Airtel's India's first mobile app centre- A case for Open Apps - Did they miss a trick or two here!

Airtel in India launched a massive advertising campaign today for their India's first Mobile Application centre today. It has been in a soft launch mode for some time( 4 months) and Airtel claims there have been over 13 million downloads, over 71,000 apps and compatibility of these apps with over 780 devices.

Airtel is looking at this  App centre as a huge value-addition to their current customers.

How do consumers benefit?

  • If am an Airtel subscriber, I can download a host of applications from the app centre for a price.
  • If am new subscriber, may be some of  the apps look so interesting that I may want to prefer them over competitors if I need a new mobile connection.

The questions really for me are as follows for a mobile phone service provider w.r.t to Mobile Apps:

  1. Do Apps for a mobile service provider increase stickiness?  Am not so sure as yet with these applications. If for example, Airtel had an App which constantly analyzed mobile tariffs based on  current usage and recommended the right tariff & savings, it would be far more subscriber-centric and valuable. This can lead to better retention, higher usage and lower churn. Also, not to mention strong word-of-mouth that it would generate. 
  2. Is it just a buzz or is it truly differentiating given that fact that many consumers are still not GPRS/WAP savvy in India.  The jury is still out on this. Sure there will be a select few who could be interested but adoption is quite critical for widespread success of mobile apps.
  3. What about non-Airtel subscribers? I am a not an Airtel subscriber. I tried to download the app and it denied the download . Would it not be far more beneficial for Airtel to have "Open Apps" compatible with any device. This can in fact become a "valuable lead"  for them as I could use it my Nokia or LG or Samsung or Blackerry Phone and also serve as a strong branding & communication platform. This is new world of mobile marketing. The key really here is that they lost my lead once the download was denied.

I am strong advocate of Open- Apps especially for Mobile Phone service provides and even device providers. The walled gardens need to break down. In fact, opengardens one of the top 10 mobile blogs do believe this trend is coming soon.

Imagine what OPEN-APPS, could have done to Airtel:

  1. Why 13 million, what about the rest of the 100-200 million subscribers who are looking for an app to support their mobile lifestyle? Airtel automatically becomes a mobile service provider of choice - a preferred brand.
  2. Imagine the millions of device owners who could have an Airtel App - It is a great branding and customer marketing/advertising opportunity that is waiting to be tapped.
  3. Imagine the mind-market leadership that Airtel could gain out of this. It's quite incredible.

When new customers get more than old customers!

I was reading a post by Seth Godin on embracing lifetime value. He mentions in his post on the value of a two year contract for AT& T or Verizon as worth as more than $ 2000 in lifetime value of a customer to them. And he writes asking companies and professionals to embrace this thinking.

It's funny and I fail to understand how many companies don't understand this and still continue to acquire new customers by extending significantly higher promotional freebies than to their existing customers. The question really is, if am an existing customer, should I not expect better renewal privileges than a new customer rather than go to a new service provider?

This experience happened to me last week, when I tried to renew my broadband account of Tata Indicom, a leading ISP in India. I have been their customer  for over a decade now! They are currently running a new customer acquisition program, where new customers get 3 months of broadband free plus one month( T&C incl.) and a laptop sweepstake thrown in!  When I enquired, if there was anything of similar value, they did not have anything to offer for me to renew!! It made sense to let the existing relationship die and start a new relationship afresh!

The key here is designing and extending a customized tariff plan to such customers. It starts with the following steps:

  1. Bring a culture a "customer-driven pricing" into the company. Rather than think pricing only for unknown customers, they should think pricing for known customers too. 
  2. Banks have perfected this for years with credit scores driven differential pricing for customers. Similar thinking need to be extended to such service-driven businesses too. They should bring customer value-score driven pricing to existing customers.
  3. Value scores can be built very easily.They know their vintage, usage, approx monetary value, cost-to-serve etc. to them as subscribers but they fail to take account of the relationship customers share with them. 
  4. Online recharge and newer channels of customer interaction provides an excellent opportunity to bring this differential pricing to execution as they can really customize the pricing offers.
The question really is the intent and appreciation of this I presume!

The impending death of voice mail

At the tone, leave a message.....When was the last time you logged into your voice mail box and checked the messages in it? Increasingly, more and more consumers rarely check their voice mail. Consumer don't have the time, it seems, to hear long voice mail messages, they would rather respond to people or friends who called instantly.  Also, it is not easy to search voice mail messages on your phone. Nobody has the patience to go through it one by one!

Here's an interesting statistic from an article that I had read:

More than 30 percent of voice mail messages remain unheard for three days or longer, according to uReach Technologies, which designs voice messaging systems for Verizon and other phone companies. And more than 20 percent of people with messages in their mailboxes rarely check them, said Saul Einbinder, the firm’s senior vice president for marketing and business development. A survey done for Sprint by Opinion Research Corporation found that with the exception of people age 65 and over, adults respond more quickly to a text message than to a voice message. Those under the age of 30 are four times more likely to respond within minutes to a text message than to a voice mail.

If you are a brand having a call center for customer service, how often do you make it easy for consumers to send text messages with their queries, if there is a huge waiting time on the call, so that you get  your service reps to either call these customers back immediately or  quickly respond back with a text message? I have rarely seen companies do so.

Remember, text message box has taken over  the voice mail box!