Looking at CPaaS - The Next Big Thing in Telecom

Over the past year during various conversations with telecom insiders including analysts and reporters there always seemed to be a question about CPaaS from UCaaS providers.

At the present time, Twilio is likely the most commonly known CPaaS provider, quickly followed by Nexmo, which Vonage acquired. Plivo is another, and even Bandwidth.com has their own version of CPaaS they offer and Ribbon, the marriage of Sonus and GenBand offers KANDY. Even former client OnSip has their own CPaaS platform. 

In a nutshell, CPaaS provides a platform for custom development of applications and services that can hook into your telecom provider via an open or private API. If you use Zapier or IFTTT for app automation, think the same way about CPaaS.

As CPaaS gets more understood watch as enterprise developers begin to look more at it, to enable their telecom and collaboration services to do more that the carrier doesn't yet do.


Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications Is Out

Yesterday Gartner released the 2018 Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications, and to no surprise for the most part, the results are what's expected. Cisco, Microsoft, Mitel all made the top right quadrant, along with the surprising Phoenix like, Avaya,  while Unify popped up in the visionary category. 

As GetVoIP explained on March 30th of this year, there's a big difference between the two MQ's from Gartner. The two different grids and reports separate out UC and UCaaS. The latter report is where the emerging cloud players like RingCentral, 8x8, Dialpad, Vonage and soon Google will all be considered for. That report comes out in a few months, just before Gartner's big fall shindig in Orlando,  ITXpo.

In reality, it would be best if Gartner released both reports simultaneously, as there's the initial "hype" cycle as we're seeing already from Avaya in the media, and Mitel as well, that tends to cause buyers who are shopping for UCaaS to say "but I don't see you in the Gartner UC report" to companies who are selling the cloud first offerings. 

What's the difference? The UC is more of a premise based solution set that offers access to the cloud services. The UCaaS offerings start in the cloud, as a cloud service, are far more oriented for the mobile workforce, and tend to be more nimble in delivering new service solutions and features. Governments and the very large scale enterprise are likely better suited for UC type solutions today, while the more rapidly growing companies with nationwide or global footprints are more suited for UCaaS . In the future, UCaaS will be the bigger market, but for now, UC is the big dog in the yard, and that's why Gartner shares those details now.


Redux: Vonage, RingCentral: "Me Too, Me Also, Me (not) Different

Oh, how I laughed as I read two news releases via Telecom Reseller this morning, one apiece from Vonage, and the other from their formidable competitor Ring Central. Back in 2005 here on VoIPWatch I coined the phrase "Me too, Me also, Me different"

Every few years I would find a reason surrounding activities in the VoIP community that I've been "watching" and engaging in for now over 15 years (actually almost 20) to find more examples of that unimaginative behavior by businesses in telecom. I even strived to find differentiators and highlight them too, as thinking and doing different always lets you stand out from the crowd. So as I read the two releases, I had to do a double take as the lead paragraphs were almost identical and released on the same exact day. Oh, and the quotes too, but I'm getting ahead of myself....so read on...please.

From Vonage:

 Vonage (NYSE: VG), a business cloud communications leader, has launched an integration with Google Cloud’s new Contact Center AI, a solution that combines multiple AI products to improve the customer experience and the productivity of contact centers.

From RingCentral:

 RingCentral, Inc.(NYSE:RNG), a leading provider of global enterprise cloud communications and collaboration solutions, today announced plans to integrate with Google Cloud’s new Contact Center AI, a solution that combines multiple AI products to improve the customer service experience, as well as the productivity of contact centers.

But don't only blame the messenger, or either company. Blame Google's approach to media releases. The way that works is Google makes their announcement, usually by preparing what they want to say to the public. They then ask each company to submit their news release for approval, and have the companies conform to their already developed messaging, both for releases, as well as blog posts and social media efforts. They do this, as Google wants to control and manage the narrative. But it's more than the narrative that is getting controlled.

While this is all good for Google, having two competitors put out news the same day, with almost identical language really doesn't do much to show how the two companies are doing anything different. But as both are public companies, and both likely briefed sell side and buy side analysts at Google Next last week the news had to come out immediately after that disclosure, but usually that's reserved for a "material event" and I don't consider signing a vendor agreement material, or maybe the SEC does, but I don't think so. These announcements by both companies are designed to advise the customer base this new functionality is coming and to shore up stock price by making it appear that Google "partnered" with them, when in reality Google simply sold them a service...both of them. And so, both could day "hey, look at us. We have this too..." Big Whoop..

Google also said their cloud AI technology will be part of their new Enterprise version of Google Voice, so one has to really wonder why Vonage and RingCentral are so quick to be on the paying side of the beta test. If you recall, Google said that Enterprise Google Voice was a beta which also may mean that Apple may not let an app go in to the app store as Beta apps are usually forbidden, unless Google gets special treatment.  Where's the difference in how either are going to deploy AI in the contact center space? Not a peep about that...why? Because neither Vonage nor RingCentral own the AI IP. They are "borrowing" it from Google....OH.....OH.

But the release is really so "me too" as it gets worse as the quotes provided really don't offer any degree of differentiation either at all. We call this a fill in the blanks release model in the PR world as everyone gets the same statement:

From Vonage:

“Contact Center AI empowers enterprises to use AI to complement and enhance their contact centers,” said Rajen Sheth, Director of Product Management, Google. “Google Cloud’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for our customers to use AI for contact centers through our relationships with key partners like Vonage.”

From RingCentral:

“Contact Center AI empowers enterprises to use AI to complement and enhance their contact centers,” said Rajen Sheth, Director of Product Management at Google Cloud. “Google Cloud’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for our customers to use AI for contact centers through our relationships with key partners like RingCentral.”

Key partner---ugh... Both are "key partners"....so are all the rest of the companies who ride on Google Cloud, not key partners. Seriously, partnership is so overused that for years we have been telling clients not to use it as the official definition of a partnership in legal terms is:

Definition: A legal form of business operation between two or more individuals who share management and profits. The federal government recognizes several types of partnerships. The two most common are general and limited partnerships.

In the case of Google along with any partner, there's not much in the way of sharing management or profits. Google is being paid, or will be paid, for Google cloud services. These are customers pure and simple, the same way my three businesses use Google Cloud, Apps, Drive, Hangouts, etc. We pay for it. And given I've been "paying" Google since 2007 for a G Suite account (or whatever it was called back then) I guess I can say "I'm a Google Partner" too....NOT.

Now here's where I get concerned if I'm a Vonage or RingCentral shareholder or customer. And this concern points to why both 8x8 and Dialpad (I'm a shareholder) are going their own ways in the realm of Voice AI. A concern that what Google does with AI is no different than how Google uses your analytics data. Sure it gets sanitized to a point, but Google's AI needs to learn from somewhere, so who better for Google Voice to become better than by learning from the overall platform users on an anonymized basis.

Yes, the word "key" sure works Vonage and RingCentral. You just handed Google your keys.


Slack Swallows Up HipChat

Slack, the workforce productivity platform and service that connects businesses and people the world over just acquired HipChat and Stride from Atlassian. For Atlassian it means Slack pays them for the next three years, while also giving the Australian company an equity stake in the business. For Slack, it means shutting down the HipChat service.

What it means for Stride, a telephony offering of sorts, is going away as well.

From Android Police:

Those of you who use Hipchat and/or Stride shouldn't panic just yet; Atlassian will continue to manage its products and customers until February, at which point the cloud services will be killed off. However, customers who have Hipchat installed on their own servers will be able to continue using it for anywhere between an additional few months and two years, depending on the software version. Slack will be providing migration procedures and even webinars to get former Hipchat customers on board.

What this means:

Slack will gain the users of HipChat, and takes its biggest rival off the playing field so it can battle Microsoft, Facebook and Google. 

It also means the more open, partner friendly approach of Slack will keep its' growing list of integrations going, and it's that openness that is what is driving growth of it.

 


GoogleVoice Grows Up and Goes To Work

I've been a GoogleVoice user since the earliest days of GrandCentral. Back then not only was my agency handling blogger relations and social media for the disruptive startup, I was also an early investor and shareholder, just as I am today in Dialpad, so there's a lot of love for the service that is now at age 12 and also some conflict, so with the transparency out of the way, here's what I think.

For a long time there has been scuttlebut about a new service called Wolverine that Google was experimenting with that would bring an enterprise grade telephony based service to market. If GoogleVoice for GSuite is that, it's really more of a mashup of Google's technology than a new service.  In essence Google has just given us back the deskphone, something we all have been trying to get away from, and like so many announcements that come out from them, it's not so much what they say, it's what they didn't say. So read through as there's more to this story than the echo chamber is reporting elsewhere.

Those time challenged, here's the net net--At the end of the day Google Voice for GSuite is an entry level product that's designed to say "we can give you phone service too now with the G Suite. Consider it a Prius, while the established players are more akin to BMW's, Lexus and Tesla.

First, here's what I can discern by reading the news accounts by highlighting key points from what's bouncing around the SV Echo chamber and on the web so far:

First from TechCrunch:

AI-powered parts of it like voicemail transcription, that employees may be already using and potentially skirting the guidelines of a company. Administrators can provision and port phone numbers, get detailed reports and set up call routing functionality. They can also deploy phone numbers to departments or employees, giving them a sort of universal number that isn’t tied to a device — and making it easier to get in touch with someone where necessary.

From Android Police:

Spam filtering is also going to be present in the enterprise version. This enterprise version will also feature tight integration with other enterprise G Suite services, like Hangouts Meet and Google Calendar, with administrator-facing tools for easier deployment, phone number porting/provisioning, company directory synchronization, reports, and call routing. There's even an app—like the consumer version—for Android, iOS, and the web. Businesses will soon enjoy the same conveniences and benefits of separating phone numbers from devices.

From ZDNet:

The enterprise-ready version, now available via an Early Adopter program, takes telephony beyond simple audio. Google is bringing in context and intelligence to offer features like voicemail transcriptions and call filtering. Prior to this, Google relied on third parties to provide telephony to its G Suite customers.

From CRN:

Google Voice has been a beloved consumer product for some time, but Google is ready to reveal a new beta version of its Google Voice for the enterprise through its G Suite Early Adopter program.

What this tells me is:

  1. It's beta. Google wants their Early Adopter Program members to bang on the service and help make it better. Since you pay for GSuite, you're paying to beta test. This is crowdsourcing the final product, as Google will secure lots of data from the early adopters, and then spin out the final feature set and additions. 

  2. Google wants to compete with their third party partners. Companies like Dialpad and RingCentral have long worked with Big G on integrations, recently being part of the news cycle around a plug-in for Google Mail.  A lot of learning comes to Google from this, and then in turn they've cherry picked the features and functions to initially include in the proposed Enterprise version of Google Voice. Who said copycat products aren't en vogue.......

  3. AI-no surprise here as Google made a big deal about AI at their I/O event this past spring. 8x8, RingCentral and Dialpad have all made announcements, Dialpad has deployed Voice AI based upon TalkIQ's platform which they acquired for $50 million and then raised another $50 million to propel it. Clearly the battle for AI in voice is just ramping up and will remind us all of the "cola wars" or "burger wars" with each company touting why there's will be better. Here the contact and call center is the first battle ground for it, but companies like CEN.ai (I'm an advisor) started by Truphone founder and touch screen inventor, James Tagg and VoIP patent pioneer Ed Guy will also play a role in all this. My take is there's a long march ahead in the Voice AI space and we're going to see a steady steam of one upping each other happening for a few years to come..

  4. There's Mashups ....(where have you gone Thomas Howe and Jay Phillips)...Basically GoogleVoice users will see a beefed up return of Hangouts via Meet which means one-click conferencing for voice and video, while also doing the same for scheduling via the Calendar functionality of the GSuite. This latter functionality is already available from conference providers like Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebEx and Dialpad's UberConference so it's really not a new feature, just one that Google is finally changing from being an active part of the calendaring choices with Hangouts to Hangout Meets. The one- click call in feature to join a conference call, or be told a caller has dialed in, has been a feature of Dialpad for quite a while. So Google simply gave the enterprise what they already had, just under a different wrapper.....

  5. All the Administrator features are well, expected. Services like provisioning and porting, are table stakes to be in the enterprise Unified Communications space. The same for directory sync, etc. Here Google made the IT guy happy....they can have all this work to do, but really, Google will do it for them. Talk about getting put on the endangered worker list, the telco guy in IT just moved to the head of the line.

Now let's be the elephant in the room. Here's what Google didn't say and why this is for now, pretty much a "me too, me also" service offering. 

  1. NO INTEGRATION WITH GOOGLE'S PROJECT FI...talk about a bonehead exclusion. Enterprise executives who travel internationally need to be on one device all the time. Right now you can't link a GoogleVoice number to a Project Fi phone. It's a big hassle on a few levels with the biggest having you still stuck on using two numbers vs. one number (for life) with Google Voice. Fi is hands down the best global roaming solution but suffers from a slow uptake in users. Put that mobile service together with GSuite GoogleVoice and you have a really interesting value proposition that's native on Pixel devices. Why was this left out? Internal conflicts, deals with partners, who knows...but it will have to happen.

  2. NO INTEGRATION WITH GOOGLE HOME..here's another bonehead exclusion. Right now you can't tie a Google Home device to a GSuite account's calendar, contact directory so I'm guessing GoogleVoice will be there too, even though I can use my non GSuite GMail account and work with my Home devices to make calls. As cheap as these devices are priced, they could be the hands free calling service on every desk. This is a big opportunity, and one that needs to happen fast. HOME is selling and the fit is too natural.

  3. NO INTEGRATION WITH GOOGLE ASSISTANT...since the Assistant is so tied to HOME as the Alexa rival there was no mention of any linkage between the two. With a voice assistant you could update a contact, schedule a call, make a call, answer a call, send a call to voice mail, but also more. When a call from your spouse is announced, you could reply "honey, I love you but I'm with my assistant now...." (Let's just hope it stops recording at the right time of course) or "Hi Craig. Sure I'd love to go to the Warriors game tonight-text me the details while you continue with whatever you were doing". ... The lack of this integration, as well as Home shows how fractured Google is internally. Cloud vs. Consumer products...you get the drift. Sell Home into the Enterprise, beat Amazon at their own game.....too easy. Why wasn't it part of this now?

  4. GOOGLE DIDN'T ANNOUNCE PRICING.... They also didn't say that like GoogleVoice of today, which is free other than for international calls and texting, what the pricing will be. GoogleVoice Enterprise could be very disruptive if it was "free" domestically as telephony service bundled in with $10 per seat service for GSuite would be Skype Version 2 in so many ways. I could see calls within the enterprise and to other GoogleVoice users (Enterprise and Consumer) being free but terminating calls to non GV users would need to be part of a per second or minute bundle of sorts. Likely as part of the EAP program Google will try to ascertain pricing. Competing Telcos, it's time to make sure your contracts are all under NDA and pricing is a no no to talk about, even if it's "suggest what you would pay for another service."

  5. GOOGLE DIDN'T REVEAL ANY SALES STRATEGY...beyond the EAP program, there was no real discussion in the media on how Google will sell this. Too many Silicon Valley companies focus on the "selling in" phase of their new offerings, not the more important "selling through" activities. Unfortunately, telephony and collaboration are not easy self service sales to the Enterprise. Here Google reminds me the Apple in the past. A service the Enterprise wants, but no real route to get there. Solution-buy an enterprise channel company and just do it. If I was one in that space I'd be offering myself for sale immediately.

  6. THE RETURN OF THE DESKPHONE....Why is this approach so much like the deskphone? In the past the idea of going VoIP meant changing the wire to your phone and who the bill came from. But at the end of the day, your phone service still was about your deskphone. The solution set that Google's putting together really feels like that and more like a CallCenter, Bullpen, Gopher suite solution than one built for the modern "anywhere worker." 

    I say this as the core functions they've started with are largely positioned for the deskbound, not the mobile worker, even if the mobile apps will be able to be such a major part of the story. This also feels like a very slick way to sell more Chromebooks and Pixels as the service works natively with the Chrome browser and you can usually make GoogleVoice your dialer, call placer on Androids to present that number, with everything but a Fi phone.

  7. WHERE ARE THE INTEGRATIONS THAT MATTER...where are the integrations natively with SalesForce, Zendesk, Service Now, HubSpot. that Contact Centers rely on. These companies have to wonder what Google will do next. Time to hit the pause button and think through just what you reveal and what Google can see. Hello GDPR in California...

With all this in mind, here are some "sidenotes" to ponder....

Sidenote 1: In the end Google just made Dialpad a very attractive acquisition target for Microsoft and their Teams offering, as it already does everything this does (and more) with Office365, has the mobile and desktop footprint, works in the Call Center, has collaboration and works on all devices and platforms.

Sidenote 2: Totally lacking in the media coverage-how this impacts Verizon, AT&T and Century Link and the legacy SMB channel partners who are already selling G Suite. Watch Microsoft keep pushing Office365 with them.

Sidenote 3: Mitel/8x8/RingCentral and the rest of the Enterprise Market players-Google pretty much as said, we want your customers to use GoogleVoice and dump you. That means all the money spent on integrations really created a path to take your customers away. Talk about a trojan horse strategy by Google, this really conflicts with all the "do no harm" claims of the past. Google doesn't want to harm you. They want to kill you.

Sidenote 4: There's no real talk about core enterprise needs like call transfer, call queuing, receptionist functionality,  call parking, integration with deskphones, busy lamp indicators and other "enterprise" nice to haves.

Sidenote 5: Enterprise telephony selling is close quarter combat. You have to have feet on the street. Google sells GSuite with a low touch, online effort and through resellers, many of whom have proven to be good at selling email, calendaring , contact directory,  apps that get you away from Office, but those same sellers are not always the best at selling telephony and collaboration. Selling Voice is a slog. Longer sales cycles and many more hoops to jump through.

This all shows me that what Google is doing is really just "adding on" to GoogleVoice, dressing it up for the Enterprise with AI, making the integration into the collaboration sector easy and really giving the IT guy some management tools they can say will keep them busy. 

Not bad for an entry level product but seriously, not ready for the prime time enterprise based on what's been said, or reported.


If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join Them

Yesterday in San Francisco Google held another day of NEXT, their cloud focused coming out party of sorts. The event, which was massively retooled over the past 11 months carries with it a renewed focus on bringing the Google Cloud eco-system more to the forefront that it has been. Appearances from CEO Diane Greene and others are hammering that point home. Previously, Google I/O, the more hardware centric event held each may had been the darling "showcase" event for the Big G, but now with a strong team, and some smart messaging, Google is getting ready to be a "fighting" player against giants AWS and Microsoft Azure. The timing also was smartly planned, coming the week after Microsoft's big event the week prior in Las Vegas that was also about the eco-system.

One of the items beyond the dizzying number of announcements about Google's own efforts and appearances by their eco-system players was a Cisco announcement that Telecom Reseller highlighted.

The news pretty much said that Cisco is going all in with Google Cloud and establishing tighter integration between WebEX, Spark and Google's suite of applications including Calendar. If you recall, I've often said that Cisco and Microsoft are not friends, and here again you can see that clear as day. With the announcement, Cisco is saying they can't beat the competition or Google, so they are joining hands...

Each of these new service additions is also very me too for Cisco, not groundbreaking. If anything it's their taking a look at what's already working in the Google Cloud world and copying, not originating so let's take them one by one:

Give your contact center agents an AI-enhanced assist so they can answer questions quicker and better.  - This is already being deployed by RingCentral and Dialpad in parts. Both, along with 8x8, had this in the news cycle back in May.

Schedule a Webex meeting within your Google Calendar with one click.- this functionality builds on what GoToMeeting, Zoom and UberConference have been doing with Calendar. Cisco is late to the party, but hey, WebEx isn't exactly the most innovative platform any longer. We all have been hoping that Spark brings some magic to it but mostly it's the same WebEx.

Add Cisco calling and meetings into your Android app -ok this is a neat one, almost cool, but app developers have been able to do things like this with WebRTC for a few years so other than keeping things on the Cisco platform, this is a ho hum one, that builds upon their own SIP stack and some of the Broadsoft pieces and parts.

 Use Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms in your Webex Teams Spaces -  this seems so much like a counter to Microsoft Teams and says you don't need Office 365 you can use Google's G Suite. This one is simply an API integration.

Sure for Google, this is a win. But for Cisco, it's basically saying it can't beat the others without Google.

 

 

 

 

 


The Dangers of Email Filters and One That Really Works

Yesterday I was sent an invitation to join a conference call for "training" on a news distribution service along with a client. Given I'm attending ClueCon and that I need to get ready to be at the conference (i.e. shave, shower, dress, reply to morning emails, crank out The Comunicano newsletter, etc.) all before the "training" call would end, I politely replied with a decline, and also pointed out that my for my west coast client, the 730 AM start time would be a bit too early.

Of course, I'm not in the senders address book, so this morning I was sent a "are you joining." It didn't matter that the calendar item that had been sent didn't have a reply from me, my reply was missed as it likely went into the recipient's spam or junk mail folder. This malady of filtering, or in reality, the lack of it, when the filter is based upon your address book vs. more reliable methods, led to this. 

Fortunately, a few years ago I discovered a wonderful service that works perfectly with GMail. It's called SaneBox, and it really does what its name implies. It delivers sanity in a digital world full of spammers, unknown people from real businesses and even less, but not unimportant items like hotel reservations. If you're going to say Google's priority inbox does this already, you're hand grenade close, but SaneBox is rifle shot accurate, as their filtering and SaneLater approach moves the less important emails into a secondary inbox (really it tags them) and more.

Logo sanebox 2013 blue

Sanebox works by looking at who you send mail to, and based on the frequency, assigns a ranking, and that ranking determines which folder the inbound message goes into. In all the years I've been using SaneBox, I've watched it improve, and get smarter. Rarely, and I mean, very, very rarely, does it put someone's email in the SaneLater folder who I really know, and it's even more rare to find something in SPAM inside GMail.

While email remains a broken model, at least there's SaneBox to help patch it up, and be the traffic cop of the inbox.

------------------

Authors note: I'm a paid subscriber to SaneBox and was not solicited to write this.

 


Mine. All Mine. Only Mine.

Every day I receive an email from some "writer" at a "content marketing" agency representing some VoIP, mobile, collaboration, or fill in the blank company. Most of the emails are fairly direct, asking if I want a contributed article. For those who have been following me you know the answer is NO. For those who are new to VoIPWatch, let me repeat the answer. NO.

I've been writing VoIPWatch for 15 years, with only one guest post ever so save your keystrokes...the answer is no.


Mess Up My Uber, Please!

Hey Uber riders now Uber wants to you to dirty, soil and leave trash behind. At least that the impression of a few Uber drivers I spoke to about the deal with consumer products promotions company Cargo. I actually wish I had video recorded my conversation with Antonio, one of Milwaukee's highest rated Uber drivers yesterday.

Think about this. You are being asked to either sample (Cargo is providing products from package goods companies and compensating the drivers) or buy something you may need. While things like car chargers, or power adapters are always needed by someone on the go, imagine if you're the drive selling what the TechCrunch story reported:

Cargo works by giving drivers free boxes, filled with goods like gum, phone chargers and snacks, to sell to passengers from the center of the car console.

Think about this. A slightly tipsy passenger takes the driver up on the offer of free gum. Decides to drop it on the floor of the car. Out the passenger goes and the next passenger steps in it. Worse, it ends up on the seat and someone sits in it. Oh, snack food. As Antonio and I discussed, there's no way he wants passengers munching away on chips or cookies, leaving crumbs on the seats, wrappers on the floor or starting food fights in the back seat.

The whole model is based really on one of the most effective marketing programs available. Sampling. For those who don't know how sampling works, companies like Cargo, NewsAmerica Marketing and others secure "real estate" inside high traffic retail locations. If you ever have been inside your local supermarket and offered a sample by a nice person smiling behind a stand, that's sampling, likely done by News America Marketing or in the past by Catalina Marketing. While they also have moved into digital, smart shops like Cargo are looking at opportunities in the market, and the Uber idea has merit, but not at the expense of the driver.

As one driver said yesterday, "I spend enough time keeping my car in good condition, but I doubt the money I'll make extra each day will pay to clean the car more." This extra cleaning may be needed to remove gum, ground in cookies or suntan lotion spilled on a seat.

Ironically, Uber has as of yesterday forgotten to inform drivers, as not one I asked about the promotion yesterday or today, knew about it. This is an example of poor communications in the channel. Driver adoption is important to Cargo, and the money the drivers may make could be important to them. It underscores one of the drivers biggest complaints. Poor communication from Uber. As a matter of fact, no driver ever heard of the phrase "Greenlight Hubs" either, further underscoring how Uber doesn't maintain consistency from city to city. Likely, and not told to TechCrunch's reporter, or not reported, this is likely a test market program being phased in from city to city.

At Comunicano, and a sister agency I've formed, we talk about the idea of the buyer journey, or as it is also known, the customer journey. In Uber's case they have two customers. The drivers, who they do a regular job of making life difficult, and the consumer, who has to put up with inconsistent experiences from town to town.  What's more, Uber's CEO is being distracted by the claims of some employees of execs lacking sensitivity, gender bias and more. The leadership needs to focus more on those two audiences, not the distractions they face from unhappy employees (fire them) and disgruntled municipalities (find ways to work with them.)

On face what Cargo and Uber is setting out to do, has merit. The idea of putting more money into the hands of Uber drivers makes total sense. But, the right way to do this though is to make it a more complete experience that benefits all sides.

  1. Educate the drivers one on one with Cargo ambassadors taking rides*
  2. Offer them cash upfront to join in with a monthly per car fee
  3. Include a "guaranteed" car cleaning for any damage at Cargo's expense
  4. Offer a weekly "interior" cleaning at the Greenlight Hubs so the cars are fresh and tidy
  5. Provide sample kits to the drivers so they know what's in the box and become extensions of the brands (i.e. driver ambassadors)*
  6. Offer in car trash bags on the backs of seats, branded by the product companies.
  7. Have coupons for redemption for purchase of the products elsewhere**

*Fifteen years or so back, we did a promotion in Las Vegas around a cigar convention. We distributed via the different taxi company garages hats branded with "Ash Puro" to get visibility around the convention. Each driver was told that wearing the caps would earn them money if our reps saw them wearing them when we took cab rides.

** Back in the 90's in partnership with Pace Concerts and News America, a company I co-founded, proved with the help of Myers Research, that exit sampling with couponing pulls more than even in store sampling does. 

We then had five people with $500 in cash go out and take taxi rides and reward any cab driver with $50 we saw wearing the hats each morning and again in the evening. Back then taxi cab radio was heard by all the drivers, so the word quickly spread that the money was flowing. The caps were worn all over town and were cheap promotion for a new brand. The Ash Ambassadors talked to the cabbies about the brand. While the brand was more of a rich man's idea to make really cool cigar apparel, at the end of the day, we did build brand identity that quickly and drove people to our booth, because the word of mouth, coupled with the in car visibility was a cheap way to spend $10,000 (cash plus caps) vs. the cost of the promotions through the trade show organizers. Cargo can accomplish the same with driver ambassadors.

At the end of the day, Cargo and Uber can do something good for drivers and passengers, but the idea, and its' execution just needs more work.

 


State of Customer Service with Zipcar

I've been using Zipcar for almost ten years. When it first started the customer service was like what you experience with venture backed companies that want to grow. They lived by the rule that the "customer is always right" and their field force was on top of vehicle maintenance. Along the way, Zipcar proved how disruptive the car sharing model could be. It was to many of us, the long term rental alternative to Uber and Lyft, and it still is. Eventually AVIS bought the company, and unfortunately, the brand is not the same.

The benefits of Zipcar that far outweigh traditional car rental options still remain. Every car comes with a Gascard, so gas is free when you need to fill up. The car is equipped with an E-Z Pass so tolls are free. You don't have any paperwork, as all you need is your ZipCard which you swipe on the car to unlock and drive the car. There's no lines, no waiting, and if your fellow Zipcar community members do their required duty, the car is clean inside and has enough gas for the next renter.

Unfortunately, over the last five or six rentals, not one has been as good as the pre-Avis ownership days.

The first bad rental experience was at JFK Airport. The Zipcar wasn't properly checked in when it was returned, so when I went to claim it, the car wouldn't recognize me, as the last renter was still the official user. The Avis team was clueless to how Zipcar worked and I ended up spending an hour working with the team to get in a car and on my way. The next rental was in Miami and the previous renter didn't return the car to the Zipcar spot, parking it in an adjacent garage, with a different exit gate that required a pass. Beyond wandering around trying to find the car, and having Zipcar support "honk" the horn so I could locate it, as GPS was only "close" not dead on accurate underground, another hour was spent locating the car, then when I found it, seeing all kinds of trash including a bunch of opened soda cans, water bottles, receipts, and discarded tube of lipstick. More recently, in Los Angeles the two of my recent were dirty outside, and low on gas. The coup de gras though in L.A. was a rental where the cars are in a valet section of a garage that is full of regular monthly parking residents. Even though I showed up ahead of some "regulars" I found that they were getting their cars ahead of me, and when I asked the cashier why I was waiting, her comment was "we take care of our regulars first as they take care of us and Zipcar doesn't." 

Each of these is a "people" problem. People rent the cars, and in the "car sharing" model, we are responsible to one another. The facility issue in L.A. is one of where management is paid by Zipcar for the rental of a space, but their staff is left to take care of the renters, who take away tip money they receive from the regulars. Compare this to the Zipcar location in SF I like to use, where the car is stored in the garage of my favorite hotel, and where the doormen and valets pool tips, (and every stay the head doorman is tipped by me.) I get the car exactly when I need it, as does every renter simply because their behavior reflects on the hotel, not Zipcar.

This week, in Milwaukee my Zipcar Gascard didn't work. I used my own credit card at Zipcar's instruction to put gas in the car (again the gas level was below the car sharing suggested "always leave half a tank or more paid for by Zipcar" level. The agent who approved the use of my own personal credit card and said he would a) give me an hour of future credit (he didn't), would send me instructions on how to receive a credit back on my credit card (he didn't) and would move me to another car the next day as I had reserved the same car for the next day at the same price but at a different location (he did.) When I arrived Friday to grab the replacement car the local Zipcar ground force was examining my rental that had a cracked taillight and a dented trunk.  They agreed that I should not drive the car and swapped me to another car. That's when the next round of fun began that I found out when my bill arrived.

The bill was almost double the day before's cost. There was no "hour of credit" and the rate was higher, which in turn kicked in higher taxes.  This morning I called Zipcar and spoke to Christopher who took all my points of concern down, said he was going to give me two hours of credit and raise my dispute to the right people. He understood the issues and wanted to get them corrected, but was powerless to resolve the matter. 

Sure I could keep the bill at $20.00 more and not deal with it, but the issue isn't the money only. It's the time wasted on each rental, which is why I hope the powers at be at Zipcar return the brand to what made it. A very customer oriented one that cares first about their renters, makes sure cars are properly maintained, not only about the bottom line. 

If companies like Bird and Lime can hire chargers to check in the scooters each night, Zipcar should have "agents" who over night check out cars, make sure gas is in the tanks and the cars are free of cash, not only have their ground force do their best to check on the cars once a week, which is the current model. Heck, I bet those Bird and Lime Chargers could be their night force.