Archive for the ‘What’s Next? (WILD CARD) ’ Category

Understanding Customer Behavior

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Why customers do what they do

It feels like we’re at the dawn of a new era in understanding how people — namely our customers — make decisions, and some businesses will benefit enormously. More importantly, customers will soon enjoy more kinds of services designed to better meet their needs.

Our collective thinking is being informed by discoveries in behavioral sciences and behavioral economics about the role of the unconscious mind and the centrality of emotions in driving behavior. Many of these findings are now verifiable through neuroimaging tools.

Among other things, we’re realizing that people aren’t Vulcan-like beings who make choices on a cold, purely rational basis. Individuals — our customers — are complicated and swayed by factors beneath the level of consciousness.


Dispatch from West Africa

Thursday, April 1st, 2010


Downtown Cape Coast, Ghana

Pulsating business scene

I spent the last couple weeks on assignment in Accra, Ghana. On this trip, I’ve seen more growth than any time since my company started working there in ’07. This is a period of unprecedented business activity and promising new projects within and beyond the mobile sector.  Meanwhile, new competitors from around the world are streaming in. This corner of Africa’s business scene is pulsating.

Astute businesses here are taking steps to preserve their client base and deepen relationships with their customers. We’re privileged to work with a new generation of African business leaders with the courage and determination to transform their offerings to meet the needs of an emerging class of consumers.


A Distant, Quiet Mobile Revolution

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

sunset over cape point, south africa

Evening at Cape Point on the tip of South Africa

While the business world is preoccupied with the global economic recovery, a mobile revolution is quietly reshaping the marketplace in the developing world. In Africa, mobile phones are providing access to communications for millions of people who’ve never had fixed communications let alone cell phones. I’ve written before about the impact that such ‘leapfrogging’ is having on African business.  Now, we’re beginning to see exciting and substantial commercial projects taking shape, particularly in the service sector.


In Appreciation

Friday, January 1st, 2010

One of the more satisfying experiences at year’s end is reaching out to clients, partners and colleagues to thank them for their business and their stalwart support.  It’s even sweeter this time while reflecting on an entire decade going back to the early days of my business.


The Age of Aimlessness

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

So, then…let us reflect together for a while, consider what matters, what really matters, and then in our wonderfully separate ways, fare forward together.  ~ James Hollis

It’s the season to reflect on a year that’s winding down before we turn the page. It feels right to look back on the year.  What interesting times these are!  Tom Friedman describes this as a period marked by the collision of two forces, the Great Recession and the Great Inflection – referring to the rise of cheap, plentiful technology.

The good news is that the economy is forcing us to adopt new tools more rapidly, accelerating business innovation. But, more tools bring more “noise”, and decibel levels are soaring. Noise distracts us from focusing on what’s important and we seem to be suffering from a collective case of “focus-deficit disorder”.  I think it’s hampering our performance.


Harnessing the Power of the Hive

Friday, December 4th, 2009

It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before.Lev Grossman, Time Magazine

The Urge to Connect

History shows that that when robust tools serve a powerful human drive, revolutionary changes occur. That’s happening now as social media enable people to satisfy their primal urge to connect with each another. Social media are ubiquitous, cheap, and accessible, and their widespread use is having a profound impact on business.

While the technology is grabbing the headlines, the more interesting story is how people around the world are using social media. They’re fulfilling their desire to connect with each other, forming communities in the process. The communities function like virtual beehives — amorphous, dynamic structures where members coalesce to share information.

Smart companies recognize the commercial value of communities. They treat community members more like stakeholders than consumers. Instead of broadcasting their messages at them, they engage followers in dialogue. In time, followers can be converted to evangelists.  In a hyper-connected world, evangelism carries messages fast and far, boosting the value of the brand.


Virgin America Transforms Air Travel

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


You never know with these things when you’re trying something new what can happen. This is all experimental. ~Richard Branson

Over the years, there have been surprisingly few breakthroughs in the airline customer experience – until recently. Sir Richard Branson’s venture into the U.S. market, Virgin America, (VX) is redefining air travel by providing passengers with a fresh, distinctive on-board experience. The carrier is less than two years old but it’s quickly becoming a template for what’s possible in the future.

The choices VX is making demonstrate a “customer experience mindset” that’s all too rare in the industry. It’s evident that the VX team devoted their attention to passenger comfort and convenience. Features “baked in” to the customer experience include seats with power-outlets and USB ports. Cabins in their new A320s have soft mood lighting.


International Rules of Engagement

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009


Paris Urban Pattern

I’ve recently noticed a subtle but perceptible attitude shift among Americans working in foreign markets. My overseas colleagues are noticing, too. American business people, they say, are displaying more thoughtfulness than usual. U.S. companies operating overseas seem less inclined to approach global business as though its epicenter is in New York or Palo Alto.

It’s too soon to call this a new Zeitgeist, but change is in the air. The global economic crisis, which has its roots in the U.S., may be partially responsible. I think the new vibe is also influenced by Washington’s new tone in its approach to global  affairs.  As an American doing business abroad, this is promising.

Historically, many American firms have approached business from a decidedly ethnocentric perspective–more so than many of our European rivals.  U.S. companies have missed opportunities as a result.

Things seem to be moving in a better direction now.


At the Heart of Business

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009


It is with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential  is invisible to the eye. ~Antoine De Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Business stories about “empathy” are springing up again. BusinessWeek ran one (Empathy = Growth) last week.  Fast Company covers the subject periodically. Authors are urging readers to consider the merits of empathy despite the need to cut operating costs as demand for services declines. It makes sense for businesses to re-evaluate their customer relationships in this environment. I think empathy remains widely misunderstood and its role is undervalued in the business community.

Simply put, empathy is rooted in the capacity to see the world through the eyes of another person.  Empathy enables a provider of service to recognize the buyer’s feelings, needs, and wants in order to fulfill these drivers through various means.

I’m interested in a broad spectrum of “relational competencies,” including empathy, and how they are used in business. Skillful practitioners use these competencies to show their understanding, respect and appreciation for others.  These skills include self-awareness and various social competencies that enable the practitioner to listen to and validate customers which forms the basis of relationships.


Mobile Growth Benefits Emerging Regions

Thursday, March 5th, 2009


Today, there are more than 3.3 billion mobile-phone subscriptions worldwide, which means that there are at least three billion people who don’t own cell phones, the bulk… found in Africa and Asia.                                                                                                                                                                                                  –-Sara Corbett, author “Can the Cell Phone Help End Global Poverty?” (NYT)

I’ve been optimistic about the continued growth of mobile services in emerging regions, even through this downturn. If that happens, it’s good news for those who appreciate what connectivity is doing for new subscribers in the developing world. The nascent mobile sector is an enabling engine for other industries in the developing world notably health care, agriculture, banking, and goverment services.

We see continued growth in emerging markets where there are few fixed line communications, low mobile penetration rates, and the arrival of new, highly motivated operators. Look for continued double digit growth (CAGR). Revenue growth (ARPU) will likely lag subscriber growth as companies add more lower-income users. Despite a crowding market, prospects for for growth by incumbent and new operators remains strong so long as they manage their growth with an eye to the future.


Restructuring is What’s Next

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Nearly every business we’re working with is re-evaluating if not totally rethinking their economics.  Businesses in every sector will have to revise if not fundamentally restructure their business models. 

Companies have begunb scrutinizing their value chains from the bottom up and the top down because none of our customers has the extra time or money to be wasted by underperforming partners or suppliers.   The smart  firms have already started this process in earnest. 

Organizations we work with are mustering the self-honesty and diligence to impose greater process discipline and rigor while, at the same time, becoming “turn-on-a-dime” adaptable.  To succeed in this low-demand cycle, businesses will have to focus on what matters most to their customers and relentlessly discard what’s leftover. 


An Intregrative Crisis Response

Monday, October 27th, 2008

rogermartinsbook_osprey-imageI’ve written before about Integrative Thinking (or “Design Thinking“), a creative problem-solving approach described by Roger Martin, Dean at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business and others.

Martin defines integrative thinking as the ability to deal with the tensions of competing solutions to a problem. Instead of choosing one solution at the expense of the other, the practioner generates a solution integrates both solutions.

In his ’07 book, The Opposable Mind, Martin argues that integrative thinking is superior to conventional thinking which consists of “accpeting unattractive and unpleasant tradeoffs”.

This concept is relevant to how government and business leaders ought to approach the financial crisis.  Instead of deciding between implementing tax cuts or a stimulus package – seemingly contradictory models – why not try both?  Instead of businesses merely cutting operating costs, why not implement initatives that preserve high margin business increase customer retention and profit per customer.

Martin considers these issues in an October 8  interview. He applies integrative thinking to the vexing challenges associated with the economic crisis affecting today’s leaders.

Good Governance Rules

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

In the midst of this economic crisis, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has released its annual (’08-’09) benchmarking report about global competitiveness.  (Here’s a short video commentary by a WEF economist.)

Despite the shaky underpinnings and dire economic climate, the U.S. still ranks ahead of the other nations in competitiveness, though economists see thorny challenges ahead.  On the plus side, the U.S. still brings a lot in the area of production potential, well-functioning labor markets, sophisticated businesses, academic leadership and technological innovation.  

While these are sustainable virtues, the U.S. has its work cut out to stay on top as other countries take steps to improve their competitiveness (see Fareed Zakaria’s seminal The Post American World).  Globalization is leading to the “Rise of the Rest”. This pattern has been evident to anyone involved in business dealings across markets over the last decade.   

The report had few surprises. A notable exception is that the UK slipped (from 9th last year to 12th) due to its heavy reliance on a flagging financial services sector. 

Singapore, the Scandinavian nations and Switzerland have been perennial leaders for several years. And it isn’t surprising that the Gulf nations are on the rise due to worldwide demand for hydrocarbons coupled with concerted economic reforms.

Fiinally, some sub-Saharan nations are making headway though, as a region, it still lags behind.  These economies have had 5-6% annual growth rates and relatively low inflation in recent years.  But their infrastrusctures are fragile and they may be hit hard by a global slowdown.    

The WEF report is a lagging indicator of the strengths and weaknesses of global economies.  For example, it doesn’t take into account the prospects of a global slowdown which reduces the demand for resources. 

The take away is that governments play a substantial role in shaping a nation’s long-term capacity to compete in an increasingly global and crowded world.  Good governance rules.

“3b” Broadband on the Horizon

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

The satellite company, O3b Networks, has attracted investors at Google, HSBC Principle Investments and Liberty Global for its project to deliver cheaper, high-speed wireless Internet access to underserved regions of the world. The term, ‘O3b’, refers to the “other 3 billion,” or the large segment of the world’s population that can’t access the Internet because there is no fiber cable in their regions. 

03b, a Jersey Island (UK)-based company, announced that it is building 16 satellites that will enable lower-cost Internet accessibility over 3G and WiMax networks. These satellites will provide “trunking” or backhaul  coverage zone between +/- 40 degrees of latitude which blankets much of the world’s underserved regions including Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Fiber cable and the labor for digging fiber trenches in underdeveloped countries is costly by any measure. Mobile operators face prohibitive costs in building transmission capacity between their networks and towers. Using satellites had been long been considered problematic due to their latency or the time it takes for a signal to travel between earth and satellites.

Today’s geosatellites orbit the earth at an altitude of 22,500 and their latency can exceed 600 milliseconds. By contrast, O3b plans to use MEO satellites which orbit the earth at 5,000 miles and can reduce latency to only 120 milliseconds—not that much more than a fiber network. 

O3b which expects to activate service by late 2010 intends to provide speeds of up to 10G bps (bits per second) to regions. The companies collectively invested about $65 million with the total cost estimated at $650 million.

This is good news for “3b” consumers, and probably a smart investment for Google which recognizes that the majority of the world isn’t currently using its services do to lack of access.  With their $10M investment, Google is getting in on the ground floor, so to speak.  Consider this another milestone in moving forward their Android initiative. 

Want more info?  Download this PRI (Public Radio) Podcast, Google to invest in internet start-up (4:30)


Clarifying ‘Analytics’

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Some comments I’ve received from readers indicate some confusion about what’s I mean by ‘analytics’.  Let me try to clear that up. At my company, we use the term to mean the approach to as well as the practice of mining and analyzing data as well as the tools and practices. 

Our practice is concerned as much about the human and organizational issues enabling the successful application of business intelligence and analytics. These include management vision and commitment, organizational alignment, culture, and skills. We’ve learned that buying “yet-another-tool” seems easier than solving these broader challenges, but it’s rarely the answer companies are looking for.

The most successful practitioners of analytics somehow manage to create an environment where decisions across boundaries are made on the basis of evidence that comes from rigorous analytics.  Management at those companies enncourages a “test-and-learn” approach to refine products, services and offers.  So analytics encompasses the tools and practices that produces insights as well as the way the company uses the insights to contour its offerings.  Hope this is helpful. 


Ghana in the “R=G World”

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Having just returned from Ghana, I was keenly interested Roger Cohen’s NYT piece today. He says,

In my lifetime, conditions have grown immeasurably better, freer and more prosperous for a majority of humanity, yet hand-wringing about the miserable remains the reflex mode for most coverage of planet earth.

Nowhere more so than in Africa, from which I’d just returned when the e-mail landed. During a short stay in Ghana, which will hold free elections in December, Vodafone had bought a majority stake in Ghana Telecom for $900 million (entering a fiercely competitive mobile-phone market) and I’d heard much about 6 percent annual growth, spreading broadband and new high-end cacao ventures.

Accra, the capital, is buzzing. Russian hedge funds are investing. New construction abounds. Technology enables people in the capital to text money transfers via mobile phone to poor relatives in the bush.

I think most of Cohen’s points are well taken. He doesn’t mention the discovery of oil off Ghana’s coast and the country’s fiber projects or the investments being made by multinationals in the country’s business infrastructure.  The business climate in the region is improving, albeit in successive approximations.  The country’s services sector — chiefly teleco and financial services — are contributing to Ghana’s high annual growth rate.  Inflation is a growing concern, but so far it’s been manageable.  The process leading up to this December’s election should be interesting.  So far so good.

It’s also true that Africa’s success stories aren’t newsworthy to many news consumers.  We mostly hear about war, corruption, disease and rampant poverty.  On this point, I recommend Charlayne Hunter Gault’s New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance,” — it’s  chiefly about South Africa, but pertinent to the problem of media coverage across the continent.

If Ghana’s political environment remains stable and forward-looking, the country will be in a position to contribute even more of its stalwart intellectual capital to a “globalized” resource (R=G) community in the coming years.  So, even if the global media is fixated on the region’s challenges, the numbers will support a different story.  So look for Ghana and other gazelle nations of the sub-Sahara to lead the way.

More on Serving the BoP

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008


Here’s an interesting piece in Time (July 31, 2008), The Creative Capitalism Roundtable, featuring a conversation with Bill Gates, CK Prahalad and others sharing their views on creative capitalism and the Bottom of the Pyramid.  Their conversation led to a discussion of the telecom industry at the BoP:

 Stengel [Managing Editor – Time]: C.K., I know that Bill was influenced by, by your work, and one of the questions I have, and I guess it’s a question both about creative capitalism and how you see it, is that, when it comes to cell phones for Kenyan farmers for example, isn’t this just good old fashion capitalism in the sense that it’s a recognition of a market that people hadn’t figured out how to profit from, and now, and now they are.

Prahalad: I think it is, but there’s a twist to it, and I think it’s an important twist. If you look at traditionally how we have looked at all this product and services especially high-tech products like cell phones, we would never have gone to the poor. But, I think that growth opportunity is there, as the cell phones have demonstrated. Also, it is changing the asymmetry of information, be it the farmer, who can now get prices, weather conditions, or someone who can make small transactions with SMS messaging, suddenly the asymmetry of information which is the essence of poverty — that is why people are poor, they don’t have access to information — that is changing very, very dramatically. What is happening in the cell phone industry, three billion people are connected for the first time in human history, I think it will be four billion soon. That I think gives me tremendous confidence that we can really take Bill’s idea and see it through to its logical conclusion, which, for me, is how to democratize commerce.

Food for thought…

Africa’s Innovation Hothouse

Friday, July 11th, 2008

Africa is leading the world in annual growth among mobile users. In markets where we’re working, penetration is still under 35% while annual growth has been over 50%.  In a continent of 800+ million potential mobile users there are only about 80 million users today, making it one of the hottest global markets in any industry.  This breakneck growth is leading to some interesting developments…

To add some perspective, there is only about one landline per 33 people in Africa and that’s unlikely to change much given the high cost of installing fixed lines in the continent’s vast, remote regions. However, mobile networks are relatively easy to install and maintain.  Thus, mobile phones have become the primary communication channel throughout the sub-Sahara.

The large transnational telecoms, hungry for growth and finding saturation elsewhere, are quickly swooping in to the region hoping to grow their user bases.  Mobile operators are investing millions of dollars in  extending their coverage across the continent.  And as competition grows, they’re pouring millions more in to expand and fortify their networks.

This injection of capital is creating jobs and raising living standards in the region, and this is only the beginning.  It certainly feels like we’re at an inflection point and the socio-economic impact will be enormous.

But the African market poses some vexing challenges to operators. First, they’ll need to help the continent’s large base of very low income consumers to overcome the cost barrier of using mobile services.  Bottom line: these consumers who make under $2 a day need lower cost handsets.

Operators have been working with handset makers to produce units for as little as $15 USD. Refurbished handsets, recycled from other markets, are bringing prices down further.

Low income users are mainly interested in a phone’s basic functions—voice calls and SMS text messages—and little else. For them, battery life – especially in regions with unreliable electricity – is more important than ring tone options.

But, low income users are “leapfrogging” to mobile banking which I’ve mentioned previously.  Mobile phones are now being used in developing cash economies to pay for things or transfer money across distances. The implications of the rise of m-banking and other mobile-based services among low income users is enormous.

Meanwhile, mobile operators must also compete for higher income users. They’re rolling out and bundling higher end products like managed data services, Blackberry, WiMax, 3G and more – all of this while reinforcing their infrastructures and business processes to deliver higher service quality and reliability.

It gets even more interesting.  Most of the people who are gaining access to communications and the Internet via cell phones have no other way to access the web, unlike developed country where cell phones are used mainky for voice with Internet access being an occasional activity.

Reliance on mobile devices for Internet access means that content developers in Africa, like other emerging regions, see mobile devices not as a substitute for their desktop, but as a primary data platform.   We’re already seeing some promising examples of voice-data convergence aimed at this growing market. We may witness the first wide-scale convergence applications coming from Africa and other developing markets.

I’ve worked with some talented, dedicated people in the region’s telecom sector.  The speed with which they’re adaptaing to the market’s growth has been impressive.  They’re making strides in building their management capabilities and business processes to meet rising consumer demands.

It’s an exciting time to be working in this market. I can’t think of a more interesting, fertile business environment today than Africa’s nascent telecom sector.  It’s a veritable hothouse for business innovation on so many levels.

The Halcyon Days of Analytics

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Elite service companies are tapping their growing pools of data to make better decisions.  Market leading  businesses focus on collecting the right information and interpreting it for improving their internal process and for engaging their customers. Leveraging the emerging discipline of analytics, or expertly managing and interpreting business information, gives companies a decisive edge.

It seems axiomatic. The more a company knows about the people it wants to serve, the better able it is to create offerings they prefer, to develop targeted messages, and to extract more value across the customer experience.

This Spring, my company launched Value-based Analytics, a model for measuring what your most valuable  customers need and want (“value drivers”), and the ways that client’s services meet and don’t meet those drivers.

Many companies are adrift in a sea of numbers. But for those with a clear understanding of how quality business intelligence can be used to make sound decisions, these really are the halcyon days of analytics.

It is increasingly feasible for enterprises to tap information to handle more granular segmentation, low-cost experimentation, and customization. Data mining and speech analytics tools are increasingly affordable and are leveling the playing field, even for mid-range players.  The quality and availability of information are  both rising while the costs of managing information are falling.

Many service firms that collect information obsessively are paralyzed by the reams of data. Choosing the right information to extract and interpreting it accurately require focus and fine-tuning.  Like any other enterprise capability, analytics ought to be tied to business strategy.

Before jumping into the deep end of the pool, there’s a caveat. Building analytical capabilities across the enterprise often challenges the orthodoxy. Shifting to a more analytical approach upends legacy systems and undermines the status quo. Information is power and, naturally, some managers see a full-scale analytics initiative as threatening.

Transforming the company’s analytical capabilities is always an exercise in change management.   Firms that rely on expert analytics — tools and mindset — to make better decisions stand to gain a valuable competitive advantage at a time that such advantages are increasingly harder to come by.

Want more info on this subject?  Here are two exceptional resources:

Thomas H. Davenport and Jeanne G. Harris, Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007.

Stefan H. Thomke, Experimentation Matters: Unlocking the Potential of New Technologies for Innovation, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.