4 Ways to improve customer experience.

The case for a better customer experience.

Happy-Customer

Making a case for better customer experience is like convincing a fish to swim. It is understood and accepted by every business executive that providing exceptional customer experience is the best way to build customer loyalty and deliver superior service. It just makes perfect sense on paper. But how often is it followed through? I am writing this post as I am sitting at a branch of a top national bank waiting to open an account and give them my money. How long have I been sitting here you asked? Fifty minutes. And I haven’t even gotten to talk to the teller yet. And yes, I did ask them about opening the account myself online but they aren’t equipped to do that for this particular kind of account. They are very lucky that they have a product I want that no one else is offering or I would have been out of here 30 minutes ago. Needless to say, unless you are in a similar position and are able to provide a product or service that is so unique and so in-demand that customers will wait in line for hours for (iPhone 7 anyone?), your customers would simply go elsewhere.

For the rest of us who are not blessed with a holy grail and have to win customers the mere mortal way, here are some ways to improve customer experience.

1) Operational transformation. Let’s get the tough one out of the way first. Operational transformation involves changes in the operations which many times has to do with changing the culture of the business and how certain problems have been perceived in an organization for years or generations. This process could take a few years to complete. To begin, go through a customer touch-point assessment. Go over everything that is working well for the customer and identify what isn’t working so well. By doing this you should have a laundry list of things that need fixing. This will help you, as a company, prioritize what needs to be tackled first. Needless to say, you should begin by fixing smaller tasks first. Get the quick wins and build up inspiration and momentum along the way to get more difficult issues ironed out. Persistence and patients are your keys to success.

2) Digital integration. Using digital platform to communicate with customers such as social networks, a revamped website, accepting payments online, invest in creating a portal that enables customization of the customers’ products and services online. Online services are no longer “good-to-haves”. They are essential to doing business in today’s world even if your business doesn’t directly engage in doing any transactions online.

3) Listen. Have a feedback area on your website. Conduct surveys to obtain measurement and reporting of customer satisfaction levels. One of the more popular ways besides a survey is to gauge your company’s Net Promoter Score. With this method, you ask your customer only 1 question: “Would you recommend us?”. The more “Yes” you get out of the population, the better your Net Promoter Score. For anyone who answers no, make sure you ask a follow-up question with regards to their reason behind the answer. It may not be pleasant, but often truth isn’t, and growing pains is a part of business as much as personal life.

4) Cultural competency. Sensitivity training, cultural communication, interpretation and translation skills go a long way if you conduct business in a diverse geographical area or if you conduct your business internationally. Being sensitive to and understanding of your customer’s culture creates a rapport between the customer and the business and instills a sense of camaraderie. Suddenly you are no longer a business, but an adviser, a friend, a trust worthy ally they wouldn’t mind doing business with.

As mentioned earlier, making a case for improving customer experience is like convincing Congress to take a vacation. But for those who needs a gentle nudge, the following are some of the benefits of improving customer experience:
1) Increased brand loyalty.
2) Improved operational effectiveness.
3) Increased revenue and profit as a result of (1) and (2).
4) Improved customer retention.
5) Accelerated time to market for products.
6) Value added innovation for existing products.

Thanks for reading. Questions/comments are always welcomed.

The art of outsourcing. Part 1

What is outsourcing really?

outsourcing

When we hear of the word outsourcing, it often brings to mind the image of Dell’s call centers in Bangalore or news stories of companies like Infosys and Tata Consulting that are embroiled in million-dollar lawsuits because of workers rights violation charges. Big corporations “shipping jobs overseas” often comes up when discussing outsourcing and many people, understandably, get pretty passionate about it.

In truth, outsourcing is much closer than Asia and is very much a part and parcel of our everyday life. Do you have a landscaper? Do you use a drycleaner? Do you eat out regularly? Do you have someone else prepare your tax returns? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you have been outsourcing chores you, your partner, your child, or your pet could have been doing! (Yes, we meant the taxes).

Outsourcing is a part of everyone’s life and for good reason. It frees up valuable time. Time that could then be spent on other more productive things, like reading this blog, for example.

In business, when done correctly, outsourcing frees up valuable resources and allows the company to focus on the more important task of conducting business and letting the “experts” deal with logistics, IT, facilities, and other aspects of the company that are essential but not what the company needs to focus its resources on.

What happens when outsourcing goes wrong?

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The key phrase here is “when done correctly”. Too often we are called to discuss projects that were outsourced to third party vendors that went nothing like planned or ended up creating more problems than fixing them.

Case in point: A wholesale grocer in New York had multiple vendors hired to do work on their logistics system. Each of them naturally worked independently of the other and with minimal supervision added to the recipe of management, one thing led to another and each vendor’s solution blossomed into its own full blown system that had its own independant system for tracking specific kinds of products. Business went on as usual except for the fact that the guys in finance had to pull all nighters to get the financial information from each of the systems before combining them with their own main book keeping software, and then repeat the process every month for eternity!

The solution

happy jumping

To solve this issue we had to create a datawarehouse for the firm, storing all the information in an SQL Server 2008 environment and then build custom reports and an interface to run the reports that got the finance department the revenue and cogs information they needed. It took us close to a year from business requirements gathering, to working with the vendors to get access to their data, to testing and getting the final UAT sign off by the business. But the important thing was that we left the project feeling proud of what we’d accomplished something meaningful. We made a positive impact in the way they ran their business. The company still continues to grow and they continue to outsource the logistics system to the same vendors. The difference, however, is that now management has more of an awareness and understanding as to how new projects need to be handled and what steps must be taken and what questions must be answered by the vendors in order to ensure minimal disruption to the other departments within the organization.

In our next post we will discuss the key take-aways when it comes to proper management of outsourced projects. Questions/Comments are always welcomed.

The best Android smartphone. Part 2

This post is part of a series. Click here to read the previous post.

Let the reviewing begin!

As explained earlier in the previous post, our review is strictly based on the Android platform. The main reason for this is because of the fact that there are far more contenders on this platform than any other. Apple has a monopoly over IOS and Windows phones are – at the moment at least – mostly irrelevant in terms of market share.

In our roundup of Android Smartphones in this review, we will be looking at the following flagship, arguably the most popular, Android phones:

1) Samsung Galaxy S5
2) Samsung Note 4
3) LG G3
4) HTC One M8

Samsung Galaxy S5

s5

Notable Hardware features: Quad Core Processor, 5.1″ screen, 2GB RAM, 16GB ROM (expandable with SD Card), 2800mAh battery.

Power button position: Right, towards the top

Volume rocker position: Left, towards the top

Headphone Jack position: Top, towards the right

Removable Battery: Yes

Power Jack position: Bottom, covered by water proof flap.

This is a feature packed phone that is an upgrade on the older S4. Features like water proof and finger print reader features are certainly nice to haves but also come with caveats and tradeoffs in usability issues.

Pro: Snappy and responsive, the phone is jam packed with features like knock-on (tap the screen twice to turn on the device, tap once to turn it off). The Air gestures and other features that utilize the camera functions such as turning on the device by simply approaching it etc. gives this phone an edge when it comes to showcasing technology. The showcasing of technology goes a bit overboard when it comes to the camera however, and the camera’s responsiveness still leaves much to be desired.

Cons: The power button being on the opposite side of the volume rocker seems to be a function that Samsung is fighting to keep. Users across the board have complained about accidentally turning off the screen when trying to adjust the phone’s volume. This is simply poor design and a lack of proper R&D. The fingerprint function does not work all the time like the one on the Apple iPhone. Few misreads every now and then are enough to cause the user to decide to bypass the feature altogether. The flimsy plastic flap that covers the micro USB port is annoying and the phone constantly gives warning regarding the phone not being water proof if the flap is not properly secured (although this can be disabled). The Air gestures and other features that utilize the camera functions such as turning on the device by simply approaching it are more novelties that drain battery life than real deal breakers or innovations that make a difference in user experience. The headphone jack being at the top of the phone means that the user must place the phone in their pocket with the top of the phone pointing upwards. This is again a poor design in our opinion. The user would have to remove the phone and adjust its orientation before being able to use it.

Our verdict: Not the most user friendly phone. The back button on this phone is on the opposite direction (right hand side) compared to all other Android phones not made by Samsung. Great for creating customer loyalty when the user’s first device is a Samsung, but a poor choice for trying to win over new users. We give this phone an overall score of 3/5.

 

Samsung Galaxy Note4Note4

Notable Hardware features: Quad Core Processor, 5.7″ screen, 3GB RAM, 32GB ROM (expandable with SD Card), 3220mAh battery.

Power button position: Right, towards the top

Volume rocker position: Left, towards the top

Headphone Jack position: Top, towards the right

Removable Battery: Yes

Power Jack position: Bottom

This phone is certainly more than a glorified S series Samsung phone. The stylus on the phone makes it a stand out and on a class of its own. For users who are in the creative/artistic space, the search practically ends right here. There’s not another phone out there that has an integrated stylus, let alone one with so many features. The 3GB of RAM makes the operating system runs extremely smoothly and overall the interface experience is a joy. Almost all users of the Note4 love its large screen and the stylus that comes with it.

Pro: Bigger, Faster, and a better camera than the S5. That seems to be the selling point of the Note4. Oh and let’s not forget the stylus with the impressive air commands!

Cons: This is pretty much a copy paste from the S5, which is a great disappointment for us. The power button being on the opposite side of the volume rocker seems to be a function that Samsung is fighting to keep. Users across the board have complained about accidentally turning off the screen when trying to adjust the phone’s volume. This is simply poor design and a lack of proper R&D. The fingerprint function does not work all the time like the one on the Apple iPhone. Few misreads every now and then are enough to cause the user to want to bypass the feature altogether. The Air gestures and other features that utilize the camera functions such as turning on the device by simply approaching it are more novelties that drain battery life than real deal breakers or innovations that make a difference in user experience. The headphone jack being at the top of the phone means that the user must place the phone in their pocket with the top of the phone pointing upwards. This is again a poor design in our opinion. The user would have to remove the phone and adjust the orientation of the already cumbersome phone before being able to use it.

Our verdict: We want to give this phone a 4/5 but we just can’t. The stylus and more RAM and standard ROM space are certainly an upgrade and the 5.7″ screen is brilliant and a pleasure for viewing documents. Unfortunately the poor layout of the controls and jacks as well as the lack of the knock on that comes standard with other phones means we can only give this phone an overall score of 3.5/5.

 

LG G3

G3

Notable Hardware features: Quad Core Processor, 5.5″ screen, 3GB RAM, 32GB ROM (expandable with SD Card), 3000mAh battery.

Power button position: Back of phone

Volume rocker position: Back of phone above and below the Power button

Headphone Jack position: Bottom, towards the right

Removable Battery: Yes

Power Jack position: Bottom

While the big smartphone news and launch parties have been around Apple and Samsung, LG has clearly made a niche for itself. With the design of the G3, LG has certainly taken Samsung to school when it comes to proper R&D and designing a product with the user in mind, in our opinion.

Pro: This phone has everything you can ever need for the business, except a stylus. Reliable Knock On, placement of power and volume buttons on the back of the phone in a recessed area makes perfect sense it is almost a crime that no one else has thought about it. The phone is extremely configurable, even the soft buttons and their placements are configurable. It also includes a dedicated button that can be added to the soft buttons row to display notifications without the need to swipe down from the top of the screen. The phone even has quick access tool bar in the notification that is a dedicated remote control that you can configure to work with your TV or home theater system. All this right out of the box with no additional upgrades or apps required left us speechless. The 5.5″ screen is a decent size that allows for significantly better viewing of documents than the S5’s 5.1″ screen. Calculator, calendar, email, browser, and a few other apps open as a window, allowing you to quickly multi task. All at the touch of a dedicated button that can be added to the soft buttons row.

Cons: No fingerprint or water proof features. Lack of stylus that the Note4 offers.

Our Verdict: This phone takes the concept of customer-centric to the next level. An absolute pleasure to use with decent camera. We give this phone the overall score of 4/5.

 

HTC One M8

M8

Notable Hardware features: Quad Core Processor, 5.0″ screen, 2GB RAM, 32GB ROM (expandable with SD Card), 2800mAh battery.

Power button position: Top towards the right

Volume rocker position: Right, towards the top

Headphone Jack position: Bottom, towards the right

Removable Battery: No

Power Jack position: Bottom

This is the oldest flagship phone in our review. It is certainly up for a refresh although it still packs a punch and has certain features that would give even the Note4 run for the money.

Pro: Standard knock on feature, uncluttered notification with a separate tab for settings was very innovative and still is very relevant. Speakers facing the front and headphone jack located at the bottom of the phone shows that HTC was certainly thinking about its customers when designing its flagship phone.

Cons: This is the oldest model of all phones reviewed so the screen size and non removable battery specs are unfortunately very 2013. Mediocre camera performance.

Our Verdict: we give this aging phone a 2/5 for its solid specs and usability in a business environment.

So what is a business solution provider doing reviewing phones on its blog you might ask. The answer to this question will be answered in our upcoming blog post. Stay tuned. Questions and comments are always welcomed.

Thoughts on starting a new business. Part 2

This post is part of a series. Click here to read the previous post. Click here to read the next post.

Using the funnel method to find a niche

Ideas_Funnel

Most people’s idea of starting a new business revolves around an invention. A better mouse trap. The elusive canned bread. Something no one else has ever come up with before. An idea so revolutionary, they can’t ever discuss it with anyone and must apply for a patent immediately before the first prototype is ready. That, however, is the old way of launching a business.

We know that it is very likely for new businesses to fail. The statistics are somewhere around 8-9 out of 10 that are slated to fail within their first 10 years. We also know that good ideas don’t come by easily too often and often the seemingly good idea an entrepreneur comes up with is in an industry where he or she has absolutely no experience in. This is very much like putting the cart before the horse. You are focusing on a niche and then considering the market/industry afterwards. A visual representation of this is like that of an upside down funnel.

wrongwayThe downside of coming up with a new business idea this way is that it is counter-intuitive and can easily make the entrepreneur miss an opportunity to evaluate other niches he or she may be more adept in.

Thankfully there is a better way to come up with startup ideas. Just turn the funnel upside down!upsidedownWith this methodology of brainstorming for a startup idea, the entrepreneur begins by choosing the industry he or she already possesses work experience in. After deciding on the industry, the next step is to drill down further into the larger markets and then finally identifying a niche that is under-served and has a potential for growing and sustaining growth.

Here’s a quick example of how it works and how powerful this methodology is. Utilizing information from S&P’s NetAdvantage Industry reports, an entrepreneur can quickly compile data on various industries, their recent performance, factors affecting growth now and in the future, as well as come up with a likely outlook scenario based on historical data.

Industry Recent Performance Factors Affecting Growth Outlook
Banking[1] Trailing four-quarter profits for the US banking industry through the third quarter were $153.1 billion, up a robust 15.9%. Regional banks are performing strongly, as loans grow and interest rates rise. Pockets of strength have emerged, such as auto lending, a highly profitable business for banks. (see Exhibit 1) -US ECONOMY GROWTH RATE -HOUSING MARKET ACTIVITY -NET INTEREST INCOME GROWTH RATE -FINANCIAL REGULATORY REFORMS: THE DODD-FRANK ACT, THE VOCLKER RULE The next 12 months for these banks will likely depend on the growth of the US economy, housing prices, the length of the low interest rate environment, and regulatory costs.
Computers: Software[2] SaaS revenues grew from $29 to $36 million from 2012 to 2013. However many software companies see about one-third of revenues coming from each of the three regions (the US, Europe, and Asia). Accordingly, software companies tend to be exposed to global economic trends and, overall, the US met expectations, Europe was a bit weaker than expected, and Asia was mixed, with results varying by country. (see Exhibit 2) -SaaS BUSINESS MODEL -DEVICE PROLIFIRATION OF SOFTWARES INTO EVERYDAY HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES. -BIG DATA -CYBER SECURITY -MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS OF IT COMPANIES Overall as an industry, S&P believes that the companies are right-sized due to the M&A’s that occurred during the recession and are prepared to make the most of any upturn in end markets.
Healthcare: Facilities[3] In 2011, the S&P Health Care Facilities subindex declined 20.8%, versus a 0.3% drop for the S&P 1500 Super Composite Stock Index. However, in 2012, the subindex advanced 29.1%, versus 13.7% for the S&P 1500. Year to date through December 6, 2013, the subindex was up 46.8%, compared with the 27.1% increase in the S&P 1500. (see Exhibit 3) -RISING HEALTHCARE COSTS -2% MEDICARE RATE CUT DUE TO SEQUESTRATION -OPERATIONAL VOLUMES (SO FAR REMAIN WEAK) -LONG-TERM REIMBURSEMENT OUTLOOK REMAINS TENUOUS -PENALTIES TAKE EFFECT FOR HOSPITALS NOT LOWERING READMISSION RATES -UNCERTAINTIES DRIVING MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS Rates paid by managed care organizations (MCOs) to hospitals will remain steady, rising in the mid-single-digit range for both 2013 and 2014. This would be generally in line with the increases experienced over the past several years.
Retailing: Specialty[4] Those fortunate enough to have jobs continue to spend at a modest pace. To maintain their current standard of living, consumers have also dipped into their savings and increased the borrowing on their credit cards. While we don’t think this behavior is sustainable over the long term, total retail sales (in nominal terms) increased 5.0% in 2012. While this is a solid number, it is also the lowest rate of growth since 2009 (by comparison, retail sales grew 8.0% in 2011). We expect sales to decelerate further in 2013, given the additional pressure placed on consumers with higher taxes and anemic wage growth. (see Exhibit 4) -UNEMPLOYMENT -RECENT PAYROLL TAX LEGISLATIONS -STOCK MARKET GAINS -FALLING U.S. SAVINGS RATE -HOME IMPROVEMENT AND HOME FURNISHING RETAILERS CONTINUE THEIR RECOVERY -CONSUMER ELECTRONICS FIRMS SQUEEZED BY PRICE COMPETITION Home-Improvement and Pet-Supply stores will continue to gain momentum and increse their revenues while office supplies and consumer electronics retailers’ future is predicted to be rather bearish according S&P.

[1] Enk Oja, “S&P Capital IQ Industry Surveys – Banking – January 2014”

[2] Barbara Coffey, “S&P Capital IQ Industry Surveys – Computers: Software – August 2013”

[3] Steven Silver, “S&P Capital IQ Industry Surveys – Healthcare: Facilities – December 2013”

[4] Michael Souers, “S&P Capital IQ Industry Surveys – Retailing: Specialty – September 2013”

Now that you know how to use the funnel method, it is time to start talking about a business plan. Read more about it here.

Questions and comments are welcomed as always.

The best Android Smartphone. Part 1

A very brief synopsis on Smartphones and their history

phones

Smartphones have become an unavoidable part of doing business. Ever since the introduction of the Palm Pilot PDA device, Personal Digital Accessories have made near instant inroads into the lives of business executives.

Palm launched a plethora of personal digital devices in the late 1990’s that sported its Palm OS operating system. The devices were very well recieved in the business world and the company became wildly succesful, at one point breaking into 2 companies, one focusing solely on hardware and the othet on OS development alone. All of Palm’s devices relied on having a stylus for menu selection as well as for taking notes. During the turn of the century, Palm’s new rival, RIM – maker of the BlackBerry – took advantage of the changing technology landscape and mobile data services and launched a device that boasted its instant messaging platform that many still believe is the best to this day. Palm was left bleeding customers and could not muster a counter punch.

Palm’s last savior was the Treo 650, a colored touch screen phone with full qwerty keyboard and a stylus that was launched in 2003. It remained very successful among the Palm die-hards within a rich eco system of applications, written for the Palm OS platform over the years.

Fast forward a few quick years, along came iPhone and the rest was history. Palm quickly lost the last of its supporters and BlackBerry also suffered massive losses in the United States market as customer flocked to a brand synonym with the revolutionary iPod and one that was well known for delivering quality products that stood the test of time better than most of its rivals.

Fast forward a bit more and Google announced that it was throwing its hat into the smartphone ring and the Android was born. All of this happened in a timespan of less than 20 years with companies going from bank to bust left and right in the process.

Smartphone of 2015 vs smartphone of 2000

Needless to say things have changed dramatically in the last 15 years as far as what consumers and business executives are looking for in a mobile device. In circa 2000 smaller was always better when it came to phones and having a company mobile and a personal one had its own charm and novelty value. Today a 2 inch screen phone has virtually no place in the mobile device market. Bigger screen is the way to go. Having a company issued device like the old BlackBerry is also the trend of the past with more and more companies embracing the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) culture of unifying and streamlining communication. Business executives want a single device that can answer all their needs from being an alarm clock to providing turn by turn navigation to meetings with clients.

Business Android Smartphones roundup

In this review, we are focusing specifically on the best Android smartphone hardware. Apple products running IOS and Nokia devices that run Windows are also not included in this review.

Our simple test was to use these devices ourselves and also interview our colleagues and clients and guage their experience with the devices. Unlike what is done on other review sites, we are not so concerned with immaterial details like screen size difference of 0.2 inches or amoled vs super amoled screen resolutions. Our focus is on the overall ease of use, added value of the prepackaged software, and the synergy between the OS and the hardware.

We use 2 very simple criteria to judge our smartphones:
1) Hardware layout and positioning of buttons, jacks, ports, hardware communication features like NFC, and removability of battery.
2) Ease of use of the ROMs that the phones come with and the level of integration of various software functions within the ROM.

You can read the full review of each device in our upcoming post here.

Thoughts on starting a new business. Part 1

Seize the Opportunity 

Starting-a-Successful-New-Business-in-2013

Everyone dreams of starting his or her own business some day. To be the boss and have more or complete control over our own financial future certainly appeals to many of us.

But like everything else, starting up your own business can very daunting by its very nature. Add to that the prospect of entering a market which already has well established competiton in it and the initial level of hope is cut down by half. Being that this is the year 2014, you can also pretty much rest assured that there isn’t any market left that hasn’t already been explored, expanded into, or exploited by someone else.

The key is, however, to come to the realization that there is always room for improvement. Regardless of whether your competition is Apple, Microsoft, BP, Tata or Tom’s hardware down the block. There is always a seat at the table when the general public is invovled.

Customers want variety and brand loyalty is never permanent. To drive this point home let’s look at an example that many of us can relate to. We either know someone who fits this category or are ourselves in it. A few years ago there was nothing better than a Sony electronic appliance on the surface of this earth it seemed. Sony’s Walkman and CDMan (If that’s indeed what it was called!?) were the stuff of legend. But look what is happening today. Customers who were once loyal to the Japanese brand of Sony televisions for decades – like Samurais were to the Shogun – are now switching over to Korean brands like Samsung and LG in droves. The reason? They do not want to be tied-down by a single ecosystem of just one brand.

Likewise, more and more companies are outsourcing and utilizing third-party vendors for many aspects of their businesses to reduce cost and also for diversification purposes. Most large companies in the U.S. today have close to or well over a dozen software packages that are in use daily ranging from ERP, CRM, reporting modules, financial modules, payroll modules, commission modules, sales modules. Name a business function and there is an off-the-shelf module for it available!

It is the very basic nature of people, especially those in the management realm, to diversify and follow the mantra of never putting all their eggs in a single basket. It sounds great on paper but in reality diversification also often-times leads to problems stemming from mismanagement.

As frequently as new business are formed, they close down. The generally accepted statistic that only 1 in 10 businesses makes it past 10 years is very real and its effects can cause major issues to companies who rely on a business model that doesn’t adapt well to change.

Being in the unified business solutions business, this is essentially what keeps our company in business. Often times we get calls from customers who are working on systems designed by companies that are no longer in the business or from customers who need to migrate data over to a new platform because the vendor will no longer support their outdated piece of software.

Business landscapes change all the time with new emerging technologies. The internet revolutionized practically every business. If not in the operations realm then at least in the marketing one. Tablets have replaced PCs and smartphones are slowly but surely replacing landlines and even computers in many instances. This entire post was composed on an LG G3 via the WordPress app (more on that later) for instance.

So the first thought about starting up your own business is to always remember that there always have been and always will be opportunities out there for your business. The key is to be at the right place at the right time, be able to adapt with the changing times, or in some instances be able to hold on long enough for the right time to present itself. More on that in our next blog post here.

Comments and questions are always welcomed.