Can I Borrow A Cup Of Wi-Fi?

2013-01-09 10.58.38 I’m on holiday. I’m flicking through Twitter and sipping a beer in a village bar. Outside, some Thai kids are playing a game on the smartphone they’ve borrowed from their Mum. Locals pop in every so often to sit down , catch up on gossip and read their emails.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Here I am – on a small island that’s nearly 50% rainforest. The roads are awful and it’s only accessible by a boat. It has no 3G. And it has better publicly available wi-fi than parts of Birmingham or Manchester. Pretty much every residence , every bar , every business. Kids with no access at home sit on the steps of neighbours to use their phones. At any one time you can pick up 2 or 3 networks – without any painful email registration.

Why doesn’t it work like this back home?

Of the last three places I visited in the UK one had no wi-fi at all, one had a pay system (criminally – £15 for 24 hours) and one offered a “30 Minutes free” service. The latter, Manchester Airport, then provide a registration procedure so user-unfriendly that you could spend 26 of your free minutes negotiating it.

If the internet is the fourth utility – why are we making it so difficult for people to get online? IMG_0395 Last week saw another report that mentioned the high number of Social Housing residents excluded from the internet. (As an aside –  I reckon every Housing Association tenant must have filled in at least 3 Digital Inclusion questionnaires in the last two years. We could have solved this ages ago if we’d used all the money for the surveys to buy people a smartphone each instead.)

Seriously – one part of the solution to exclusion is to make freely available wi-fi ubiquitous. And really easy to log on.  That is important. My Mother, and others like her who are not confident online,  will never use any service that requires registration. 

It’s time that all service providers , not just Housing Associations , realise they have a role to play in improving mobile connectivity.

Do most businesses really think of the Internet as the “fourth utility”? As important as water?

If you walked into a business and they asked you to register your email account and set up a password just so you use their tap water you would be surprised , yes? But that’s what many businesses expect us to do to get online.  And some still have no access at all. It’s becoming unacceptable.

Barclays have just announced a roll-out to all their branches.  Many of our larger supermarkets have turned their cafe area’s into Wi-Fi Zones – which can then double up as vital community hubs. But not all have embraced this – Sainsburys recently announced they were dropping their plans. Some have said this is because businesses can’t work out how they can properly monetise internet provision. But why do we feel the need to monetise access to the internet any differently to other utilities?

A new study entitled – Can I Borrow A Cup Of Wi-Fi? – looks at the emergence of a very different mobile customer. It reveals 40% percent of mobile device owners are “community” users—people who use their device in a friend’s home on regular basis. Like borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbour – connectivity is now shareable. If a friend came to yours for dinner and asked for your Wi-Fi , you surely wouldn’t ask them for a couple of quid as contribution?

Businesses should take note before we start turning away.

In that small village in Thailand they had solved the problem of digital exclusion. It was achieved not by commissioning a report about it , but by engaging businesses , sharing resources and working together to get a solution for the community.

Sometimes it just doesn’t need to be complicated.

5 Surprising Customer Service Experiences ( and what they tell us )

customer-relationship-management-2If you put “Customer Relationship” into Google you will most likely get a diagram like this.

Which doesn’t look like any relationship I’ve ever had.

Another January, more High Street woe , more stories of how customer service is declining.

My belief ? Service is actually improving in the UK. But far too slowly compared to other countries and the best online providers.

Why? Because it too often focuses on transactions rather than building relationships.

And if you focus on transactions, CRM and cross-sell , you slowly become disconnected. You think “inside out”. Like the company. Not the customer.

I’ve recently been on a trip outside the UK and would like to share 5 examples where the service focused on relationship building.

1 – The Customs Official Who Smiled

Anyone who has been to Singapore Airport will understand why it consistently appears in the Top 3 airports in the world. From free wifi , to a sublime check-in experience, to free cinema’s and botanic gardens – it’s as if Disney did airports. My stand out moment? Being presented with a tray of sweets by the Customs Official (!) , greeted by my first name , and wished a pleasant stay. Not the experience I got on returning to Manchester. Singapore Airport provides the same function as everyone else – putting planes into the sky – but they do it differently.

2- The Restaurant That Doesn’t Say No

You are the last customers in a restaurant – it’s well past closing time. You order a final couple of drinks, but they have run out of vodka. You’d be asked to change your drinks order or offered something else, right? At Again and Again they didn’t do this. The owner got on her moped, disappeared for 5 minutes and came back with a new bottle. Leaving two customers she had never met before sitting alone, and trusting that they would be there when she returned.

This tiny six table Thai restaurant is run by a Mother and her daughter. The service can be a bit slow as Mum has to cook everything from scratch and the daughter helps out in between doing her homework. But the service is provided as if you were a guest in their home. Which , funnily enough, you are. They live upstairs. And that’s the trick – by treating every customer as a house guest – you have turned a transaction into a relationship.

3- The Bank That People Love

Whilst I was away I had to phone First Direct. My comment on Twitter speaks for itself:

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First Direct continue to be a worldwide benchmark through their utter obsession with focussing on the relationship they have with you.

I’m amazed that whenever I mention them on social media I always get fellow fans joining in and adding their own experiences.

Fans. Of a bank. Aren’t we meant to hate them?

4- The Hotel That Apologises Before You Complain

A Hotel puts on a beach fireworks display. Fireworks are aimed at the guests rather than the sky. Several guests have their dinner ruined as they dive for cover. An unfortunate incident but no-one was hurt. (And if you were sitting in the right place it was actually pretty funny.)

But the Buri Rasa Koh Phangan then did something amazing. Some businesses would say something stupid. It issued a letter to everyone in the hotel – apologising and refunding one nights stay. For everyone. No argument.

By showing extreme honesty, by compensating customers before they had a chance to complain , it ensures everyone goes home happy and tells this story.

5 – The Bar That Threatens To Kill Rabbits

Imagine you go for a drink and the first thing that happens is the manager introduces herself and lays a pet rabbit before you. She then threatens to barbecue it unless you agree to eat there. This is the slightly unconventional service offered at Jip Shop , who have transformed an ordinary bar into somewhere memorable through humour and just being….weird.

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Jip will tell you that she only manages the shop. The owner is actually a tyrannical cat who refuses to pay the staff decent wages. The rabbit , Dollar , was captured by the cat and employed as a mascot. Dollar is seeking freedom by jumping from table to table to help guests. (I swear no hallucinogens were involved here).

I went in a fair few bars whilst I was away but which one stands out? Lesson for us all – Be memorable.

The death of the High Street is exaggerated – it’s just going through a necessary cycle of renewal. The big brands who forgot about relationships needed to make way for the next generation. Hopefully it will be a generation who understand that the only way to compete with online is through memorable and surprising experiences.

By the way – we went back again to Jip Shop again. Dollar survived:

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