Change and how we react to it

Its an oft repeated statement that an optimist see opportunities where others see challenges. It can not be truer in a business scenario esp when something changes drastically in the overall environment.

Change - reactions

One such change has been the TRAI’s gag over SMS- the true bane of India’s mobile growth. We used to get 20 SMS daily about new housing projects and a similar number of messages for increasing height or losing weight. So apart from the customers who are genuinely happy, its very interesting to see how businesses are reacting to this change. Do remember that mobile (& SMS specifically) has been a very strong and efficient channel for many businesses because

  • It ensured delivery + view (unlike emails which might not be opened or hit SPAM)
  • It was real time, so alerts could be sent and verifications could be done while the customer was online
  • Cost effective, the cost per SMS from many a providers was as low as 3-4 paise

So once the SMS were put on hold, earlier this week interesting responses have been witnessed from players.  Here’s some of the interesting ones:

  1. Talk it out with the regulator – The JustDials of the world seem to have done this, coz by the evening there was an announcement with a new clause that allowed JustDial/Zatse and few others to send SMS to customers who call in for local search. Similar benefit has been extended to Google/Facebook etc kind of brands. This is interesting because all along, the draft that was circulated contained only a few pre-decided categories where transactional SMS  would be allowed.
  2. Read the fine print and find a way out – Apparently all this applies only as long as you use the pipes of Indian telecom operators to push text SMS to customsers. There are players now offering SMS’s delivered through international gateways (although at a much higher cost).
  3. What? When did this happen – Its very funny to talk to some call centers and hear their agents give the standard response that you will get a SMS from our side. Here it seems, no one within the company bothered to check/find how it affected their processes. I am sure their Ops guy in on an extended vacation.
  4. No Problem, we will innovate – well this is the segment that does proud to the word – “Jugaad”. There are players out there selling a “missed-call” solution in lieu of SMS verification. A very smart alternative indeed and the robustness of the current system is the only constraint.

While the change is very recent and many more innovative solutions would come up, one thing is certain- it has casted a death spell on very many business models (read that as VAS services, players selling mobile numbers, mobile marketing services).

The real eCommerce revolution

Indian ecommerce

Had an interesting conversation with an investor friend yesterday, who is really active in the start-up/seed stage. We were talking about the many niche plays that are coming up with the well funded steep growth we are witnessing in the ecommerce industry.

While there is no doubt, that Indians have started buying/shopping/ordering online and in a big way, what can also not be debated is the uniqueness of the Indian model, which throws up its own set of challenges. Lets look at a few of them:

  • Almost 70% of our ecommerce transactions areCash-on-Delivery (COD)
  • Many big portals have seen return-rates upwards of 30%
  • Current ecommerce growth is happening predominantly from tier 2 and tier 3 towns

What all of this translates into, is some serious logistics issues namely, collecting payments from COD customers, inbound logistics for returned goods and finally having an efficient distribution network, which is spread out really far and wide.

A few interesting plays are being introduced in the Indian economy

  • Players like who are focusing only on ecommerce logistics including cash collection. This company has a simple pitch that it will help reduce the return rates and also ensure higher efficiency on the COD segment.
  • Niche players who are focusing only on the cash management for COD piece. One such player is riding on the positioning that it will enable ecommerce players to get sales proceeds into their accounts within x days. A payment guarantee that allows the ecommerce player to do what it does best- focus on demand generation and driving transactions.

If these challenges are very unique to our economy, it could mean the difference between the success of a local experienced player vs the success of a global ecommerce giant like


India’s Most Trusted Brands 2011

The today’s list of Most Trusted Brands presents an interesting change.

  • Nokia is the only hardware/electronic brand in the top 10. Surprising because it has been steadily losing market share to Samsung/MicroMax/Android phones and all the chinese brands.
  • 7 out of 10 are CPG brands – Colgate, Luz, Lifebuoy, Dettol, Brittania, Maggi, CloseUp
  • No financial services brand in this list of top 10. LIC used to be a regular if i remember correctly
  • Airtel 5 spots ahead of Vodafone. Looks like “Har ek friend” positioning left the pug far far behind.


Enterprise solutions – designing around the customer

A recent experience with a telecom co. brought back memories from my Credit Card days.

A customer issue is raised and gets escalated to the corporate team. The corporate team looks at the data (across systems) and decides to waive certain charges or settle the “issue”. Customer gets a promise from the manager at the corporate team and believes that all is well. But rarely so – the outsourced collections team calls up the customer – as they are NOT on a real time connected status. Customer records are sent to these teams on a batch basis, without a clearly defined process for update/recall.So what really happens is that this collections team will follow up again and repeat the same story to the customer that they have been doing in the past. The customer in turn would believe that the company has lost it and would raise hell, along with shifting his relationship to another brand.

What is usually the problem is not the intention or the motivations of the service providers, but the technology/process which is implemented. It is rarely done with the customer at the centre- such instances are considered one-off and not coded for. A big mistake for the current Telecom biggies, with lakhs of customers, thousands would fall in these “one-off” processes every month. wake up and ensure the customer commitment is delivered across all teams (inhouse or outsourced) and for all scenarios.

Exciting future for payments

Had an interesting conversation over the weekend with the office caretaker- a young late 20’s chap who has his wife and kids back home in Nepal. He told me very excitedly how he managed to send across money to them in Nepal through a new option wherein the credit was showing in his Nepalese account the very next day.

Mobile wallet
Mobile Wallets are here

The few interesting things that really stood out were

  • He transferred all of Rs7000/- in one go. He didnt feel like testing the process as he was told about this option by a close friend. Referrals generate high sense of security and comfort
  • He was given a secure PIN and this gave him immense confidence about the process being secure. Though he had to ask his friend to SMS the same to his better half back in Nepal.
  • He was happy to pay a transaction fee of Rs100/- for an almost immediate confirmation of credit in the recipient account. Customers will pay decent amount as fees for specific features/benefits
  • He hasn’t heard about Western Union etc and went straight to this PNB branch in Connaught Place for his remittance.
  • He also talked about an option where money can be credited almost immediately (mobile based process) and was sure that this would be a great option to use during times of emergency. This gave him a lot of comfort knowing that his family would have access to immediate funds even when he is miles apart.

The above in my opinion is a clear indication of the kind of adoption payment instruments would see in the huge currently untapped market. While brand building will be a tough one, the player who invests early in training/educating users how to use this securely would see a huge advantage. I hope my friends in the Mobile Payments industry are listening and are as excited as I am.

Government housing Vs Low Cost Housing

The recent budget announcements to provide rebate for low-cost or nano housing started an interesting debate . Some of the people were skeptical of the way such policy measures would be abused. Their key submissions were

  • In most metros one cannot get a “decent” house for under Rs 10L. This itself was very debatable as the idea of decent size is at best a very vague one. In my defense I showed them that the Tata Nano housing project was between Rs 4.5L to Rs 7L for Shubh Griha (in a Mumbai suburb) and if I remember correctly, it was sold out.
  • Historically the subsidized housing that government has provided to the poor, have been misused. They claimed that in most cases these houses were either sold or leased out by the original allotees who returned back to the jhuggis where they originally were- the sore sight that government probably wanted to clean in the first place. While I dont know how much of this is true, but I think direct subsidy to the beneficiary would lead to such instances. Its best to cater to those who want to pay for a better housing infrastructure and make it easier for them to get credit.
  • The target segment for these low cost housing project is typically one which is self-employed and do not have most of the identification/residential proofs, except maybe the ration card. Most of them are also unbanked currently. I might be wrong here, but I feel my friends at Shubam are not really targeting the self-employed unbanked segment, but rather the employed clerks, junior managers who want to own a house. They surely must have access to some reports indicating how this huge segment has aspirations to own a piece of roof in metros and sub-metros and are willing to shell Rs 10-15L for a 400-700sqft house.
  • The builders do undertake such projects as it would allow them to look good – socially responsible housing but they typically divert the subsidy into completing more commercially viable projects. No data so let it be.

While we couldnt reach a common ground, one thing was very clear, the government policies would define the fate of low-cost housing as an industry – whether it goes the way traditional government housing projects have gone or not.

Bing Cheating from Google

Bing GoogleThe latest in the Search Engine wars has got every one interested – Google has claimed that it has conclusive proof post a sting operation that Bing has been sniffing out Google results and showing them as top-searches, for keywords that have very few possible matches.

While the engineers at Google cry foul at this, many are debating whether this is just a smart move on Bing’s behalf or outright unethical. What do you think?

Is someone at TRAI listening?

TRAIWe might be the world’s most watched and talked about telecom market but come Feb2011, there would be a lot more noise that this industry would make. and all of this because of TRAI’s latest guidelines on NDNC (National Do Not Call) list. While the motivation cannot be questioned (hell, most of us get more than 5-6 irritating SMS/calls everyday), but the solution surely is far from good.

In one single swipe, TRAI would hurt a big chunk of online/ecommerce players – lead generation portals typically need further qualification or undergo tele-sales , and that cannot happen now- atleast for the customers on the NDNC list. Never mind that the customer himself applied for the product/service you are selling – if you are not a bank, insurance co. education institute, airlines, Indian Railways or a government agency you cannot talk to a NDNC customer. Even these privileged few can talk to customers only about their account status and such alerts.

The way I read the notification, even banks would not be able to call customers who applied on their own for a personal loan/credit card if the applicant is on NDNC.TRAI guidelines just give two sets – Transactional communication and everything else. With the first being defined so narrowly that most businesses would fall under the latter category.

This could mean

  • That I will not get a SMS with contact details next time I call Just Dial.
  • If i buy a ticket from BookMyShow – i would not get the booking id on SMS. Will need to note it from email or something or do some other process.
  • If I apply online at ICICI for a credit card, they cannot call me to tell me what docs and what limit apply etc.
  • Most free SMS sites can only send SMS to non-NDNC customers.
  • All operator subscribed Astrology/Joke/Cricket alerts are a big NO. Go get that android today for cricket updates.
  • Applications which sent emails as SMS would be rendered useless unless the subscriber got himself out of NDNC.
  • Google reminders would not work on SMS, even those helpful services for medicine/health checkup reminders.

And to top it all, you would still get those irritating SMS, coz  those guys dont use the enterprise services. They would just shift from one pre-paid number to another . I just wish someone at TRAI was listening and understanding the impact this will have on the SME sector – many business models would lose their viability even when the customer need exists .

Update: This finally went live on 27th Sep 2011 and its very interesting how people/businesses are reacting to this change.

Facebook advertising will not grow too fast too long

facebookI have been looking at the countless ads & “LikeUs” banners that keep popping up on my Facebook account and I am tempted to feel that all this jubilant rejoice about the advertising/branding power of social networks might just be a temporary phenomenon. I feel that there would be a fatigue soon & think there are multiple sources for that to creep in.

  1. Almost every big brand & local business seems to have its own page on Facebook. This means that the number of brands competing for your attention online, in all probability include all the brands you live with. This would make the CPC/CPM rates go high. Bidding and ad placement is not contextual- its only demographic targeted. Local and small businesses will not be able to participate for long, they can just hope to do a small time campaign to get few “fans” on their pages.
  2. Little or No Context. The fact that Google ads grew so fast was that they could figure out what you were searching/reading/browsing & hence target brands/products/services relevant to that. I think Facebook has a serious limitation here. Most users, I suspect use it to track what friends are thinking/doing and in a smaller # of cases they would be looking at pages relevant to hobbies or for information about places/brands etc. Facebook would have to change this behaviour the other way round to build sustainable advertising revenues.
  3. Advertising OverLoad. I think with most brands embracing Facebook, an average user might now be following five times as many businesses & brands as she did last year. But I can safely assume that her time on Facebook & specifically on brand pages has not increased proportionately. Are you really spending so much time tracking all the brands you follow on Facebook? Not just the time & attention, there is a genuine problem of discovery also- the same issue that most mobile app stores face once they grow too big. How do you keep track of  all the updates from all the brands.
  4. No proxies for customer profile. When we advertise on the net, chances are we can do some sane assumptions about who would see the ad. E.g. if I look at MoneyControl, I can be confident that many of these customers would be active investors in the Equity market & hence probably a good target for a broking firm. There is no such proxy on the social network giant. How do I get similar info on Facebook – Say income bracket etc. I have seen college kids subscribe to luxury brands and it must be a big worry for the marketing manager there to understand how the clicks he pays for are done by relevant people only.
  5. Decreasing value of ThumbsUp. There was a time when I would have noticed/opened/read most of the likes done my some of my friends on Facebook. With the new flood of likes, I have my own sense of distrust and feel that any of us like too many things/updates. If this is Facebook’s entrypass for brands into each user’s network, the value is fast decreasing. Most users would not honor the “Likes” of their friends as they used to before.

Well I have nothing against Mark or the biggest virtual country that has been created, but I sincerely hope some of these issues are being addressed by those smart boys back in the Valley. I would really want to see FaceBook become and stay a stable advertising medium.

The new lows of Indian Journalism

We have all been torchered by the Breaking News and their younger cousins of the dancing/singing & reality-show fames. For some like me, it meant an almost complete break from the idiot box and I guess thats how I missed this new milestone that our news channels have crossed.

Indian JournalismYesterday while flicking the channels I saw a familiar face – a masked one- on one of the Hindi Breaking News channels. I recalled seeing this guy in a show which helped decode magic tricks (think it was on AXN) and I liked the overall concept and the over-dramatization of the whole act to fit 2-3 tricks into the 20 minute slot. But what I saw yesterday was just outright crazy.

They were showing this masked guy (from the same show) about to do a knife throwing trick and our hindi script went on talking about how this guy was out to “kill the pretty woman” with some really sharp knives. They showed that shot almost 8 times over, saying please keep watching to find out what happens next.

It reminded me of another time long back, when I had seen a show on Animal Planet about the deadliest snakes (top picks being rated on some 5-6 parameters) and then watching some crazy twisted version of the same on Breaking News.

I really want to know from those in the media industry, how this works

  1. Does the Channel which aired it originally make money from these “Breaking News” channels by sharing this ?
  2. Is there no law against misleading public with content thats deliberately re-arranged ?
  3. If AXN was not paid for the magic trick content, why are they not suing these other channels?
  4. Why dont the Breaking News guys learn to use Google & YouTube. They will get realistic, crazy stories with some amazing videos.