan. Most sales agents fail to have confidence in a new incentive system if there is no baseline. DO NOT coincide your system go-live with an incentive model change. Better idea would be to track the metrics for a while, show the agents how they are anyways performing on these metrics and then gradually build these metrics into the incentive system. Such an approach would mean that the sales team can “calculate” their possible incentives on Day 0 and be motivated to stretch their performance.
  7. Lack of helpful features. This usually stems from the lack of an agent-centric design (which is discussed separately in pt 8). Build features that really help them sell better, help them save time (e.g. tablet based insurance quotes means zero error in policy submission and hence no rework).
  8. Lack of agent-centric design. Enterprise solutions usually fail to deliver on their promises because of their inherent design (or architecture). Many an enterprise CRM solutions are not designed with the customer at the center. Similarly if our sales systems are not designed by keeping the agent at the core, it surely would see a lot of resistance and would fail to deliver. A good design where agents were involved from a very early stage, would take care of most of the issues mentioned above.
  9. System Roll-out plan
    • Lack of training before and during roll-out. Even if you are working under serious budget constraints, find a way to train the end-users. Build a knowledge repository, run a small help-desk for them to call/reach for any immediate help.
    • Find and promote early adopters. Even better find evangelists who carry a collective sense of ownership in the system and its promise. This needs to be done at all levels. I remember when I was rolling a LMS for the bank that I was working for, I had to convince the business head about the need for such a solution. All the usual advantages of a scientific way to run the sales channel couldn’t cut any ice. I had to finally show him the maths around system’s ability to uniquely pull-out non-contactable cases from his tele-calling units and hence a smaller base to work on for subsequent months. This simple feature was powerful enough (with enough cost savings on back of lower manpower requirement) for him to get excited and seek his business as the first one to cut-over.
    • Version 2.0. Do you hear what your users are saying? Are you evaluating the impact for the new features or changes they are asking? How soon can you give them a version 2? Its not so much about the number of days they end up using the version 1. It’s more about how soon, they start believing that this is their system and the company hears what they have to say.
    • Study how your users are actually using the system. Try and shadow some of the end users to see if they come up with their own work-around, own ways of using a feature for something that it wasn’t really meant for. What are they not using at all. Why? This is usually a great surprise and teaches most system designers a whole lot of stuff they had never imagined or seen before. Try and document these observations. Analyze and see if they can help you in a more acceptable version 2.0.

In summary, some level of resistance is inevitable once you decide to digitize your sales team. But how you design your solution, how you engage with the end-users and how the enterprise uses in the early days, can decide if this will be a success or not.

The curious case of single order and multiple delivery consignments @ Flipkart

This just happened to me again in a short span of time. I ordered 4/5 books from Flipkart and the ordered was split into multiple consignments and the two consignments were delivered within one day of each other.

Initially I thought this was because the books might have been shipped from different warehouses or even merchant-locations. And maybe the second consignment’s availability and delivery- date wasn’t estimated before the first gets shipped out. But then again, both were delivered within 24 hrs of each other.

Flipkart Deliveries

Interestingly, since Flipkart does its own delivery, the same guy comes to deliver all Flikpart stuff at my place. He knows me pretty well by now and I asked him if why the same order was being split into multiple consignments. Even he was finding it funny that he delivers two days in a row to my house. He only knew that he has a certain area allocated to him and all his delivery packets come from one holding warehouse in NCR.

Maybe thats where this is coming from. That Flipkart has a beat allocated to each guy, and the delivery guy has to work that beat each day. Hence it doesnt make much of a difference in splitting the delivery into two parts – he would be around in the neighborhood anyways.

Also, I figured out that many of these deliveries were COD and maybe this was a way to put a cap on how much cash the delivery guy handles. Or maybe the risk of not shipping a big consignment to someone who turns it away or acts funny.

But I still feel, they might find an opporutnity to further trim down their logistics cost and maybe even enhance the customer experience if they could find a way to re-aggregate consignments at the last-mile. Or will that put pressure on the mini-warehouse ? What do you think?

HDFC Life’s Campaign to protect you from the rains

A colleague recounted an amazing experience she had at the Delhi Airport a few days back. She had just flown in and was waiting for her car.

There is this small stretch at the Delhi airport that you need to cross from the covered porch of the terminal, to the waiting-car-lanes.  While the stretch is small, its easy to get soaked if its raining.

There were young boys holding huge family-umbrellas trying to help people save themselves from the rains. The umbrellas were branded with HDFC Life logos and these enthusiastic boys were helping passengers reach their cabs/cars without getting drenched. And while they walked with you to your waiting car, they would very politely hand over a small HDFC Life card (images attached) which promotes their Click2Protect – Online Term Plans.

Click2Protect

I was so impressed by the way HDFC Life managed this.Could see so many reasons for them to be proud about this campaign:

  1. Its a very relevant offline activity. Most of us do not carry umbrellas and do get drenched a little bit if its raining.
  2. Insurance industry has been using the umbrella to highlight protection for years now. I can remember seeing way too many things under that umbrella – from house to family. But finally someone has made a meaningful and relevant use of the most recognized prop of the Insurance Sector.
  3. There is no hard-sell and the card is actually very humble in its tone and starts the conversation very meaningfully

    Thank You for letting us protect you

  4. Its probably one of the best Offline-to-Online campaigns that I have seen so far. They have chosen a simple product category to share – Term Plans. A product category that has been witnessing the biggest rush for customer-initiated-online-purchases.

Who owns the customer experience

I have been a regular and very loyal customer of Flipkart. They have a neat UI, collection is great, prices are good and they manage deliveries very well.

Chariots of the GodsWhile shopping for books last week I was shown a recommendation for “The Chariots of the Gods” a book whose introduction/teaser looked exciting. Needless to say I added it to my shopping cart (proof that recommendation engines are maturing fast).

I got my consignment of books right on time, neatly packed with bookmarks etc. I finished the first book and then it happened. When I opened this book – The Chariots of the Gods- the print quality was shocking. It was so bad that it would have made the pirated road-side versions look like hard-bound editions :-).

I tried reading the book a couple of times but just couldn’t get beyond the first few pages. So I wrote to Flipkart. I told them my angst and they promptly agreed to replace the book. I reminded them that they should do so only if the print quality was different from what I had got. So I got my revised copy and it was the exact same quality (or lack of it). Guess its just a badly printed book. Can’t really blame Flipkart ! Or can I?

I guess as the leader in its space, Flipkart is viewed as the entity that promises to deliver a superior customer experience. Though their customer service was prompt and empowered to quickly respond to my case, they failed to investigate if they could really solve my problem.

Also the promise of a good online experience also includes a guarantee that sub-standard products would not be stocked. The book might be awesome, but if the print quality is bad, someone at Flipkart should decide against stocking it.

And I feel this is amongst other factors would determine which of the two models – marketplace vs inventory-driven models would emerge. Would marketplace managers be able to deliver a better experience, esp in categories where the product quality can vary?

I for one would bet my money on those who know how to control and deliver a great experience, marketplace or otherwise.

CSE – Custom Search Engine – Bing’s Opportunity

bing-googleRecently Microsoft shared some UK market specific data, wherein they highlighted how Bing has managed to gain traction and bring Google’s share of the pie below the 90% mark.

One can only begin to imagine the kind of uphill task Bing product and sales teams must be looking at. But, its also a time for them to be focused, to search (no pun intended!) for possible weak spots in Google’s fortress.

One such area that comes to my mind is Custom Search Engine (CSE) – this product was designed to allow website owners/managers to provide a quick search across their site by just copy/pasting a few lines of code. Also, Google shows its own ads along side the search results (like it does on its own inventory), allowing the webmaster to make some extra revenue – from search ads.

Many sites adopted it, few of them discontinued it in favor of their own search technologies and many don’t know how to make it align with the site’s overall, look and feel.

CSE is good opportunity because being where the search gets initiated is probably half the battle for a search engine. Unfortunately, (for Bing) pure-user initiated across-web search mostly begins at Google.com. If the user is not on Google and still thinking of search, thats the best use-case for a Google Challenger.

So here’s why Bing teams should focus on an awesome CSE product:

  • Google is not really the de-facto leader here. Its a whole set of solutions that exist.
  • CSE can be a great gateway for the complete Bing experience. External links on CSE could tunnel the user towards Bing.com
  • It allows them to build the Bing brand as the preferred search destination by tapping into the long tail of web-users. Taking Google head on in web-search will only lead to bleeding. Here each site that installs this product, is helping convert potential future Bing users.
  • Its a seemingly simple product, for each of its installation(s). Deliver the right set of pages in the search view from the site or the web.
  • Many webmasters might be willing to switch, just for a better design or a better set of options or maybe even a better revenue maths.

Do you agree ?

Building a brand’s buzz through conversations

Baat karne se baat banti hai !

In today’s connected world, conversations are the key for a brand’s buzz . Its no longer sufficient for brands to just advertise, and inform about their awesome products and services. They need to do way more. Brands today need  a better way to engage with their end customers. To build a better connect – one conversation at a time.

Interestingly, a lot has changed about the very nature of these brand-centric conversations. With growing digital channel adoption, consumer discussions are now getting captured on blogs/forums/review portals and easy to track. Add to this the exponential growth in social media and internet-on-mobile (more people share within the first 5 mins of their experience) .

While most conversations are still happening in a way where its difficult to track or measure them, brands now do understand the critical aspect of tracking/managing these conversations.

As marketers we need to ask ourselves these 6 questions about brand-related conversations –

conversationsLife cycle of a Conversation

Conversations have a natural life – their impact decays over time.  Once a conversation is started, it might grow (if it catches the customer fancy) or as in many cases, die immediately after birth. Even the ones, which spread and create a lot of buzz, finally start seeing a decay- when fewer customers want to join in or spread the word.

Hence, brands need to

  • Start new conversations every now and then
  • Find fresh themes/content/ads are needed which keep the consumers engaged
  • Evaluate the relevance of a message in its immediate context
  • Identify what resonates with the target audience , thereby leading to longer life cycle of the message

Whats been said in the conversations

This parameter, though important, suffers from the fact that we are not able to track most of the conversations – the ones that happen in real world.

Consumers tend to write and talk more about their negative experiences about a brand, rather that the moments when the brand came close to wowing them. Its probable that slightly positive experiences do not motivate the customers to overcome the hurdle of writing/sharing. E.g. a friend of mine had a great experience at the Carnation Service Center in Noida. Though I have heard him refer to that incident twice, I guess he was not motivated enough to go online and talk about it.

Now that the data-bias is known, if we focus only on digital conversations, brands today have a whole suite of listening products available, which tell them about the location/communities/products that are creating the buzz.  Many brands also spend a lot of effort in seeding these conversations- they might call them viral campaigns, paid-bloggers or social media enthusiasts – these efforts help the brand build more dialogues around their chosen positioning.

How many are talking about it

The brand’s buzz should help increase reach apart from the recall-value. A good indicator is to measure how many people are talking about the brand.

Please note that this parameter needs to be seen in two ways

  • How many individual conversations are happening – do more people trigger/initiate a conversation? An engaged customer is more likely to trigger a conversation. So higher the number of concurrent new conversations, deeper is the engagement. Its also a function of what kind of catalyst the brand provides. We have seen how Apple Launches get covered/re-covered in every media, how Amul keeps coming up with interesting takes on current affairs, to spark new conversations.
  • How many participants are there, for each conversation – is it popular, going viral ? We are past the time of – “Forward this to 20 people to get xxxxxxx” kind of gimmicks. In today’s world, a message needs to resonate with the individual, for it to be shared further.

But as we identified above, most consumers do not end up talking about the brand. Call it inertia or lack-of-incentives, most brands are unable to get their happy customers to become a brand-ambassador.

Who is talking

Who initiated the conversation, was it the brand, or the paid-blogger or was it a genuine customer?

Even if it was a genuine customer, is this customer a fan-boy/girl, is she been with the brand for a long time? Does she hold a significant equity in her community about the industry that the brand represents.E.g. I have noticed that celebrity endorsements work really well in sports, but would it be as powerful if Sachin Tendulkar tells us that he prefers a Rolex over a Tissot.

Who is listening

This one is slightly tricky. Many would question the need to have this, once we have already identified who is talking. But if we add the “platform” or the “conversation-setting” angle to this, we get a clear context of what impact a certain conversation would have on its audience.

A negative review on the Official Facebook page with 100K fans, means that it has the potential to fireball, simply if many more raise their hands saying they too had a similar issue. And most brands have teams/solutions to manage this.

On the other hand, a person referring to a brand in her stream is probably not even noticed by the brand’s service/social-media teams. But it has been found that negative or positive reviews shared with friends are decision-changers. McKinsey reports have claimed that across all the stages of a customer’s decision cycle, referrals play the most significant role. If thats really the case, brands should focus on getting happy customers to talk about them to their individual friends.

Looking at both the speaker and the listener, we could have the following scenarios :

  1. Brand talking about itself – ads
  2. Customer talking about a brand – Testimonials/Celebrity endorsements/Reviews/Ratings
  3. “Real” Customer talking from her own experience – Customer’s Social Updates

I would assume that while brands have Pt 1 covered amazingly well, and Pt 2 reasonably ok, most of them still are struggling with Pt 3. And this is the real opportunity that we have in the world of Facebook and Twitter.

What does it lead to

At the very minimal, a conversation helps re-inforce the brand and at the extreme maybe cause an impulse switch. A smart marketer would build/manage conversations which lead to some increased commitment by the customers, and hopefully a commitment that they wear proudly.

rBus wants to bring affordable happy commutes to our cities

Meet Siddharth aka svs. A guy who loves to code. A graduate from IIM B who didn’t quite enjoy the Investment Banking world. A music lover who built a core-banking system equivalent for MFIs- as an open source. An idea, which aspires to make city dwellers stay happy after those tough daily commutes-rBus. You can email him at svs@svs.io


ValueMax: Tell us a little about RBus

svs: Commuting in India, for the most part, is really painful. Either it is expensive, or it is terribly uncomfortable. rBus intends to use modern technology to provide you with a guaranteed seat on a point-to-point bus from your home to your office and back, while being able to accommodate changes in time of travel from day to day.

ValueMax: How come you moved from Banking to IT to rBus

svs: I’ve always been madly in love with software and even in the banking world, I chose to do the geekiest work I could find, building large models and dealing essentially with software. So I guess it wasn’t surprising that I eventually wound up doing this full time. Building financial models is fun for the first few years, but it can become quite repetitive. Besides, I always felt there were bigger problems that one could solve with software. rBus is one such attempt.

ValueMax: You mean open source technology? Your previous venture was also an open source platform, right? Why this love for open source?

svs: rBus is built on a lot of open source technology, but the platform itself is not open source. Actually the web app is quite trivial (for now), but we’re hoping to implement some hardcore routing algorithms and so on. I expect most of these will be open source. With rBus, the value is not so much in the technology as in the execution. Everyone has access to cheap GPSs and Google Latitude. The question is – how many people love public transportation enough to execute this vision with a lot of care?

I love open source because of the community of people who contribute to it and I love to count myself amongst them. However, this does not mean that open source is always the best approach. Sometimes it is easier to attract people and execute the vision as a business than it is to build a strong open source community, and in these cases, it is perhaps better to adopt a commercial approach. However, the discussion is so nuanced that I’ll stop now before I am misunderstood 🙂

rbus
ValueMax: But why RBus? What drives you to solve this “problem”?

svs: Having lived in cities with decent public transportation systems, I understand the impact that this one thing can have on the lives of the citizens. Just reaching work in a relaxed and cheerful state of mind and reaching home likewise make for a productive workforce and happy families. These seem to be quite important things in my opinion.

Secondly, the private car seems to be a perfectly wasteful way of getting to and from work. Not just the waste of fuel, but of time spent in the endless traffic jams and the devoting of precious space in our cities to more roads that fill up as fast as they are built. this doesn’t seem like a good direction to go in for the long term.

Of late, the technology to build a responsive, commuter-centric shared transport infrastructure has become quite easily available. Cheap and ubiquitous GPS, smartphones, mobile ticketing technology – all of these can help us to connect the demand side of the equation (the commuters) with the supply side (commercial bus fleets).

The power of the internet to connect people so that they can solve their own problems has always fascinated me, and I would love for rBus to be a manifestation of this.

And lastly, the market for commuting is IMMENSE. It gives one the opportunity to build something truly significant and hopefully, robust, durable and something that people really love because it is simple and it solves some deeply felt problems.

ValueMax: You talk about a happy rBus experience. What aspects are you referring to and how will you manage this?

svs: The rBus promise is as follows – no waiting, no standing, flexible timings. The convenience of a car at the fraction of the price.

You choose your trip time, get an alert when the bus is approaching, walk to the bus stop, board the bus, sit on your reserved seat and reach your destination with zero stress. In my opinion, this beats any other mode of transportation. It is orders of magnitude more comfortable than the other public transport options and orders of magnitude cheaper than a chauffeur-driven car.

You will always have people for whom priorities are different. However, there are a number of things to consider here:

  •  In a population as large as Mumbai’s I am really hoping that there are enough early adopters who share the vision of rBus to adopt it even in this unproven state.
  •  Once we can demonstrate just how convenient and economical it is, we hope to attract atleast a critical mass of people on Mumbai’s main arterial routes to allow us to run a sustainable service.
  •  Once the service is self sustaining, we will start to allow ad-hoc travel, giving people the opportunity to leave their car at home for a day if they so wish.

Beyond that, the service itself will have to perform and exceed expectations.

Also, do remember that there are a number of college students that do not have their own cars. They’re just waiting for the day when they have enough money and they can stop using public transport. If we can provide them a robust experience on rBus, perhaps they will delay buying the car, or use it sparingly when they do. The young hopefully do not have the same prestige issues as their parents, and I do believe they care deeply about the environment. Hopefully.

I’m an optimist and I believe that people will ride rBus precisely because it’s way cooler! In 3 years, rBus should be the de-facto mode of reaching office for commuters in Mumbai and hopefully other cities as well.

ValueMax: People have run chartered buses for office commuters before also. What’s the tech layer that rbus provides? Can they be used by current operators to improve their services significantly?

svs: GPS tracking of all buses and mobile based ticketing are the main technological advancements. We also plan to build advanced routing algorithms (once we have enough data). Implementing the GPS tracking is quite trivial and there’s even a company called http://yourbus.in which specializes in this. However, most bus operators aren’t really tech savvy and so they haven’t implemented these.

ValueMax: Who do you target through rBus?

svs: If your commute stresses you out, wastes large amounts of time or is inordinately expensive, you should definitely try out rBus. If you own a small-medium sized business and you are fed up of your employees walking in the dorr in the morning already stressed out from just getting to work, then you should definitely support rBus.

I can segment my customers based on the mode of transport they currently use. The people who currently commute by bus/train are very price sensitive but I am hoping there are significant numbers there that can pay a bit more for a vastly improved experience.

Amongst those who use private transportation, I would love for the reluctant driver to give up his car. So far this seems the most difficult segment to convince. I think people don’t believe just how convenient the rBus can be, and there’s always a radio taxi for the exceptional circumstances. In the end, rBus is about 1/4th – 1/10th the cost of driving to work, so again I am hoping that I can attract more than a few car commuters to rBus as they take up a disproportionate amount of space on the roads.

ValueMax: Your toughest challenges right now?  Looking to expand the team?

svs:

  • Marketing
  • Pricing
  • Logistics – negotiating with bus fleet owners, ensuring quality of service, etc will be big challenges for the future.

Yes, Absolutely. I need programmers, marketing people and energetic people to supervise operations. Do get in touch (on Web – www.rbus.in or on Twitter – @_svs_ and @rbus_in). And yeah, some funding would be great too!

ValueMax: What are the learnings from the first 50-75 days of rBus?

svs: Over the last few weeks I have been validating my assumptions by using BEST buses for my own commuting needs. I found out that the bus is not slow at all, once you get on it. It is getting on the bus that really hurts.

One is never really sure about anything – when the bus will come, how full will it be, etc. I also found that the bus is quite comfortable, if you can get a seat. So I think my main offerings of “no waiting and guaranteed seating” are the correct product features to offer. However, rBus not being subsidized  by the government makes it significantly more expensive than the BEST bus and so it’s been a challenge convincing people that these features are worth paying so much for. I hope to convince many more people once they see the first rBus running.