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Insights and musings about customer service and managing a SaaS software company


Archive for September, 2010


Lessons for Cable in Blockbuster’s Demise – CNET News

September 26, 2010 by Yuval Brisker

This Cnet article highlights the very clear parallels between the collapse of Blockbuster (over the last 10+ years) during the rise of Netflix and the Cable industry’s response to the rise of what is called ‘Over the Top’ – people who watch video content over the Internet without a cable subscription for video.

Changes in the technology world are pretty amazing to watch. They are truly like a tidal wave. They start small and seem very distant and minute – but they gather strength and power quickly and suddenly what seemed like an innocuous tiny wave on the far horizon to a person standing on the shore looking out – turns out to be a humongous monster wave that overruns the beaches of the status quo and leaves the landscape redrawn, redefined in its wake.

It happened when the Internet to swallow up traditional businesses like travel agencies, brokerages, books and music sellers (Dean Witter, Barnes and Noble, Tower Records, Virgin and HMV… where are they?).  It happened to Microsoft and Yahoo! when out of nowhere Google emerged and took over the leadership in technology and it’s happening now.   Yes, we are witnessing a tidal wave like that now – with the emergence of Apple and Google’s IOS and Android and the revolution of the mobile internet and its devices – and the water has not receded yet, so we don’t know what they landscape will look like after it does… but clearly… nothing in the world of human communications technology and computing devices, and actually nothing in basic human interaction will be quite the same as it was pre- January 9, 2007.

(I will be publishing two separate blog entries on this subject of the IOS/Android juggernaut,  one by me and one by Irad soon, so stay tuned).

The rise of ‘Over the Top’ -  which uses a broadband connection rather than the existing cable systems to view video content – has been long feared in the cable business. But now it’s a reality and gathering steam – a veritable tidal wave on the horizon that still looks small  – but as it gets closer  it does have the potential to permanently change the media delivery landscape. I believe that it’s not too late for the cable companies to avoid the Blockbuster Collapse Syndrome described in the Cnet article  – but cable companies will need to focus their energy on rapidly pursuing change by doing three things to keep their business relevant for the long long term (cause no one thinks they will be disappearing tomorrow… but what about the day after tomorrow???):

1) Abandoning the addiction to the bundle. This has always been a sore point with consumers – especially those who know that they can get a lot of what they need elsewhere and on-demand. The model from time immemorial has indeed been bundled content. But a lot of consumers truly dislike this model and will abandon it to pay less for ‘less’ content (the ‘less’ being facetious because most of the ‘more’ that people have they don’t actually consume – most people watch only a few channels regularly). The younger generations of video consumers (those under 30…I mean) will be the hardest to acquire to the ‘old way’ and unbundling content could go a long way to helping them get over the hump of skepticism about that model.   Unbundling content, offering it a la carte and doing so FAST – will convince consumers that the cable cos. actually understand what is going on and are not burying their head in the sand of current fees.

2) Drastically reducing fees. There ARE ways to get content for less… and if Net Neutrality holds – then there will be more ways to get content for free or, at least, for less. What this means to a whole generation of people growing up  on the Net  (those under 30-somethings mentioned above)  – and those that are avid and proficient Net users (who didn’t fully grow up on the Net but use it like they did – meaning above 30 and below 60) what this means to them is that they don’t see any reason to pay more for less content.  And this group is not small (it’s a prime demographic) and the phenomenon is not a trickle – it’s a major and growing trend and like cord-cutters to the wireline world – these people will discover they can live without paying exorbitant fees  and will never come back. Reduction of fees, along with unbundled content a la carte, will alleviate a lot of the pressure that most consumers have to find alternatives.

3) Dramatically improving customer service and enhancing the customer experience. For too long, consumers have had the short end of the stick because the companies providing them cable content were basically monopolies. That is no longer the case – we all know – consumers have choice. One of the most annoying aspects of the relationship with the CCs is the in-home appointment – still one of the most reviled consumer events in America. Until all the cable and broadband companies wake up to the fact that they have to make the installation, repair and upgrading of service dramatically less painful to customers – people will look for, and find, a way to cut their cord. The alternative being Satellite (which needs less maintenance) + Wireless 4G Data (which needs none).

It’s amazing how fast technology (and the companies who deliver it) becomes obsolete.  It’s scary to watch a tidal of change just wash over the current familiar ways. But change is accelerating. And sometimes the writing, clearly on the wall and well in time to do something about it, is a blessing – it’s probably a good idea not wait too long to read it and take action.

An Appointment With the Cable Guy?

September 20, 2010 by Yuval Brisker

Besides perhaps a root canal or a tax audit, few things can be more frustrating than making an appointment to have a cable technician visit your home. You’re given a four-hour window and find yourself waiting and waiting, with no idea when the technician will arrive. Inevitably, it seems, he does not show up until just before the window expires. Or, despite the four-hour time frame, he arrives late.”

- “Cable Contract Has Fines for Late Service”, Fernanda Santos, New York Times, September 14th, 2010

In honor of TOA’s 7th birthday last week – The New York Times reported eloquently that the City of New York (the place where the idea for TOA was actually born) gave its citizens a long needed present by officially recognizing “The Cable Guy Problem” and codifying into law that cable companies have to provide a Time of Arrival (TOA) and then need to arrive on time or face a serious penalty (losing a month’s subscriber fees).

As all those who read this blog know – TOA Technologies, my company, has made it its mission to solve this problem : i.e. the problem of customers stranded at home, frustrated, waiting without knowing when, or even if, the cable technician will arrive. TOA’s advanced technology solution helps our clients manage customer appointments and the technicians in the field serving those customers with one goal in mind – to make sure that customers’ time is respected and customers’ needs and preferences come first. Our patented solution has been adopted by many companies around the country and the world to specifically address the problem  (including some in the NY Tri-State area).

Irad Carmi (my partner) and I recognized years ago that this problem was not ‘just another customer service annoyance’ but rather a greater sociological, economic issue that reflects a deep systemic operational problem that most service providers who run a mobile workforce have ignored. It is ingrained in their legacy systems and processes and based on just plain taking the customer and their time for granted. But it ultimately ends up backfiring and producing a lot of inefficiency along the way.

This problem isn’t trivial because it ends up costing many millions of people, the customers waiting at home, a lot of their precious time, their hard earned money, vacation time, their freedom, etc. It produces aggravation, at the least and, many times, even animosity towards these service providers and their employees. It also actually costs these companies their brand equity,  the goodwill of their customers and a lot of  wasted revenue money lost on missed appointments, unproductive technician time, unnecessary calls to the call center and, most of all,  the ultimate price:  customers leaving them when better service is offered by someone else.

[In fact, TOA just completed its annual Cost of Waiting Survey, which we will publish shortly and which I will be blogging about. This survey examines this very issue and its economic and social effects in three countries (US, UK and Germany), and the results are incredibly interesting, so stay tuned].

TOA has been blessed by many visionary clients who ‘got it’.  They are the trailblazers, the early adopters, who gave us a chance at every point along the way, and who like us, just could not sit around and see their companies waste tens of millions, even hundreds of millions, of dollars AND not provide great service to their customers.

There are always visionaries in every company. But all it takes is one person. One person, I know, can change a culture, a company, the world entire. And we have met many of these. These visionary leaders know that they had to make a change and they were and are willing to fight for that change themselves, against the machinations of their organizations.  They do this because they know that they are right. They know that there is a better way – and using a cross section of  technology and mind to transform the customer appointment experience (using TOA, of course) – and they KNOW:  if it is there, then they have to make a better experience available to their customers. It takes a lot to make change in big companies, but there are always people who do.

We are grateful to them  (and you know who you are…) for standing up to the status quo and for giving us a great opportunity to (in our small way) help make life better for your customers in many places around the country and the world. So it is to these leaders that I am dedicating this post, and about them that I am actually writing the response to the NY Times article AND today’s editorial about this issues (yes, the Times wrote an editorial about this). Because these clients of ours did not need legislation to choose positive change for their companies and their customers.

We have a lot more companies and many more leaders to convince that we have THE solution for them. But with the help of my great team and the help of our fantastic set of current bold visionary clients (who all become evangelists too…) I know that we will.

Oh, and thank you, City of New York!

“Innocent Until Proven Guilty” – Guest post by Irad Carmi, TOA’s CTO

September 12, 2010 by admin

My co-founder, partner and our CTO, Irad Carmi, has written a great post regarding the power of technology to enable a more complete, humane and trusting relationship between our customers and their employees – and at the same time – increase efficiencies and the bottom line.  Yes… in TOA’s world – humanity and the bottom line can co-exist. Here’s Irad:

One of the interesting changes that happens to our customers once TOA’s system is deployed is the significant evolution in the way they perceive the work ethic of their mobile employees and the impact of that evolution.
Before using TOA and without real time visibility into what’s happening in the field (which most companies don’t have before they use TOA – YB), companies assume their mobile employees are “guilty until proven innocent”. In other words – companies assume that many mobile employees are trying to somehow deceive them: taking longer than reported or needed breaks, finishing jobs early and taking their time to report on that, starting the day later and finishing the day earlier than they actually report, etc..

Because of this sense of management’s ‘not knowing what is really happening out there’, companies have too many supervisors and spend significant resources in an effort to try to find out, retroactively, if their mobile employees were actually “not guilty”. This inverse approach is expensive, inefficient, ineffective, and along the way, doesn’t contribute to good employer-employee relationships.

TOA introduces a paradigm shift:

By providing complete transparency through real-time visibility into all field activities at multiple tiers of the company’s management (dispatchers, supervisors, managers  – all have real time visibility into field operations status via advanced web-based tools), companies can significantly simplify their operational processes, save a lot of money, and improve efficiencies. And mobile employees are considered “innocent” by default.

With TOA’s solution, ETAdirect, it is extremely hard to “cheat”  time, and a supervisor can respond to any perceived abnormalities within minutes. Approval processes are simplified and streamlined, and everyone wins.

What does this mean in practical terms?

A pre-ETAdirect customer may have a manual triple-approval process before a work order is closed and submitted to the billing and customer care system. With ETAdirect the process is reduced to a single automated step – from the mobile device directly to the back-end billing and customer care system. Any errors/omissions are caught by ETAdirect’s front end, back end, or the billing system seamlessly. An error triggers instant escalation, and the supervisor can ensure it is quickly addressed. As a results, instead of having three supervisors check every single work orders, only one supervisor needs to pay attention to 3 out of every 100 work orders.

How does this impact the customers who use our system and this approach?

1. TOA’s customers see significant reduction in number of dispatchers/supervisors needed to actually manage field operations. And those who are managing the field are not doing mindless oversight and auditing of daily work (which helps their morale too).
2. Mobile employees need less time to complete their tasks, so they can do more work than before or spend more time with customers to increase customer satisfaction.

And the bottom line is clear:

One TOA customer has reduced dispatcher count by 60% without any negative impact on operations. Only positive results ensued on all levels.
Another customer of TOA’s is performing the same amount of field work they were doing three years ago, but with 18.5% less technicians.

And employee/employer relations have a new life.