“The system has proved popular with online criminals, keen to keep their financial transactions secret, although it has a wider, legitimate, user base.” What an amazing phrase to use in a BBC news article, for those who don’t know, Bitcoin is where the internet and real money meet, but certainly not for the first time. Virtual Currencies have been with us, particularly “in-game” virtual currencies, for quite a while now. But a virtual distributed, and highly difficult to trace currency, for the sole purpose of real world item exchanges/trade? To quote one of the designers themselves; “A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.”. Well, that’s perhaps not completely new, and there’s already some interesting thoughts on this here on SSRN by Reuben Grinberg and another interesting piece of work here by Constance Wells on the subject. But does it have criminal aspects? Well certainly some US Senators seem to think so in June 2011, though when you get behind that Reuters new story and actually read the real press release the US Senators actually made (always a good idea) you see they are actually wanting to stop The online marketplace Silk Road, which has been called the “Amazon.com of Drug Selling” and accepts Bitcoins as a major currency of exchange. (I’d use a few more authoritative sources normally I should add, but in these cases the sources are actually fairly good.). So this story actually has three main parts to it; (1) the existence of a peer-to-peer distributed currency with heavy encryption/cryptography which bypasses financial institutions and regulators, (2) the possible use of that currency on (reputedly) disreputable trading platforms involved in illegal activities and finally (3) the hacking/cracking of that currency and the subsequent fallout. While in-itself it isn’t a game based currency, the experience of Bitcoin, and I’m sure the regulatory actions and fallout, will throw a few question marks into the air regarding those games who currently, or want to in the future, employ a model which allows transactions of virtual cash to real money. So certainly this is something to keep an eye on with interest, and a story to keep track with.
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Wednesday, 15 June 2011
What an interesting weekend. A simple trip down to London and back to see a few shows (the very awesome Wicked and Shrek) and some interesting customer service experiences along the way. Now, my friends who know me all are aware that I can be a little well, particular, when it comes to customers service. However I look at it this way; great service quality should be what all companies who want repeat business should be providing. If it’s not great, why should I return? I’d rather go/try elsewhere and hope I find better (I do get onto MMORPG’s and Rift towards the end of this blog post, I promise, I will tie this all together!)
I’d rather be flying
So, I started my Friday with a trip down the East Coast Mainline to London. I’d upgraded to first class mainly in the hope of being able to get chapters of a book read on the way down, and I must admit after having travelled on trains in the UK for many years as a student I’ve very low expectations of service quality on the UK railways. They never fail to disappoint either, and this was no exception. My train was 8am so all I wanted getting to the station was a cup of coffee and so upon getting to Newcastle station I was not surprised at all to find that the 1st class departure lounge had its coffee machine out of order. Typical. The lounge was also unattended, and had clearly not been cleaned up after the morning business class passengers (the 5.56am train from Newcastle to London which gets them in for around 9.10am is popular) and very little care and attention seemed to have taken place to doing the basics like replacing the water bottles etc. Even the lounge itself was old and outdated. When you consider how much a 1st class train ticket from Newcastle to London is (£150 anywhere up to £307 or indeed, more), you’d think that the hefty premium paid would at least allow the East Coast mainline to stretch to a flat-screen TV? Nope. I honestly felt ripped-off sitting in that lounge and the only (as a customer) thought in my mind was that the Servis-Air departure lounge at Newcastle Airport, where I could help myself to all kinds of nibbles and coffee (and indeed it’s not uncommon to see people rip into the spirits and beers at 7am…) all for the princely sum of £15 which you could add to a £80 (up to £150 if you book last minute) or so ticket to Heathrow. Add in the cost of tube from Heathrow to the middle of the City and you end up with a quicker journey, a better lounge service, and around half the cost. Bargain. No wonder so many people choose to fly rather than catch the train these days to London. This is a perfect case for me of where poor service quality is deservedly killing the business. It’s just a pity that as a UK taxpayer I heavily subsidise the business.
Adding the wrong sort of value
At least on the train it was slightly better. East Coast Mainly have at least woken up in some way to the fact that their premium customers can fly cheaper for better service and an in-flight snack to boot, and have started doing “complimentary” food on your journeys in first class. As a marketer it looks like a rather desperate attempt to add value to that hugely over-priced ticket and add in some extra price differentiation. Unfortunately while a smart marketer may have cottoned onto the basic principles of differentiation, they seem to have forgotten that as soon as you provide a service you will be judged on your ability to deliver that service. Now. Those of you who have read this far, with everything I’ve said so far about my railway experiences… Who thinks that the sort of organisation that can’t even get their departure lounge right will be able to provide a decent hot breakfast in 1st class? Yes. You’re right, it was laughably almost stone cold. So a big yes for rubbery cold scrambled eggs on a plate, and a big no to actually adding value to the typical 1st class journey if my experience is anything to go on. I was left thinking; is this just me? Or is this the UK, where poor service quality and execution is the norm rather than the exception.
Adequate experiences don’t make for repeat custom
Now, just to show I’m not all a customer service freak, the Hotel we stayed in just off Hyde Park was perfectly adequate to our needs. Nicely centrally located, just 100 yards or so from a tube station. Decent standard. Yes, they had one of their two lifts down, but let’s not get picky. The breakfast was so-so, but again, it’s only a 4 star hotel, I wasn’t expecting perfection. Adequate. Let’s explore that word more; sufficient, enough, passable, satisfactory and tolerable are the synonyms that Word automatically comes up with, and yes the Ramada Jarvis on Hyde Park is all those things. Adequate and acceptable. Not of course, anywhere you’d recommend to a friend, and certainly not somewhere you’d want to go back to in a hurry, as you’d rather take the chance in going back to London on a newer unknown hotel and hope that it’s better than adequate. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t special. It was everything I’d expected and nothing I’d hoped for. It had absolutely no Unique Selling Points, it had nothing to differentiate itself.
Awesome service quality gets you recommendations
So I went to see Shrek, and, yes, because it’s me, Ticketmaster sent the wrong dated tickets (that will be the subject of a really long and extensive blog post in the future I’m sure!). So I get to the Theatre Royal in London’s Covent Garden area to see Shrek: The Musical (It’s a great show!) and, quite rightly, I get informed that my tickets are invalid for that show. Now. Here is where our story changes. So far on this weekend I’d experienced the typical, poor or adequate customer service experience of the UK. Not so from the manager of the Theatre Royal in London’s Covent Garden, (who play Shrek: The Musical by the way, and, it’s fantastic). Despite our invalid tickets, they did their very best to try and seat us, and on the stroke of 7.30 as the show was about to start, they had us run up to an un-sold private box overlooking the stage, which they said they never sell because of a “bad view” (it was actually a great view, and I was about 4-5 meters from the actors!).
What amazing people at the Theatre Royal in London’s Covent Garden who show Shrek: The Musical (really; see this show!). Now, this was completely unexpected, and very kind of them. They were completely within their rights to say; “Sorry, those tickets you have from Ticketmaster aren’t valid for tonight’s show”. But they didn’t. They went above and beyond, and tried their best to resolve a problem they could have quite happily walked away from. By the way, did I mention you should really think of going to see Shrek: The Musical at the Theatre Royal in London’s Covent Garden? Yes. Oh…
And so from that weekend what do I take? To summarise all four points I’ve made so far;
· When customers have good alternatives, they’re going to compare your service quality to what they think they could be receiving.
· If you add any kind of service, you’ll be judged on its quality of implementation.
· Adequacy kills repeat custom.
· Customers who are extremely happy with your service quality are your advocates.
And so Rift
And so, as this is a Blog about online games, and I did Blog about Rift in my last post, lets return to my Rift experiences. It’s a perfectly adequate MMO game (do you see where I’m going with this already?). It’s… sufficient, enough, passable, satisfactory and (indeed, what a horrible word to use for an entertainment product) tolerable. It’s OK. It has no real Unique Selling Points as such. It does nothing particularly well. It’s graphics are.. acceptable to my expectations. It’s gameplay is… OK. It’s overall production values are… good enough. It’s no diamond in the rough however, there is nothing here in terms of an awesome product service experience which is going to make me an advocate of the game. The pity is here, there are some great alternatives on the marketplace, both in terms of what is already out there, and what is coming on the horizon. I’ve seen many MMO’s of this kind. Indeed, as a rather driftwood sequential customer who’s tried most AAA MMO games over the last decade now, I’ve seen this type come and go. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game at all, the quality of implementation of many of the ideas is perfectly reasonable (and adequate…), and I do think that a number of other MMO’s will do many of the same things as it does, but it lacks (excuse the not so very fun in-joke for those who have played the game) soul. It lacks anything that uniquely defines it. For most games that uniqueness comes from the IP world. World of Warcraft has always had its unique IP in terms of the lore etc. Warhammer Online, Age of Conan… many of these games (good and bad) have at the very least some kind of uniqueness that adds to the customer experience and drives engagement. Rift? Well…
· Rift? It’s Adequate. Sufficient. OK.
· It’s certainly nothing I’d ever recommend or advocate to a friend.
· There’s a host of good alternatives.
· It implements everything reasonably, but nothing uniquely well.