Level 3’s Enterprise #Pitch night

As part of the recent Melbourne #Startup Week, IT consulting firm, Versent hosted a B2B pitch event at their product development lab, Level 3. Introduced by Thor Essman, the judges for the evening were Grant Thomson from York Butter Factory, Paul Naphtali of VC fund Rampersand, and Carl Rigoni, Head of Digital at Australia Post. It presented a very focussed cohort of enterprise solutions, that covered employee comms and engagement, design thinking and cybersecurity.

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 2.14.42 PMPax Republic

Pax Republic is positioned as an employee engagement platform that grew out of the founders’ background in mediation. Recognizing that organisational change programs have a high failure rate, the founders explained that lack of project or employee data isn’t the problem; it’s a shortage of actionable insights and recommendations.

The solution offers text-based content and scripted dialogue combined with AI and online facilitators. Many traditional enterprise tools don’t work, either because they don’t reduce time and cost, or they can’t scale.

When asked if AI can measure sentiment or mood, the founders explained that the system makes use of emoticons to capture employee feedback plus keystroke analysis. In terms of a commercial model, the goal is to train up internal facilitators to deliver the service, rather than getting involved with specific change management projects.

The judges felt that the pitch needed to refine the problem statement and the solution proof points, as well as explain what makes this solution different. In particular, who is the buyer? It’s also important to tell the sales story, and expand on the risk transfer and pricing benefits.

Forticode

Forticode has developed an elegant and deceptively simple password protection solution, to remove the risk and costs of password resets for their corporate clients. Basically, it can support multi-factor authentication using colour coding and a randomized keypad, incorporating character sets as well as emojis.

It can provide context aware authentication, and native protection from endpoint hacking attacks, via a plug-in architecture and 3-factor authentication, using patented technology.
According to the founders, finger prints are immutable, but still do not provide 100% identity confirmation on touch screen devices.

There were questions from the judges and the audience about alternative solutions. Compared to an IPA gateway for trust and authentication or password aggregators, Forticode offers a much more robust solution and can support machine-to-machine verification.

The sales model is to target security teams within risk and compliance departments, and price on a per user per month basis. Importantly, there is no third-party software in the stack. And, there was even an offer to introduce the founders to Auspost….

Naked Ambition

With the tag line of “Always Be Creating”, Naked Ambition is a consultancy for innovation and design thinking. Their process is to focus on future needs, help clients get closer to their customers, and in doing so, help employees to leverage customer insights. The ultimate goal is to make design thinking skills ubiquitous. Naked Ambition’s aim is to embed the teaching in the organisations they work with.

The judges questioned who exactly is the customer, and what segments do they work in? There was also some discussion whether the service was more about personal branding and intrapreneurship, rather than pure solution design.

In particular, the judges wanted to know what gives Naked Ambition the “license” to offer their services? Despite hiring a leading design thinking expert from IBM, there was a sense that there is an oversupply of similar services, and that clients are not looking for yet another program. Instead, they are thinking about “buying units of innovation” for specific projects, as and when they need them.

Konnective

Last to present was Konnective, a business I have blogged about before. In short, this is an employee messaging app for frontline staff, many of whom do not have corporate e-mail addresses, let alone access to a their own desktop computer.

As part of the product development, Konnective now offers Groups, dashboards, analysis of what’s working and employee reach. Charging a basic annual fee per employee, Konnective has clients in mining, healthcare and manufacturing. The platform supports OH&S comms, promotes shift availability that can reduce agency hiring fees, and help reach hourly employees who don’t access corporate e-mail.

The judges asked about BYOD, and the risk of/resistance to having organisational data on personal mobile phones. Plus, why Konnective and not, say Yammer or Slack? These are answers that need to be made more explicit. Finally, Konnective is still working on data analytics, and there was a suggestion of opportunities among travel companies and tour guides, but that would require some multilingual capabilities.

On the night, Forticode won the judges over and took out first prize. This was the second of these events, and I look forward to attending more in future.

Next week: Startup Victoria’s #Pitch Night for #Startup Week

Field report from Melbourne #Startup Week

The third Melbourne #Startup Week has confirmed Startup Victoria‘s pivotal role in supporting local entrepreneurs, founders, startups and anyone interested in innovation and disruption. Over the next few posts, I will be commenting on some of the events I attended. Meanwhile, here is a brief summary of the key themes that emerged.

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 1.43.16 PMFirst, there is a continued shift from B2C and 2-sided markets, to B2B and enterprise solutions among the startup pitches I saw. Medtech is also getting some renewed attention, as are XaaS business models. And of course, there has to be scale in the idea.

Second, nearly all of the feedback from the judges at the pitch events centred on “why you?” –  What makes your idea different to the competition? What is the problem statement? Where are the solution proof points?

Third, there was an interesting session on “innovation from within” and the rise of intrapreneurship. There were also discussions on whether (and how) aspiring founders should leave an existing job to embark on a startup project, and how to navigate an entrepreneurial career. (More on this to follow.)

Fourth, the notion of “disruption for disruption’s sake” is being challenged – it’s not enough to be disruptive, there has to be substance (and purpose) to back it up.

Fifth, the use of design thinking, human-centred design and CX mapping in fostering creativity is breaking through to large corporations, but it is just one of many available innovation techniques – without context and framing, it can simply become a process.

Finally, I heard very little (in fact, absolutely nothing) about the role of government(s) in fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, and in supporting startup founders – notwithstanding LaunchVic, and the National Innovation & Science Agenda. Maybe there is so much election campaign fatigue that the startup community has already discounted the impact politicians (of any persuasion) can have on their business aspirations. Certainly, the numbers of Gen X and Gen Y attending some of last week’s events is testament to how engaged younger citizens are in finding purpose through the type of work they do (and what sort of organisations they work for), that they are less focussed on securing a “job”, and more concerned about building a career.

Next week: Level 3’s Enterprise Pitch night

Customer service revisited: Navigating The Last Mile

From time to time, I like to comment on the current state of customer service, because this is still one of the key areas where companies can differentiate themselves. So, based on recent experiences with a bank, an insurer, a telco and an e-commerce site, I’m sharing my thoughts on the Last Mile – where even great products and great companies can fall down due to their inability to truly understand the customer experience they create.

Image sourced from LinkedIn

Image sourced from LinkedIn

1. The Bank

After waiting over 30 minutes in a call-centre queue, I eventually spoke to someone who said she could help me with a query regarding the disparity in the amount and rate of interest earned on one of my savings accounts. But first, I was given a choice: either accept an instant $50 “goodwill” payment now, or wait for the outcome of her investigation. Because the amount I was querying was several times that offer, I requested she look into the matter further.

Leaving aside the fact that she failed to get back to me within her stated timeframe (I only managed to re-engage the bank when I queried the lack of response via their social media account…), it transpires that she gave me incorrect product information. This underscores one of my main complaints about customer service – inadequate product and process training. Her supervisor who picked up the query then offered me a $10 “goodwill” payment for my trouble (overlooking I had already been offered $50!).

It was only when I insisted that the amount I was potentially out-of-pocket was closer to $300, and following a protracted and somewhat terse negotiation did the supervisor choose to exercise her (undefined) discretion and settle for an amount in between $50 and $300. While the outcome was closer to what I had expected, the customer service process and experience were far from satisfactory.

2. The Insurer

My home and contents policy recently came up for renewal. I noticed that, even with a customer loyalty discount, the premium increase was far higher than current CPI. It seemed to me that a previous “special discount” I had been offered when I last updated my policy at a bricks and mortar branch, rather than by phone or online, was now being clawed back (and then some) with the latest premium increase.

So, I shopped around online and found a better deal. When I rang the original insurer to advise them I was cancelling and taking my business elsewhere, they said: “Is there anything we can do to keep your business?”. My response was, “Too late.”

I accept that premiums may have to increase. But rather than simply sending out a renewal notice asking for more money, I think the better strategy would be to provide an explanation for the increase, and demonstrate the additional value I would be getting for renewing my policy. I resent being taken for granted, because the insurer clearly assumed I would simply pay the increase on demand, and only attempted to offer a better deal when I rang up to cancel.

3. The Telco

Late last year, I switched telcos, because the service was increasingly reliable, and I had experienced poor customer service from the start of my contract. In the process of transferring my mobile, fixed line and internet accounts, I notified the telco that I was dissatisfied with their service, and was taking my business elsewhere. I also initiated the return of my telco-supplied modem, to avoid incurring any additional fees or expenses. 

However, the telco continued charging me for certain services, long after I had discontinued using them, and 2-3 months after they had been ported over to my new service provider.* I requested the refund of the overpayments. The telco refused, because they claimed they had not actually been formally notified that I wished to cancel the services. So I lodged a complaint via the TIO, but the telco still denied any liability, and refused to refund my money.

Eventually, a TIO Investigation Officer was assigned to my case, and he agreed that on any reasonable reading of my complaint, the telco should have concluded that I was cancelling the service. The telco continued to resist my request for a refund:

E-mail received May 31: “[We have] reviewed the complaint and have decided that we will not be changing our position on the matter.”

I believe that the Case Officer then suggested that the telco listen again to the calls I had made, and place them in the context of the other contemporaneous events and the full history of my contract. He also advised the telco that he was prepared to initiate a full and formal investigation of the complaint.

Only then (and in a remarkably speedy U-turn, worthy of a politician) did the telco respond:

E-mail received June 7: “Thank you for your time and patience throughout this case, it is really appreciated (sic). We apologise for the poor level of service you’ve received that led you to escalate to this point. This is not the kind of service we want our customers to experience and it’s very unfortunate that you have to go through this, especially after you cancelled as a result of the poor service.
 
We will be crediting the account with $XX for the period from the XXth December 2015 to the XXth February 2016 when the service was active after it should have been terminated.”

I’m clearly grateful to the TIO for their assistance, but frankly, it shouldn’t have to get to that point. For an organisation that prides itself on superior customer service, the telco in question clearly does not understand customer experience.

4. E-commerce

There are several reasons why I prefer to order online, rather than buy from local shops: convenience, choice, availability, service and often price as well. Speed of delivery is usually not a factor, especially when ordering from overseas (although in many cases, ordering from overseas can be quicker than buying from a local online store).

However, I’ve recently experienced some delays in overseas deliveries, and upon investigating the matter, discovered that, quite apart from a lack of knowledge on the part of some customer service reps (that old chestnut), the multiple links in the supply chain can result in mis-communication and mis-alignment of their respective operating systems.

For example, if the online retailer does not actually fulfill the order, or if they or their nominated carrier outsources customs clearance and/or the final delivery, there may be as many as 6 or 7 hand-off stages in the process. Unless all the back-end platforms talk to each other (and in the same language), the risk of stuff falling between the cracks is very high.  (The notion of same-day delivery by drone is probably some way off…)

What is particularly frustrating is when one part of the vendor’s website has the (overdue) ETA as one date, but another part of the same website shows a much later ETA – even within a single platform! Perhaps if retailers got their upstream systems in order, the Last Mile would be more likely to take care of itself?

*Footnote: My original provider is merely a re-seller, and therefore is subject to wholesale access provisions. According to some information I received from my new provider, it is illegal for a telco to charge for services over which they no longer have any control or access.

Next week: Field report from Melbourne #Startup Week

Design thinking is not just for hipsters….

In recent months, I have been exploring design thinking, a practice I first encountered nearly 20 years ago (when it was called user-centred design). Whether we are talking about UX/UI, CX, human-centred design, service design or even “boring” process improvement, it’s important to realise that this is not just the domain of hipsters – everyone can, and needs to understand how these design thinking techniques can build better product and service outcomes in multiple applications. Here are three real-world examples to consider:

Curved Space-Diamond Structure by Peter Pearce, Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan (Photo © Rory Manchee, all rights reserved)

Curved Space-Diamond Structure by Peter Pearce, Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan (Photo © Rory Manchee, all rights reserved)

1. Financial Services – a case of putting the cart before the horse?

A major bank was designing a new FX trading system, to replace a labour-intensive legacy system, and to streamline the customer experience. The goal was to have more of a self-service model, that was also far more timely in terms of order processing, clearing and settlement.

The design team went ahead and scoped the front end first, because they thought that this was most important from a customer perspective (and it was also a shiny and highly visible new toy!). However, when I heard about this focus on the front end, I was prompted to ask, “What will the customer experience be like?” By automating the process from a front end perspective, the proposed design would significantly diminish the need for customer interaction with relationship managers, and it meant they would have less direct contact with the bank. Whereas, part of the bank’s goal was to enhance the value of the customer relationship, especially their priority clients.

Also, by starting with the front-end first, the design did not take into account the actual mechanics and logistics of the middle and back office operations, so there were inevitable disconnects and gaps in the hand-off processes at each stage of the transaction. (This is a common mistake – a colleague who consults in the retail sector told me about the online storefront for a major retail chain that looked really pretty, but revealed no understanding of the established supply chain logistics and back-office order fulfilment processes.)

The bank team had a rethink of the storyboarding and workflow analysis, to make sure that the customer experience was streamlined, but that there were still adequate opportunities for customer touch points between client and relationship manager along the way.

2. Construction industry – inside and looking inwards

Another colleague told me of a specialist supplier in the construction industry, that was undertaking a review of their processes and service design model. From an internal perspective, everything looked fine. The customer orders came in, they went into production, and were then delivered according to the manufacturing schedule.

However, there were two stages in the process, that did not work so well from a customer perspective:

First, customers did not receive any confirmation or acknowledgment that the order had been submitted; so they might be worried that their order had not been received.

Second, once the order had gone into production, there was no further customer communication until it was ready to be delivered. Meanwhile, the client’s own schedule might have slipped, so they might not be ready to take delivery (we’ve all seen those moments on “Grand Designs”). Resulting in the supplier having to hold unpaid for work-in-progress in their warehouse.

For the supplier, it was a simple case of implementing a formal acknowledgment process, and a check in with the client prior to fabrication and a follow-up prior to delivery to make sure schedules were aligned.

3. Energy sector – gaining empathy in the field

A friend of mine ran a local distribution and installation business for an international supplier of energy switching gear. They specialised in remote operating systems, most notably used in indigenous communities. Head office was in Europe, and the clients were in outback Australia – so communications could be challenging. The overseas engineers would not always appreciate how time critical or simply inconvenient power outages or interruptions could be. “We’ll fix the software bugs in the next upgrade,” was usually the response.

Then the local business started inviting their European colleagues to come and work in the field, to get some downstream experience of how customers use their products. It was also a good opportunity to train technical staff on how to handle customers.

One time, a visiting engineer was in a remote community, trying to fix a power operating system. When Europe said they would take care of it in the next upgrade, the engineer pointed out that he was with the client there and then, and that without power, the community could not function properly, and that Head Office had to solve the problem immediately, even if it meant working overnight. The issue was sorted right away.

If nothing else, the visiting engineer, schooled in siloed processes and internal systems at Head Office, had managed to gain empathy from working directly in the field.*

While none of these examples seems to involve cutting edge design thinking, they do reveal some fundamental service design and product development concepts: the need for empathy, the value of prototyping and testing, the role of user scenario and workflow analysis, and the importance of challenging existing processes, even if they seem to be working fine on the inside.

*Footnote: This reminds me of a time many years ago when I was travelling around Beijing in the back of a cab, between client visits, calling my production team in the US, asking them to investigate a problem the local customers were having in accessing our subscriber website. “The Chinese government must be blocking the site”, I was told. Given that most of the clients were state-owned enterprises, or government departments, I thought this was unlikely. Turns out that the IT team in the States had “upgraded” the SSL without informing anyone and without doing multiple site testing first. Some clients had problems logging on from slower internet services, because the connections timed out. Being in the field, and speaking directly after witnessing the client experience for myself enabled me to convince my colleagues of what the cause actually was. Although we had to implement an interim workaround, going forward, every software upgrade or product modification was benchmarked against multiple test sites.

Next week: More on #FinTech, #Bitcoin and #Blockchain in Melbourne