Thursday, May 18, 2017

It’s also time to update the football viewer experience

I wrote a while back (and thanks for all the interesting feedback) about the need to modernise the in stadium football fan experience.

There also the need to update the experience of the viewer at home.

A few weeks ago at the Telegraph Business of Sport Conference the ever-interesting former Crystal Palace supremo Simon Jordan was absolutely spot on in the comments he made about how every single Premier League football game should be televised live, comparing the sport to other facets of the entertainment industry:

"I think that every game around the world can be live.
Football eats itself sometimes. We're talking about £8bn in [global] TV revenues, right?
Well, the X-Men movie franchise is £10bn, so let's get context about how big this business really is against how big it really could be."

I’m a lifelong Liverpool fan.  I came to the UK to watch them play, but yet I can’t watch every single game – despite the fact that I’m happy to pay to do so.

No service to enable me to exists.

The rights regime around the game is really dated, preventing games being televised at 3pm on a Saturday, nominally to ensure attendances are not impacted for games on at the same time.

Despite the fact that I live 5 minutes from the ground of my local non-league team I’m not going to pay to watch them play at 3pm on a Saturday (or indeed ever) as I don’t follow them.  In fact I generally only watch Liverpool games.

A regime predicated on people living in one area only supporting their local side when the population is so upwardly mobile feels stuck in the 1950s – so, like others, I’m forced to find a pub with an international feed to watch my team play.

Being able to watch my team play if I’m on holiday in another country but not in the one where the game is played is bizarre, especially when technology exists that would enable me to buy a subscription service from a broadcaster or even the club direct.

I can watch goals just after they go in via the Sky Sports Football Score Centre app and cast them to my big screen but I can’t pay to watch the game live, which is ridiculous and needs resolving with a rule change as part of the next rights auction.

It’s really not surprising that 5 million UK adults use illegal streaming services or apps – many of them to access football – when the demand is there but the supply isn’t being met, and football as an industry needs to learn the lesson of the music industry on how to credibly tackle piracy and monetise the demand.

For many years the recording industry attributed blame to ISPs, file sharing services and individuals they’d targeted via PR, regulatory & governmental pressure and lawsuits – but it wasn’t until streaming services like Spotify became mainstream that consumers moved away from piracy en masse.

All due to consumer demand being met by a great subscription based streamed service which consumers are happy to pay for.

Along with updating the rights regime, the Premier League needs to take televising the sport to the next level with the development of a centralised platform from which all games can be streamed globally – and to make it available as both a direct subscription (including apps for smartphones, tablets and Smart TVs) plus whitelist it to club and other websites to enable innovative bundling of digital and other services.

This can then be available in several different languages and include all kinds of other interesting content alongside it, plus offer the end consumer a choice of commentators, camera angles and plenty of other innovations.

I’d happily pay a tenner a month for that.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Smoke on the switcher

Going through my bills recently I spotted one I have absolutely no engagement with – my water provider.

Without going back into my Inbox now to check who I paid it to, I couldn’t even tell you that I was a customer of a firm called Affinity Water:

My £330.55 bill for the year was paid, and nothing in their confirmation message even tells me what I’m getting for that (presumably it’s for the annual water supply for and the removal of waste water from my home).

I’d long since thrown away the original paperwork along with the unengaging blurb that came with it.

Like many other utilities, it’s a product I don’t care about and have no engagement with – regardless of who my provider is, the same homogenous product comes out of the pipe (in a similar way to my electricity).

I have no brand loyalty to the company whatsoever.

What I do have loyalty to though is the minimising of my bills – something that I review on a regular basis to ensure I’m getting good value.

So I was surprised to discover that I can’t switch water supplier as a consumer at all.

As with other regulated markets in energy and telecommunications switching does seem to be coming though, and any regulatory framework that ensures competition is good for consumers - hopefully fostering innovative products as well as optimising value.

One concept that has often been mooted is a brand like Virgin entering the energy space, and in theory the opportunity is there with a brand many consumers are loyal to.

Virgin is, however, also a brand that resonates more with the consumer of today than the one of the future – those familiar with Virgin Cola taking on Coke and the gloriously executed publicity stunts to steal the thunder from British Airways – and is more about partnering and branding than running services in the modern era.

Others such as the well rated Utility Warehouse could also make a play and even bundle water supply with energy products, growing the attractive model for those managing their spend of one bill for multiple utilities entering the home.

The real opportunity is for a player like Google to enter the market and really shake things up.  With all the R&D work they do on innovation in energy saving and environmentalism, a Google badged service (using a smart water meter) that gave me the tools to both save money and conserve one of the world’s scarce assets would be very attractive to me.

If profits could be reinvested into further conservation and/or water charities in the third world it would be all the incentive needed. I would switch tomorrow.

This needs the market opening up and the regulatory encouragement to invest and innovate – and it would be great to be able to choose my provider based on providing services that I am both happy to pay for and are doing good for the planet.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Time for relief from South West Pains

Looking back a few weeks on from the welcome (to anyone who is a regular commuter on the firm’s services) decision to ditch Stagecoach from running the South West Trains franchise out of London Waterloo, I’ve been thinking about things that the new operators First MTR can do to practically improve the Customer Experience.

My girlfriend (who is American) refers to the UK sometimes as being “the land of lowered expectations” in reference to the historically poor customer service culture in this country (although granted this has and is still improving) – and that phrase has often been in the back of my mind as the current franchise has run down.

South West Trains operates overcrowded, dirty, unreliable services that are often impacted by any number of reasons that seem to both (a) contradict and (b) never be the company’s fault.  Easily the worst example of that I heard this week was the announcement that a train had been delayed due to earlier snow – when it was 24 degrees Celsius.

Any service that has declined so much as this over recent years will take time to get back to acceptable standards of Customer Experience (let alone generate advocacy), but I thought I’d come up with a “Top 10” of practical things that they can do to ease the pain for commuters:

  1. Re-brand – and do it immediately.  Ditch the current “South West Trains” name to reset expectations from the current poor service.  Be prepared though - when Virgin Trains re-branded this had an immediate impact as a result of increased complaints, all due to passengers having higher quality expectations from the painting trains red.
  2. Live the new brand and believe in it – if it’s just a veneer, you suffer the risk of getting ‘veneereal disease’ (as a Virgin brand director of mine once said). 
  3. Embrace the new identity.  Be open and honest about the problems the service has – and how and when you’re going to fix them.  Keep your customers updated honestly and without any PR spin - and deliver on the promises.
  4. When something goes wrong, be open about why.  Don’t attribute problems to contradictory reasons - creating a culture of mistrust - and to reasons where it feels like blame is being attributed in a way that abrogates the company from any liability so as to prevent a compensation claim.
  5. Answer complaints within the stated SLAs and make them much more human – remove the stock replies that I’ve had 4 times recently (word-for-word) when raising complaints.  Don’t make it appear like you care – show that you actually do.  Treat issues seriously and remove the customer service speak.
  6. Empower your on station people (and give them the tools) to resolve problems to the customers’ satisfaction on the spot rather than hide behind a “you’ll have to write in” mentality.
  7. Bring season ticketing out of the 1970s - base it on trips rather than days.  People who work in 2017 often work from multiple offices and have home working days so the current system means anyone in a non “Monday to Friday in the same office” situation gets no value from them.
  8. Make trains longer – in off peak as well as in peak.  In off peak times carriages are often not in service to save money on leasing charges – so people have the same standing experience at 1130 on a Saturday night they would at 730 on a Monday morning.
  9. Declassify and remove the first class sections on trains.  Peak trains in particular are dangerously overcrowded and it will enable more people to sit.
  10. Properly clean the trains (more often than once every several months), the toilets and the stations.  Some of them are disgusting as well as old and run down – which doesn’t help.
  11. Do contactless tickets in a way where the modern commuter will actually find them useful.  Why deploy 14 year old Oyster-style technology for contactless ticketing and not digital wallets as well?  I want to tap my smartphone not carry around yet another piece of unreliable plastic.
  12. Change your Wi-Fi provider to one who manages to get the service to work.
  13. Drop the weird flowery 1920s English announcements at stations – such as references to people needing to mind their “cases and parcels” rather than “bags”.  It’s strange, dated and an irritant – and changing it would be a visible indicator of the service being brought out of the last century.

OK, so my top 10 became a top 13 – and frankly could have been even more given how dated some of the stations are – but tackling these would make a big difference to the customer experience and generate goodwill to give space for further service improvement.

The really poor service has been less visible in the media given the fiasco on the Southern network over the last year or so, but with the new operators being in place from August hopefully this can be the start of the end of the South West Pains.