All posts in “Entrepreneurship”

GoGo’s In-Flight WiFi Goes in Fits and Starts

Why is it that in-flight WiFi is almost always problematic? Every time I take a commercial flight, I sign up for the GoGo WiFi service — and every time I am disappointed by something. My experience last week flying on Delta was no exception.

GoGo's In-Flight WiFi Goes in Fits and Starts

After takeoff, I struggled to connect my iPhone. After spending quite a long time making unsuccessful attempts, I gave up in frustration. I pulled out my MacBook and was able to connect. I did it! Or so I thought.

First things first. I connected with my wife using text messaging. That worked. Something just feels good about connecting with the one you love when you are up in the sky, a million miles away. I had no phone service, but at least I was in touch through text. Then I went to work — and suddenly hit a brick wall again.

Stuck in the Cloud

I was able to both text and surf the Web — slowly, but it was doable. However, I couldn’t access email. I wanted to catch up with the new messages I’d received during the last couple of hours, so, I hit Get Mail, waited and hoped. After roughly 30 minutes, I was still sitting there, waiting and hoping.

A handful downloaded, but most of my unread messages were stuck in the cloud. As I stared idly out the window, I thought, hey, there it is — the cloud. It was big and white and fluffy. What a pretty cloud. For all the good it was doing me, my emails might as well have been floating around out there.

I snapped out of it and took another look at my email download status — still stuck. I shut down the email and reopened it several times, hoping for the best. When my MacBook email application freezes on the ground, that always works. It never works up in the air, though.

Next I completely shut down and restarted my MacBook. Once again I hit Get Mail. Click. I waited… and waited… and waited. I was still having the same d— problem. It was so frustrating. The kind Delta flight attendant brought me another cup of Starbucks, which usually helps — but not so much that time.

Who’s to Blame?

Who was to blame? GoGo, Delta or me? The flight was perfect, except for the WiFi. The unreliable service may or may not have been Delta’s fault, but its reputation took a hit with me anyway.

I could better understand the problem when in-flight WiFi was in its infancy. It was new. Companies like GoGo had to work the kinks out. Well, it’s been years — and the kinks are still there, center stage!

I struggled to get a reliable connection for two hours — until the pilot announced we were making our approach. OK, it was time to put away all our tech gadgets! Sure. Pack it away. All I had done was struggle to connect.

Today we use wireless everywhere. That means we must be connected everywhere. With each year that passes, connectivity should get easier. I want to love GoGo’s in-flight WiFi service, but there are still too many problems. I hope someday it will get better and stronger.

GoGo Is a Crapshoot

GoGo did let me connect to my sweetie and surf the Web. However, I had wanted to attend to my many unread emails, and I couldn’t access them. I thought ahead — would GoGo work better on my return flight? I could only hope and pray. Is that really how GoGo wants customers to view its brand? Just hoping to get lucky?

As it happened, on my return flight GoGo worked just fine on my iPhone. Imagine that. I was happy I was able to connect for that leg of the trip. It was better than nothing, but GoGo should offer customers more than a slim hope.

Jeff Kagan has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2010. His focus is on the wireless and telecom industries. He is an independent
analyst, consultant and speaker.
Email Jeff.

Machines Could Become Driving Force Behind CX

Customer experience improvements have become an important part of companies’ digital transformations, according to survey results Mitel released Tuesday.

More than 2,500 senior IT decision makers across North America, the UK, France, Germany and Australia responded to the survey, conducted in August by Opinion Research for Mitel. The participants represented businesses ranging from 250 to 10,000-plus employees in a wide range of industries.

Among the researchers’ findings:

  • Overall, 95 percent of the respondents saw customer experience (CX) improvements as an important part of digital transformation;
  • 59 percent had completed half or more of their expected CX improvements;
  • 90 percent planned to tie machines to their communications and collaboration tools;
  • 85 percent believed machine-to-people interactions would result in positive transformations in the customer experience;
  • 75 percent planned to implement machine-based interactions with customers within the next two years;
  • 75 percent saw automated event-triggered calls from customer devices as a valuable service;
  • 73 percent believed machine-enhanced routines were valuable to their organization;
  • 57 percent of retail respondents believed better CX would lead to higher customer satisfaction; and
  • 56 percent of retail respondents believed better CX would lead to higher customer loyalty and lower customer churn.

Generation Z

Customers, particularly millennials, readily have embraced digital technology in their day-to-day lives, the report suggests.

Multichannel and machine-enhanced processes that tie together voice, video, movie and online channels to deliver a seamless and highly personalized experience help determine good CX, based on the survey results.

However, businesses need to look beyond millennials to Gen Z — the generation whose oldest members turn 21 this year — suggests a study of United States consumers by WP Engine.

Gen Z members, who will constitute 40 percent of all consumers by 2020, soon will drive every major consumer trend, the WP Engine researchers found.

Biometrics, predictive technologies, voice and gestures will replace typing on a singular device, they concluded.

“The only way to get these types of real-time personalized — and then, ultimately, predictive — experiences is with the assistance of machines,” said WP Engine CMO MaryEllen Dugan.

Companies might need to look further beyond AI and omnichannel communications.

“We’re headed to completely unified experiences across both online and off,” Dugan told CRM Buyer.

A consumer’s in-store preferences will need to be incorporated online and vice versa, she said, and “this will likely mean the adoption of AR and VR.”

Emerging Tech

Larger e-commerce companies have the funds — and to some extent, the skilled manpower — needed to incorporate artificial intelligence, big data, augmented reality, virtual reality and other newer technologies into their systems, and “they’ll do this for mass personalization,” noted Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

While e-commerce small and mid-sized businesses face manpower and budgetary constraints, they too will be able to tap newer technologies, he told CRM Buyer.

The rise of AI networks is coming, and the market will total US$100 billion by 2025, Wang has predicted.

These AI networks will be offered by a limited number of large players, including Alibaba, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, he said, and e-commerce SMBs will be able to tap into them.

“This is already here with lead matching,” Wang pointed out.

“For the first time, SMB companies have the ability to leverage the martech stack and cloud software to provide the same seamless type of experience that large companies do,” observed WP Engine’s Dugan.

“Given that their website is essentially their face to the world, they need to use all the technology available to take advantage of the cloud, AI and e-commerce technology,” she said.

That includes “spinning up microsites faster, tracking their audience,’ and adapting quickly to new trends, Dugan said.

Using an open source CMS is one way SMBs can keep down costs, she added, while “providing incredible ROI and competing with larger companies.”

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

Net Neutrality Battle Lines Drawn as FCC Vote Looms

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s long-brewing plan to repeal Net neutrality has the broadband, telecom and entertainment worlds at loggerheads. The commission’s expected Dec. 14 vote could result in a complete rewrite of the script for the Internet’s competitive landscape and consumer protection models.

The repeal of Net neutrality would end restrictions imposed by the Obama administration in 2015, which effectively regarded the Internet as a utility with heavy government regulation, and prevented providers from throttling speeds and imposing other restrictions on certain providers.

Innovation Dampened?

The Internet was working just fine before Net neutrality, but the restrictions created roadblocks to innovation and investment, Pai and other free market advocates have argued.

The cost of building out a network and investing in new technologies would be prohibitive without the ability to turn a profit, according to Net neutrality critics.

AT&T always has operated in an open and transparent manner, and it will continue to do so, wrote Senior Vice President Bob Quinn in a recent online post.

The restoration of pre-Net neutrality regulations with a lighter touch will spur new innovation on the part of providers and deliver enormous consumer benefits, he added.

Repealing Net neutrality in effect will make it impossible for independent content providers to compete, and allow providers to resume throttling down high speed access for certain customers, Net neutrality advocates have argued.

The end of Net neutrality could spark a new wave of consolidation that might leave non-favored providers standing at the altar without a dance partner.

Investment vs. Competition

The move to repeal Net neutrality is part of a never-ending debate on regulation of the Internet, and there are legitimate risks and benefits on both sides, said Jeff Kagan, an independent analyst.

“There are no right or wrong angles, just different angles,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “One side is beneficial to the consumer and certain companies that use the Internet for their business model. They want to use the Net at no cost, and I don’t blame them.”

On the other hand, the Internet is a “very expensive and rapidly growing area,” and companies can’t be expected to invest in it and not be able to turn a profit on their investments, Kagan said.

Incumbent broadband and telecom providers like Comcast, AT&T, Charter, Verizon and CenturyLink have emerged on one side of the debate, against Internet-based content, search and online storage firms like Google, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, he pointed out.

Non-operator-based providers that lack a distribution pipeline to their customers, such as Netflix or Hulu, would lose unrestricted access without Net neutrality protections, said Tim Mulligan, senior analyst at Midia Research.

“The argument for consolidation between operators and media services becomes compelling from a business perspective,” he told the E-Commerce Times, “and whole business models which have been built around unrestricted access to digital services will need to be reevaluated.”

The outcry over the potential repeal of Net neutrality may dissuade the FCC from taking immediate action, suggested broadband consultant Craig Settles.

However, any pause likely will be short lived and little more than a ceremonial step to take off some heat, he told the E-Commerce Times.

“While Chairman Pai is pausing, the other thing we will see is a movement starting in Congress for legislative ‘reform’ of Net neutrality,” Settles predicted. “True believers in Net neutrality should fear this more than the FCC, because incumbents will hijack the … legislative process.”

Limited Access

For consumers and smaller competitors in rural America, the possible repeal of Net neutrality would create an even more complex set of issues, due to the high cost of investing in last mile infrastructure and therefore limited competition, noted Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

“Repealing Net neutrality gives the biggest companies more incentive to create toll booths for Internet content and profit from that rather than building better networks in rural areas,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “The change is a big deal, rewarding the biggest firms at the expense of smaller firms that have less market power.”

A repeal of Net neutrality could lead to more consolidation, Mitchell said, which would make it even harder for small ISPs to compete against incumbents — and that would mean even less investment in rural broadband infrastructure.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times.

3 Ways to Buff Up Your Website and Do More Business

Let’s face it: Your website is central to your e-commerce business. There’s no way around that. Upgrading your website is one of the most important things you can do to bring in new customers and sell more products.

Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to know exactly how to improve your site. To help you out with that dilemma, here are three ways to refresh your website and boost your business without breaking the bank.

1. Reconsider the Design

The overall design of an e-commerce website has a big impact on customers — and on sales — so regularly rethinking and tweaking your site’s design is vital.

“Good Web design for an e-commerce site is something that would be a number of things done well,” said Miklos Philips, principal lead for user Experience at Toptal.

“This would include a clear brand identity, the use of clear visual hierarchy, easy product search and browsing via clearly laid-out navigation and omnipresent search,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

An e-commerce business relies on its site not just to sell products, but to communicate a brand’s identity and create an enjoyable shopping experience for customers.

“Good design is important because it needs to instill in would-be customers trustworthiness and store credibility,” said Philips. “If the site appears poorly constructed and confusing, customers lose confidence in the store’s ability to deliver on its promise.”

It’s not like you can’t make sales with a poorly designed website, but incorporating effective, shopper-friendly design elements will offer long-term gains.

“Good website design communicates your brand identity, builds trust in your company, creates a cohesive and pleasant shopping experience, and naturally guides shoppers towards purchase,” said Alison Garrison, director of services for Volusion.

“You can make revenue with not-so-good design, but you will make a lot more with thoughtful design that puts the shopper first and is based in solid conversion principles,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

2. Make a Great First Impression

First impressions matter, since it doesn’t take long for a customer to decide whether to stay or go.

“It takes about 50 milliseconds — or only 0.05 seconds — for people to form an opinion about a website — that is, whether or not they like it, whether they’ll stay or leave, and ultimately, whether or not they’ll purchase,” explained Garrison.

The homepage is the first thing customers see when visiting your site, so it’s important to pay particular attention to it, and to upgrade and improve its functionality as necessary. When rethinking your homepage, start at the top of the site and work down, looking at it as a customer would.

“Consider the header and navigation,” said Garrison. “This is prime real estate and should include value propositions, such as free shipping and easy return policy, and trust builders, such as a phone number and trust badges.”

On that first page, consider organizing the categories you offer — perhaps building them based on your customers’ requirements, such as gender, age or particular use cases, Garrison recommended.

Creative categorizing will make the homepage at once more appealing and more useful, drawing customers deeper into your site.

3. Add Autofill

Autofill has come a long way, and intelligent autofill technology can both streamline the shopping process and boost conversion rates.

“In a word, consumer-friendly autofill depends on accuracy,” said Karl Mattson, SVP of Growth for Fillr.

“How often does the autofill correctly autofill all of the fields in a shopping check-out experience? The better autofill does this, the less a user has to manually correct or input text fields in a form,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Increasingly, autofill is used in mobile shopping apps, which is another good e-commerce upgrade to consider.

“Autofill, long available only as a Web browser feature, is now available as a service that can be white-labeled into mobile shopping apps,” explained Mattson.

“This is an important, critical step forward for mobile app shopping conversions,” he said.

“Before, mobile app conversions were dependent solely on how well an app designer could create an easy-to-use checkout experience. Now that apps have the option of offering their own autofill as part of their conversion experience, autofill becomes an avenue whereby users can side-step the most frustrating part of mobile shopping — manually completing a complicated mobile e-commerce check-out,” Mattson pointed out.

New advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning have made autofill better than ever, which makes it a smart upgrade.

“Hand-in-hand with machine learning, autofill is evolving from a relatively straightforward text-based service to a technology that will become available across platforms — particularly voice-assistive platforms like Cortana and Seri,” said Mattson.

“As it expands to new platforms and uses, thanks to machine learning, autofill also continues to become smarter,” he added. It is now “more accurate, more contextually relevant and faster.”

Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety
of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists.
Email Vivian.

B2B Tech Marketers Have Work Cut Out for Them

Product reliability and ease of use are key for business-to-business technology marketers, according to a recent survey of technology product and service decision makers throughout the United States.

Chart of Preferred Claims About Tech Products or Services

Four hundred B2B tech buyers participated in the survey, conducted for Lavidge by WestGroup Research. Lavidge released the results on Thursday.

Overall, 68 percent cited reliability as the most critical criterion in their purchase decisions; 64 percent said ease of use was key.

Decision Making Process

Among preferred marketing tactics, 40 percent of the decision makers ranked meeting marketers in person during the consideration phase of the purchase as their top preference. About 36 percent preferred recommendations of colleagues and friends, while 35 percent gave first preference to pricing.

During initial discovery:

  • 52 percent of tech buyers turned to referrals from colleagues and friends;
  • 39 percent used search engines;
  • 34 percent consulted vendor websites;
  • 28 percent attended conferences and trade shows;
  • 27 percent turned to product brochures; and
  • only 4 percent responded positively to telemarketing and cold calls.

The report considers B2B email marketing and social media message blasts where recipients aren’t prequalified with a reasonable expectation of receiving the message as cold calls.

“Getting to decision makers is crazy difficult in today’s fragmented environment, which is why an omnichannel approach is required,” remarked Stephen Heitz, Lavidge’s chief innovation officer.

Size Matters

There are major differences between what influences larger companies and smaller ones, the survey found:

  • Ease of integration was key for 61 percent of larger organizations but only 33 percent of SMBs;
  • Scalability was crucial for 36 percent of larger organizations but only 8 percent of those with revenues of less than US$10 million;
  • Vendor presentations were key for 54 percent of companies with more than $10 million in revenue but just 23 percent of smaller firms; and
  • Face to face meetings in the final decision making phase were key for 49 percent of large enterprises but only 33 percent of smaller firms.

“Typically this issue only affects a handful of technology companies that provide services to both the SMB and enterprise market,” Heitz told the E-Commerce Times.

Sales of less than $20,000 “do need a very different approach,” he said.

“We would advocate different approaches for larger and smaller customers,” said Michael Jude, research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“That’s the point of targeted marketing,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Still, “multiple markets can be addressed and should be part of an overall marketing plan,” Kathleen McEntee, president of Kathleen McEntee & Associates, told the E-Commerce Times.

The Rise of Big Data, AI and Advanced Analytics

Increasing access to intelligent data will lead to better targeted emails, according to the Lavidge report. Companies offering services that access, analyze and repackage data at a highly personalized level will let anyone take advantage of AI, big data and advanced analytics to offer personalization.

“AI is actually pretty inexpensive,” Frost’s Jude pointed out, “It’s the big data component that’s expensive. However, most of these capabilities are available through cloud services,” which means smaller firms could use them.

How to Drum Up Business

Companies can use various tactics to encourage referrals, including paying advocates, the report suggests.

However, unless there’s a value driver for a referral, “there is no value to a large firm to spend time advocating for a vendor,” said Lisa Anderson, president of LMA Consulting Group.

“A paid referral may not be looked upon favorably,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Further, large firms have guidelines around vendor compensation and initiatives.

Marketers could get around that problem with a properly constructed referral program, Frost’s Jude suggested, or use VARs, “who typically deal in discounts.”

Still, “testimonials and personal relationships go a long way to assist marketers and sales people [in gaining] credibility with prospective clients,” Anderson noted.

Leveraging Telemarketing and Cold Calls

Although poorly received, cold calls cost about 80 percent less than in-person visits and let firms reach customers who may not travel to their place of business, the report notes.

Telemarketing and cold calls “are tried and true, so they’re worth considering,” Frost’s Jude said. However, companies should use a decision model to assess the most effective approach.

As for email marketing and social media blasts, “make such programs opt-in,” advised Jude, “and provide an incentive to do so.”

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.