Company Positioning Life-cycle (Past, Present, Future) to Retain Buyer Mindshare

Marketing strategy is built on – Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning. Additionally, Product Life-cycle (PLC) and Market life-cycle (MLC) concepts are key to the marketing strategy. These concepts are covered by many texts including my favorite, Marketing Management by Kotler.

As the enterprise goes through different products and sometimes different markets, the company positioning itself also reflects these cycles. It is as if there is a “Positioning Life-Cycle” in addition to the PLC and MLC. Positioning, as defined by Al Ries and Jack Trout (Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind) is the creative exercise done with an existing product to position the product in the mind of the prospect.

The most glaring recent example of a company positioning change is when Apple Computers dropped “Computers” from its name to become just Apple, Inc.  Interestingly, this name change came more than 6 years after Apple entered the music market with its iPod digital audio player (October 23, 2001).

Many companies small and big are constantly undergoing positioning changes and occasionally one can see multiple, but not incoherent positioning statements at the same time – reflecting the company’s past, present and the future. Visionary, innovative, leading companies are likely to share their vision through the “intended” positioning with the view that if you buy our solutions, we will be there with you for the long-haul. Obviously, prospects and buyers can make some educated guesses about such company’s product roadmaps and in that sense, the company’s product life-cycles will be driven by the company positioning life-cycle.

Here’s an example of a company positioning life-cycle for Genesys Telecommunications Labs and Apple as they progress from the past into the future. The goal of the positioning is to capitalize on buyer mindshare already won and to consistently retain the mindshare.

Company Positoning Life-cycle - Past, Present, Future - see references below

Company Positoning Life-cycle - Past, Present, Future - see references below

References:

  1. Genesyslab.com – home page
  2. Genesys Telecommunications Labs – press release
  3. Genesys Telecommunications Labs – About Us
  4. Apple – iPad press release

Additional References:

Creating the Perception of a Product – Positioning, Trout & Ries on ValueBasedManagement.net

Speech-enabled Automation for Better Customer Service at Lower Costs

Speech automation in the contact center not only helps by cutting costs by managing all interactions most efficiently; it also helps by providing 24×7 access to fast and efficient customer service. Speech can further reduce the need for inbound customer interaction by proactively contacting the customer with very relevant information in a timely manner – such as the notification of the customer’s prescription to be refilled or a notification of the customer’s credit card payment that is due today.

Speech automation also offers tremendous savings and Return on Investment (ROI) when compared to outsourced offshore agents. According to Datamonitor (as quoted in bizcommunity.com), a contact center in an offshore location, like India, saves Western businesses approximately 25% to 35% per transaction. However, a call serviced through speech automation costs approximately 15% to 25% of the cost of a call handled by an agent in India. Some companies like Lloyd TSB, the UK’s fifth largest bank have discovered that the widespread use and success of its automated speech-enabled phone self-service system has eliminated the need for additional offshore agent capacity.

Speech automation opportunities exist at every stage of the call flow. Automation can be applied with self-service modules after initial recognition of the caller, greeting, intent capture, Identification (ID) & Verification or could be limited to just front-end the calls, recognize the caller, capture intent and route the call to the best available agent. In a highly automated yet personalized scenario, the consumer interactions are completely automated – including inbound and outbound interactions.

Speech-enabled automated customer service and its benefits

Speech-enabled automated customer service and its benefits

Broadly speaking, speech automation impacts operations by reducing agent talk time, by increasing speed of issue resolution and by increasing availability of customer service to 24×7. Additionally, speech automation can also be used to reduce the number of incoming calls with highly relevant and timely, proactively delivered notifications. Up-selling and cross-selling with speech automation has also proven to be extremely effective – but only when it is applied judicially and non-repetitively. Using customer surveys for agents as well as the speech automation application itself can help measure customer satisfaction more frequently and systematically and this survey data can be utilized to further increase customer satisfaction.

In addition to the high incremental impact opportunity with speech automation, several factors such as the wide acceptance of open standards like Voice-XML, the increased number of pre-packaged solution choices and the availability of new deployment options like hosted and managed solutions reduce the time-to-value and make speech automation significantly more attractive compared to the other initiatives.

Customer service managers have many initiatives to choose from to deliver the best customer service at the least possible costs.  Among all these initiatives, speech automation stands out for its high incremental impact and its proven results. A study of speech implementations by Dan Miller of Speech Technology magazine shows that over 80% of speech implementations met or exceeded projections of ROI with an average payback period of about 11 months.

Phone, Cable, Computer – Major Change Drivers, but Who is Winning?

Used to be that we had just one telephone company, AT&T – it was the time when the phone was an appliance and the personal computer was just emerging. Effective January 1, 1984, the old AT&T was broken up by the U.S. Department of Justice, creating seven Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) and simultaneously permitted AT&T to enter into the computer systems business. Birinyi Associates, Inc. present a clear diagram of the AT&T breakup and the number of companies that were spawned by AT&T.

Roughly during the same time of the breakup of AT&T, three computer companies – IBM, Microsoft & Apple were making significant advances in personal computing. On August 12, 1981 the IBM PC was unveiled. Microsoft built the operating system for the PC. Apple started the personal computing category in year 1976, selling Apple I as a computer kit and advanced the computer to Apple II in 1977. The killer application, “Visicalc” ran on Apple II and provided significant impetus to this market. By 1980, Apple rolled out the Apple III model to the market.

It is indeed fascinating that AT&T was broken up and allowed to enter into the computer systems business and yet couldn’t quite make it into the computer business. AT&T’s main foray into this area came at the time of the emergence of the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) market in the early 1990’s when AT&T introduced the “EO Personal Communicator” and competed with Apple’s Newton. Both Apple and AT&T lost in the PDA market as these devices were plagued by poor handwriting recognition, large size (therefore less mobility) and the lack of availability of an alternative (such as a keyboard) for data entry.

In the meantime, cable companies thrived as more and more content became available and further got an impetus as broadcast moved into digital and then HD.

So, while the charter for the new AT&T after breakup was to enter into the computing business, in reality it has stuck to its core business of communications services. Of course, AT&T has changed – it is more of a wireless service provider now than a landline service provider and it has grown its customer base significantly to each member of a household from being limited to one or two lines per household. With such changes and such market expansion, how has its stock performed compared to its computer company peers?

The following table shows stock performance for AT&T, Comcast, Apple, IBM and Microsoft over the last 26 years:

Stock return comparison of phone - cable - computer companies, excluding annual dividends which could be substantial in some cases. For example, AT&T currently has an annual dividend yield of approx. 6%

Stock return comparison of phone - cable - computer companies, excluding annual dividends which could be substantial in some cases. For example, AT&T currently has an annual dividend yield of approx. 6%

The clear historical winner is neither the phone company nor the computer company – it is the software maker, Microsoft. No one can predict the winners of the future, but one thing is for sure – the phone company does have tremendous staying power and is perfectly in the midst of major changes such as the commoditization of the long-distance communication services, the rise of the Internet and the most recent Mobile revolution and the convergence of TV and computing. Through all these revolutions, is it possible that the only winners in this change are the management executives at the phone companies and not its stockholders?

References:

AT&T: Historical stock splits – http://www.att.com/gen/investor-relations?pid=5673

APPLE: Investor relations information (IPO date, price, etc.) –  http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=107357&p=irol-faq#stock6

IBM: History highlights – http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/documents/pdf/1885-1969.pdf

All financial data from http://www.finance.google.com

Smart(er) Customer Service for Smartphones

As Smartphones increase their market presence and more and more newer devices appear in the market, the complexity of the Smartphones has the potential to cause significant problems for the subscribers and carriers. A typical life-cycle of the Smartphone includes – Purchase, Activation, Network on-boarding, Configuration, Control, Check/correct(Diagnostics), Update, Lock/wipe (Security), Backups, New application downloads and more.  Users obviously are accustomed to the reliability and ease of making phone calls and expect the same ease in operating their emails, their phone books, their Internet access, facebook, twitter and other applications.  When there is any trouble with any of these services, the first line of help is the carrier.  And, the help request is always urgent and immediate – therefore starts with a phone call to the carrier.

Yet, as the carrier receives the phone call to solve the subscriber’s problem, there could be potentially many “cockpit” problems with the handheld device that have nothing to do with the network.  Such “cockpit” problems are typically setup, configuration issues where the user may have inadvertently set something incorrectly – as a result of which the device may not function appropriately.
The list of such issues may include:

  • E-mail configuration and setup
  • Link with PC/Mac
  • Network setup for Internet access
  • Wi-fi setup
  • Firmware upgrade
  • Device failures
  • GPS functionality
  • Other

In order to address the “cockpit” issues, a Customer Service Representative (CSR) may have to spend over 30 minutes during just one conversation to help the subscriber configure her email on the new device or set up the link with PC/Mac. Multiply the 30 minute phone conversations by over 40 million Smartphones shipped each quarter and that amounts to a 1.2 billion-minute problem for the carriers for just one quarter!

Mobile Device Management (MDM) for fast problem resolution

Jim Barthold, of Billingworld.com points to a couple of vendors, Innopath and Mformation who have created solutions to this massive customer service problem.  Providing the CSR with limited access to the subscriber’s device using Mobile Device Management, this 30-minute plus conversation can be easily reduced to 5 minutes or less.  Which means – Happy, loyal subscribers who can go back to using and consuming more voice and data services;  Happy, loyal subscribers who recommend the service to their friends and family; Lower costs of service to the carrier; and Happy, loyal Customer Service Representatives who have more time to up-sell and cross-sell.
In addition to helping serve the subscribers quickly, MDM can also help in passively monitoring and benchmarking the customer’s experience by monitoring call quality, bandwidth consistency and other measures of quality of service.

Future –Cloud-based Services for your Mobile Device?

The incorporation of MDM into providing faster customer service points to a future where many of the services required by subscribers will be cloud-based and served effectively through the cloud.  As one can see from the “Everdream” offering by Dell – the services may include: Software/firmware distribution; Security software (anti-virus/anti-malware); backups; data encryption; remote access to the device and many more.

Future – More Personalization?

MDM also opens up tremendous opportunities for personalizing subscriber services provided by the carrier. For example, a carrier may use MDM capabilities provide a premium subscriber with a higher quality of service, time-limited access to various paid applications to entice the subscriber to add them to their services, time-limited access to content such as music, streaming video,  games etc. as an up-sell offer, upsell offers for value-added services such as Person-to-Application (P2A) SMS and more. Additionally, the carrier could continuously update the subscriber’s firmware using Firmware Over the Air (FOTA) updates.

Global Mobile Market Share – by Region and Operator/Carrier

As of August 2009, Wikipedia shows global mobile subscribers exceeded 2.8 Billion. The market share by regions shows Europe (including Eastern Europe and Australia/NZ leading with over 42% market share) and China with 22% market share:

Global Mobile Market Share by Region

Global Mobile Market Share by Region

And, based on the carriers/operators, the distribution shows the world’s largest carrier, China Mobile at 17% market share, followed by Vodafone at over 10% market share:

Global Mobile Market Share by Carrier

Global Mobile Market Share by Carrier

iPhone 3GS – 1 Million & Counting – Where’s the Bandwidth (Beef)?

In the 1980’s, the Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the beef?” became extremely popular. This commercial helped Wendy’s catapult its position in the market as a fast food restaurant delivering the “beef.” Fast forward to Father’s day (June 21, 2009) when more than a million iPhone 3G S were sold on the 1st weekend of its debut. Adding to more than 139 Million Smartphones sold worldwide in year 2008 (Gartner), Smartphones have now attained a stable 12% proportion of all mobile device sales worldwide. Not to be left behind, cloud computing is also quickly gaining momentum with worldwide sales of “Netbooks” – devices that are expected to be “always-connected” and rely on the “cloud” for business applications and storage approximating 15 million units in year 2008, expected to reach about 27 million units in year 2009 (Displaybank).

While the Smartphone and Netbook sales are great news for the device manufacturers, one has to question how are all these devices going to be supported on the 3G networks? In other words, “Where’s the bandwidth?” Wired.com published a study on worldwide user experience on 3G networks and found that in metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, 10 out of 30 respondents reported very slow speeds, barely surpassing the speed of the EDGE networks. (Wired.com).

Somewhat in anticipation of increased demand, AT&T is rolling out HSDPA 7.2 to support the newer, higher speed devices; however, that rollout is expected to continue through year 2011 (Gearlog.com). But, it is a classic case of demand far outpacing the supply.  Operators such as AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint clearly have a challenging situation on-hand. The increasing broadband data bandwidth opportunity for maximizing ARPU needs to be balanced with pricing/delivery models that provide the best consumer experience.

So, what are the possible options for the operators?

  1. Network Optimization – Vendors such as Openwave and Bytemobile provide solutions for data compression for efficient Bandwidth Management for the Wireless Networks.
  2. Policing the “Power Users” or “Abusers” – To maximize customer adoption of the wireless broadband services, operators provide unlimited usage for Smartphones. However, such “unlimited” packages can become resource sinks for the operators. Initiating policy that reduces the speed down to 2G speeds for abusers may be helpful in permitting the profitable users to continue to receive a great user experience. TelephonyOnline.com reports that Vodafone, Hungary is trying this approach.
  3. “Quotas” for data – AT&T already has quotas for its DataConnect plans for connecting PCs to the Wireless Internet – limiting total bandwidth usage to 5GB per month. Such “quotas” can also be extended to the Smartphone data plans
  4. Use creative limits or tiered pricing based on (Kevin Fitchard, TelephonyOnline.com has mentioned this approach)
    • Speed – For example, several tiers of services can be offered based on maximum data speed, while still providing an all-you-can-eat pricing for overall bandwidth per month
    • Quality of service – For example, guaranteed VoIP service for an extra price
    • Application – For example, video streaming or online games can be offered separate pricing
    • Subscriber profile –  For example, triple play subscriber may be eligible for different pricing
    • Subscriber usage history – For example, occasional heavy user may be eligible for different pricing
    • Device being used – For example, High-speed 3G (HSDPA 7.2) devices may be priced higher
    • Time-of-day – Off-peak users may be offered lower pricing
    • Other attributes

Clearly, the increase in Smartphone sales even during such recessionary times indicates the consumers’ insatiable desire for rich information on-the-go. The easier it gets to browse the Web, create and consume social media (Web 2.0) from sources such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., create and consume news, entertainment from a mobile device, the more the consumer is hooked on to become an “always-connected” person. However, it is very clear from the demand and supply curves for bandwidth that the demand is expected to continue to outstrip supply for the next 2-5 years.

One can easily draw comparisons to several other mature markets for services where a tiered/restricted pricing and delivery model has been well-accepted by consumers:

  • Wireline DSL – Pay more for higher speeds
  • Automated Teller Machines – Consumer pays when using an “out-of-network” machine
  • Electric utilities – Opt-in for lower off-peak rates if you agree to use major appliances during off-peak usage times

In conclusion, as many more Smartphones come online, the consumers will be asking the question, “Where’s the Bandwidth?” Operators can more than prepare themselves for this eventuality by adopting Network Optimization, Bandwidth Policies, Quotas or Tiered Pricing or a combination of these solutions for pricing and delivery of services to help consumers get the best user experience for their buck.  These solutions provide faster time-to-market, a value-driven user experience and significantly better ROI as the build-out of long-term, capital intensive infrastructure for 4G starts taking place.

Update:  Sept 30, 2009 – The lack of consistent bandwidth on the network brings down AT&T’s customer satisfaction ratings. (iPhone Actually Hurting AT&T Customer Satisfaction). See also (AT&T Is A Big, Steaming Heap Of Failure).

Update: June 2, 2010 – Finally, one year later, at&t cancels the “all you can eat” plan in favor of plans with bandwidth limits. $25 plan for 2gb and $15 plan for 200mb. at&t claims that the $15 plan is suitable for 65% of current users and the $25 plan is suitable for 98% of its users (2 sigma and 3 sigma on a bell curve). At least the announcement timing is right – just before the new iphone comes out. (AT&T caps phone data usage with new plans)

SaaS to merge Five Customer Service Contact Center layers into One?

Gartner defines five layers of Customer Service Contact Center:

  1. CRM business applications for customer interaction
  2. Infrastructure – CTI, IVR, ACD, Chat, Instant Messaging, Alerts
  3. Workforce Optimization (Workforce Management, Call Recording, Quality Monitoring, etc.)
  4. Enterprise Feedback Management
  5. Offline and Real-time Analytical Tools

According to Gartner, Siebel, Microsoft and Salesforce.com are leaders in CRM business applications layer whereas Genesys, Cisco and Avaya are leaders in the Contact Center Infrastructure layer.

As one can only imagine, the leaders in each of these space are constantly addressing needs in adjacent markets and as a result, these layers aren’t quite as black and white as they are made out to be. For instance, Genesys offers significant offerings in all but the CRM business applications layer.

The combination of all such required capabilities required is also quite a burden on contact center operations and it was therefore but natural that there could be market potential for a service provider that can combine all these capabilities and offer them without the painful undertaking of a multi-million dollar, multi-year rollout.

New entrants such as LiveOps hope to ease this pain and enable medium-sized businesses to quickly acquire all these capabilities. Additionally, with quick and easy deployment, these service providers also can provide quick access to such capabilities to meet “peaking” demands. The LiveOps claim is “Contact Center in the Cloud.”

Michael Maoz, Vice President and Distinguished Analyst at Gartner, says in the CRM Customer Service Contact Centers Magic Quadrant report that as more applications are built in a cloud-based model, “by 2011, SaaS will evolve from an interesting alternative delivery model into a critical selection factor at all levels of the customer service contact center.” (Also mentioned in: Salesforcemarketing.net)

Only time will tell how successful such SaaS providers will be in merging all these complex capabilities into one, easily deployed solution. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if any of the existing leaders in the current market segments joins the new, emerging market for a complete SaaS solution. Such a move will only accelerate the market even more.

What a good Proactive Contact (alert/notification) solution needs to have?

The critical success factors for a successful Proactive Contact (alerts and notifications) system are:

  1. a flexible rules engine that can determine programmatically when to notify AND the capability to do ad-hoc notifications
  2. multimedia (based on opt-in preferences indicated by user)
  3. Acknowledgement provisions (system acknowledgement or user acknowledgement)
  4. Escalation capabilities – if text message not acknowledged within 2 hours, deliver a voice notification
  5. Flexible treatments – if delivering a voice call and you get a busy signal, try again in 30 minutes for 3 times
  6. Very comprehensive reporting showing end-to-end call/email/SMS flow as well as summary information (3,749 text messages sent; 3,740 delivered; 9 undelivered; 3,232 users acknowledged; and so on…)
  7. Ability to handle inbound calls/emails/SMS in case users respond and want to talk back for clarification
  8. Interactive notifications – not just one way, but providing ability to interact via DTMF or Speech
  9. Easy integration with CRM/ERP/Active Directory systems so that master contact data can be managed centrally and used by the Proactive Contact system when needed