Google Voice

 

The other app that I absolutely fell in love with while I was in Hawaii was Google Voice for Android. Google Voice is the re-brand of Grand Central which Google purchased a while ago. What I love about it is that it is such a pragmatic and usable implementation of VOIP and mobile. Google Voice comes with all of the basic VOIP features such as call forwarding, dedicated phone number, cheap long distance and voice mail that can be forwarded to your email. It also comes with other premium features such as the ability to send SMS and transcribing voice mail to text. All for the whopping price of free.

 

What makes Google Voice, however is how it’s implemented. Google Voice gives you the option to override your current phone number. For instance, I have a Boston area code as my Google Voice number. When I was in Hawaii, my Google Voice number would be forwarded to the Hawaii number. When I call out from my phone, it shows my Boston number. The reason why this is great is because I typically get a new SIM card on most of my trips to the US. This allows me to provide my parents with one constant number where they can consistently reach me at. Since most pre-paid plans don’t cover long distance, routing my calls to Canada through Google Voice allows me to save quite a bit of money. When I’m back in Toronto, Google Voice is forwarded to my Skype number which is then forwarded to my Toronto number. I like this setup as I’m constantly on Skype and it allows me to intercept a call on my notebook if I’m at my desk. Similarly with SMS, I love how I can send and receive US SMS messages for free.

 

Given that it is a Google service, you can also execute most of these features from the web. For instance, I could call my brother from the web and it’ll connect the call from my brother to a phone number that I’ve preset on Google Voice. This is one of the ways I use to save money calling to the US.  I can also send SMS messages like I would send an email message. You also have the ability to listen to your voicemails from the web page. It’s the way managing telecommunication should be.

 

The only issue that I have with Google Voice is that it doesn’t work seamlessly in Canada. In order for me to use the service, I had to set up my account while I was in the US. There is no means to forward the call to a Canadian number unless you had a legacy GrandCentral number. There’s also a change in FroYo that I can’t validate. It seems like Google Voice is disabled in Canada. It will work if you had Google Voice set up before the upgrade. To enable it, you have to pop in a US SIM card and enable Google Voice over wifi. That being said, it’s an awesome service and I can’t wait to be able to use it fully here.

 

 

Customer Experience Required in Canada’s Wireless industry

One of the worst kept secrets in the Canadian Mobile industry is that both Telus and Bell are going to be launching their W-CDMA network in 2009. The launch is now imminent with the announcement that both Bell and Telus will soon be launching with iPhones on their networks in the not so distant future. Competition for wireless in Canada is about to get really hot in the next few months and maybe even years.

I won’t claim to be an expert on wireless; I’m more of an observer. My sense tell me that when the dust settles in a few years, price points would remain about the same as they are today. We will get more features due to the evolution of technology but they will eventually stay about here. A large reason for that will have to do with our Canadian geography, the lack of population density and lack of population mass making this business a relatively expensive venture to undertake in comparison to other countries. Companies like Rogers and Bell might be in better shape to provide content delivery by leveraging their media divisions but in general, every other company will have very similar risks, costs and revenue opportunity.

The one factor that every company has control over is the customer experience. Being someone who is very interested in mobile, one of the Twitter searches I follow is “#telus #bell #rogers” and with a medium like Twitter, they can be vocal about how they feel. One thing in common is that people are extremely frustrated and are looking for alternatives from the big 3 today.

Good customer service is the tip of the iceberg for a great customer experience. This starts all the way from the start of a sale all the way through the time a customer chooses to leave a service. I can’t speak for any other service as I’ve been solely a Rogers customer for about 8 years now. Rogers has vastly improved its customer service from when I started using them. It used to be a pain to call them because customer service reps (CSR) could be extremely rude and unhelpful. Today the fear of calling 611 is no longer there and Rogers has gone as far as to hire a Social Media team to help deal with issues on Twitter. It’s still early on but I have high hopes of its success.

Beyond customer service, this is where Rogers falls down and needs to seriously shore up the organization to stem the tide of negative comments. It’s frustrating to call a CSR to know more about plans, features and products of the company that the CSR is representing. It’s also frustrating that there is more knowledge of Rogers on sites like HowardForums.com then in Rogers itself. This problem also extends to the technical side too. One such incident that sticks out in my mind is right after Rogers announced that they too were now able to send and receive Tweets via SMS. The transition was rocky at best. For myself, it took almost 5 days for it to work. One particular person on Twitter had an iPhone and the technical support rep insisted that the problem was with the iPhone and had the individual call Apple multiple times for support. It was pretty clear that if the person was receiving other SMS messages that the iPhone was not the issue. The resolution for the issue ended up being an issue with Twitter not entering all area codes needed to send via SMS. CSRs and Tech Support reps need to be armed with information and knowledge that will make them effective in their job especially when it comes to new high profile features. The truth is that things go awry and customers can accept that. What customers don’t expect is incompetence.

 
One of the most common tricks that you read about online about calling Rogers reps is to keep calling until you can find a representative who knows what you are talking about. This points to an inconsistency of training of the customer reps. For me, I should be able to get what I need whether it be information or purchase of features with one phone call and not many. With Bell or Telus now offering similiar technology, the next phone call might very well be Bell or Telus.
 
The one thing that really baffles me is the philosophy regarding customer retention. For Rogers, it is typically a reactive customer retention strategy. Another way to get good deals with Rogers is to typicaly call to cancel and at that point, Rogers typically offers you very good plans to retain you. Sometimes it’s too little too late. Customer retention should be on-going and it’s not the big things but the little things that matter the most. Also, calling me up once every few months to extend my contract by offering me phones I would never use is not a good customer retention strategy. In fact, it just aggravates me a little bit more. Good customer retention is to call me to tell me when plans are improved. When I first started paying for data, I used to spend $100 for 500 MB of data. If I never upgraded my plan, I would be still paying for the same. Rogers went through many iterations of plans before I called to have to manually change the plans myself. Typically Rogers offers approximately $100 discount every couple for an equivalent discount for a hardware upgrade. There have never been a phone that I wanted from Rogers until the HTC Magic. Although I have been a customer for Rogers for over 8 years, this is my first hardware upgrade; Rogers never took that into account. I liked Fido’s Fido Dollars policy better. You build credit over time and you should have the ability to spend it in the way that you want.
 
I can’t speak much about other companies but I know that Rogers is putting some serious and genuine efforts to try to make its customers experience better. Hopefully Rogers can at least fix these areas.

 

Wired Wednesday – May 10, 2009 [Call to Action]

I love Wired Wednesdays. It was the first taste of a start up meetup in Toronto. It’s amazing to see how vibrant the startup culture is in Toronto. This time around was no different. I haven’t been to one since the first one and the event has grown since then. The May Wired Wednesday Toronto featured Spreed, Homestars and Zoocasa. Spreed is a white label news app, Homestars is a review site for trades people and Zoocasa IS THE BEST PLACE TO SEARCH FOR HOMES in Canada.

The reviews of the various start ups is always cool, especially Canadian startups. Even though I wasn’t born here in Canada, I am proudly Canadian. It is what I identify myself with. There were a couple of highlights of that night. The big one for me was Saul’s call to action. The one thing that we don’t do well in Canada is to highlight our Canadian startups. I think naturally Canadians are reserved. We like to remain low key and consistently humble. However, for us to be successful, we have to drum up more support for the various ideas we have here in Canada.

The second highlight of the night was Stuart Macdonald’s point that everyone in your company is the marketing department. It’s similiar idea as everyone in the company is responsible for quality of the product. The point here is that we have to be evangelists for our companies. It’s probably one of the most critical things that we can do.

For my part, I am going to spend some time after each event to play with each product and dedicate at least one blog to review the product. I’ll also be more proactive about talking about some of the internal workings of Zoocasa without revealing company secrets.

Also – directly from the horse’s mouth, check out Saul’s own blog post on his call to action for us.