Monday, 30 April 2007

Keeping your ear to the ground

My experiences with SpinVox pro-actively contacting me got me thinking about customer service in the UGC (user generated content) era.

I often find myself searching the web for references to Esendex, obstensibly for web marketing purposes but really because I'm a little obsessed. Occasionally I'll come across a posting from someone and I'll help them out of let the relevant person in the company know so they can help them.

The leap for me tonight was that this should be someone's job. On a regular basis a member of our customer services team should be browsing the web, searching for issues that we can resolve proactively.

Now fortunately my intial searching didn't come up with any problems. I did come across this forum thread SMS Gateway Dilema which is a fascinating insight into the decision process that someone goes through when signing up for a service like ours. I was on the edge of my seat, we got down to the last three but there is no indication of who they went for. I'll see if our Melbourne office and let you know.

You hear about big companies striving to understand and harness UGC, but actually it's relevant to anyone running a business today. Ignore it at your peril.

SpinVox, nice bit of pro-active customer service

I blogged recently, SpinVox, I love it but, about the highs and occasional lows of using the SpinVox voicemail to text service. Well the guys at SpinVox are obviously perusing the blogosphere and decided to drop me a line.

Hi Adam, thanks for writing about SpinVox. I'm sorry to hear about the occasional delays you've been experiencing and I'd naturally like to look into this - as this is not the norm for SpinVox customers. Our average time delay is 3-5mins - so there must be something else affecting this?
If you can give me some more information on the messages that have been delayed, it would really help us look into this.

So I've sent an example and will keep you posted.

It must be said that there haven't been any noticeable delays since I blogged. All messages have been delivered within the thresholds quoted.

Esendex, a personal overview

A lot of people ask me about Esendex and how/why Julian and I started it. I generally end up bending their ear for far too long about everything we've done and the passion we have for getting it right. It struck me that I should try and put together something more concise and considered and this blog seemed the appropriate place to publish it, so here goes.

Esendex has always been about business sms services. We deliver SMS services as a utility that businesses use alongside telephone, fax and email to enable them to conduct their business efficiently and cost-effectively. Our focus has always been on providing reliable, performant message using national carriers.

We decided early on that playing by the rules was important if you are in this for the long run and want to build a real business. To a certain extent this means a hard slog to reach critical mass. In the early days customers didn't expect too much but increasingly businesses are looking for levels of support and security of supply consistent with their other business communication channels.

I guess we built the company in our own image. I came from an enterprise development background, Julian from the utility sector and we just thought about doing things in the best way possible. There have definately been times where we wished perhaps we a little more fast and loose, but we're really bad blaggers and probably couldn't have carried it off.

In a recent customer survey, 93% of respondents were very satisfied with the service they received from Esendex, with reliability being cited as the most valued aspect of our service. Must have something to do with the team of technical experts, passionate about availability and performance, who monitor and maintain our systems 24 x 365.

All this is very laudable but not particularly exciting, which was the feedback during one of our PR flirtations over the past few years. The really interesting stuff, the stuff that's makes people understand what we do at parties, are the case studies.

In the early days this was also the education challenge, "so SMS is for kids or for spamming people, why on earth would I use it in my business?"

Both RAC Autowindscreens and NTL (Virgin Media as they are now) use our system to manage their mobile workers, sending and receiving job information. Which has meant saving money on voice calls and dispatch staff at the same time.

In NTL's case we have developed and host a bespoke application that manages job workflow all via SMS which has recently been rolled out to a number of other departments. We've also developed service checkers that confirm service availability for a given postcode, locations of local exchanges and switch gear, and a whole host of other services that bring enterprise data into the moble arena.

Another service I'm particularly proud of is the Car Data Check service we run for Experian. Taking a registration number for a car via text, matching that against Experian's vast motor and insurance database and sending a report of the vehicle's history and likely concerns via text. Once this service was live we then added in a Parkers valuation, gave it the keyword PRICE on 80806, and a very successful consumer service was born.

The great thing about all these services is they seed ideas among the rest of our customers and the business community as a whole. My personal view is that we have still along way to go with SMS and mobile messaging in general. It will become as pervasive as telephone, email and fax but in ways we're only just imagining.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Mobile Phone History

Ewan at posted recently about keeping your phone history. So I gave it a go and it makes for some interesting reading. Please forgive me if the order is a bit awry. I haven't included phones that I bought for testing purposes and didn't use on a day to day basis.

As you can see I'm pretty much a Nokia man through and through. I have also desperately tried to make Windows Mobile work for me, I really, really wanted it to work but finally gave up and got a BlackBerry.

  1. Nokia 101
  2. Nokia 6110
  3. Nokia 6120
  4. Nokia 8110 (pure class for those 'Matrix' moments)
  5. Nokia 7110 (ah the dawn of WAP)
  6. Sony Ericsson T39
  7. Nokia 6310 (best phone in the world ever)
  8. Sony Ericsson T68i
  9. Nokia 7650
  10. Nokia 6210
  11. Nokia 6230 (interspursed around the following)
  12. Orange SPV Classic
  13. Orange SPV E100
  14. Motorola V500 (my one and only clamshell)
  15. Sony Ericsson V800 (made one video call, once)
  16. Vodafone 3G Data Card
  17. O2 XDA
  18. i-Mate Jas-Jar (that's it, no more Windows Mobile devices)
  19. Nokia 7250i (loan)
  20. Sony Ericsson K800i (finally replaced the 6230)
  21. Blackberry 8707v (shame I broke it)
  22. Blackberry 7130v (loan)

I'm a phone manufacturers dream!

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Mobile Internet, finally it's time has come

The mobile internet has been talked about for a while now but I feel that it's time has finally come. The tipping point for me are the announcements by Vodafone and Orange that they're following T-Mobile and 3 by offering flat rate data tariffs.

This is so important.

We've been working with a number of clients who are keen to develop their existing online services into the mobile arena. The problem was low adoption of mobile internet because people were terrified of racking up enormous data charges on their pay per use tariff. Flat rates change all that.

Broadband at home is seen as a standard requirement for many and mobile broadband, whether it be 3G or HDPSA, will be seen similarly by many people. Now that the charging is on a similar flat rate basis, I have no doubt we will see an explosion in the number of sites and services delivered where-ever you are.

For those of you who can remember the damp squib that was WAP when it was launched, this is what we were promised way back then. Oh well, what's 8 years amongst friends!

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

It's a baby BlackBerry

Well I've got my replacement BlackBerry, not an 8707v as I hoped but a 7130v. Now this isn't a real BlackBerry, it hasn't got a Qwerty keyboard. Sot it looks I'm going to be wrestling with SureType technology foir the next few weeks.

But first to wipe the data from my current device, unlike the previous owner of the loan one. In case you don't know how:

Wipe BlackBerry Data

  • On the BlackBerry device Home screen, click Options.
  • If you are running BlackBerry Device Software 4.1 or later, click Security Options > General Settings. Otherwise, click Security.
  • Display the menu and select Wipe Handheld.
  • Click Continue.
  • Type blackberry. All the data on the BlackBerry device is deleted.

See the BlackBerry knowledge base article for the full details.

Monday, 23 April 2007

That Panorama programme

Have just watched the Panorama programme TV's Dirty Secrets about the reportedly fraudulent activities of, among others, Opera Telecom for GMTV, Eckoh for Channel 4. It appears this kind of thing has been going on for a while and millions of pounds have been defrauded out of the unsuspecting public.

Dodgy phone and text lines have been part of the premium telephony industry for a while, you only have to look at the ICSTIS adjudications web site to see that the premium telephony industry has it's fair share of chancers and fraudsters. The key difference is that now this is television. It's not dirty chat lines found in the classified ads in the red-tops. It's average people being defrauded by the TV brands they trust. The brands they trust to give them unbiased news, accurate information and fair entertainment.

My concern in all this, is the damage it is going to do to legitimate services. It could be premium SMS services that people find really useful and are quite happy to pay for like the Parkers Price Check. Or even worse, in my opinion, companies who are looking to embrace mobile services like two way SMS for the first time but are just put off because of the bad feeling surrounding SMS that these stories create.

It is beholdent on all of us in the mobile industry to insist on compliance by all of our clients. We must provide them the tools and the services that ensure trust is rebuilt among the users.

The success of interactive SMS in the broadcast sector has done a lot to raise the profile of SMS in the business sector. Everyone is, after all, a consumer. We need to make sure that it doesn't go on to ruin it.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Every cloud has a silver lining

Seems I missed the worldwide BlackBerry outage thanks to my screen failure.

I've also just heard that the fantastic guys at Aerofone are going to have a loan device waiting for me when I get back into the office on Monday.

The nervous ticks are subsiding.

I can survive without my BlackBerry, I can survive...

It's broken.

The screen has what appears to be a crack across it, yet there is no sign of any damage on the case whatsoever.

I am on holiday so it shouldn't really matter but it's moments like this that one has to admit one's addiction. Hopefully it's a warranty issue but how long that will take is anyone's guess. Looks like I'm back to one of our spare 6230's for a while :-(.

Just in case, I did find this useful link I hope it doesn't come to that!

Friday, 13 April 2007

Bopo - is this SMS service secure?

This service caught my eye while in a newsagents in Melbourne. Unfortunately it was on a screen with video ads on a loop so I had to watch the Mr Bean film trailer again before getting the full info.

Bopo is a pre pay visa card offered in Australia and the selling point of they were pushing in the ad was the ability to transfer money between cards by SMS. Could be worth investigating I thought, so I sat through Mr Bean again, and tapped the web address into my BlackBerry for a later look.

The web site gives a set of instructions for managing your account which all seemed simple enough. You seem to register your mobile number and they use that to authenticate any requests: check your balance, transfer money, stop your card, etc all via SMS.

But then it struck me, they're using a virtual mobile number for this. Any wholesale service can send to virtual mobile numbers which means that the originator of the messages can be spoofed. Normally these kind of services are run behind shortcodes, which are network specific codes and thus are not accessible from wholesale SMS connections. The side benefit of this is that you know the any SMS came from a on-network handset containing the SIM associated with the mobile number.

Now, I haven't used the service, they could be sending a confirmation text after each request but there is no mention in the user guide of any secondary validation. If not, all you need is someones mobile number and to know they have one of these cards and you can stop the card or transfer money to other people all from the comfort of your web browser.

There was a recent post about spoofing the originator of SMS messages for fun/nefairous purposes on SMS Text News ( lets you set the originator; wind folk up) I reckon this is a good example. Please let me have your comments, I'm going to try and contact Bopo to get their view on this but if anyone has used the service, or something similar, and I'm missing the mark completely. Please let me know.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

SMS for Accountants

Had a rather pleasant lunch today with a client of Esendex Australia, our subsidiary down here. We were on a veranda, on a hillside looking out over eastern Melbourne towards Port Phillip Bay. It's those kind of times that make me think opening the Australian subsidiary was a fantastic idea ;-).

R J Sanderson are an accountancy firm with a number of offices across the east of Melbourne. They use our Web SMS and Email SMS products to communicate with their customers and this is proving a real differentiator in their market.

Australian businesses have to submit quarterly BAS statements in order to comply with corporate law and a big issue is chasing up the business owners to get those completed. Sandersons have started to send out reminders via text to set up and come to appointments and the feedback from customers has been great. Their no show rate has dropped and customers are getting their BAS statements in on time.

Another way they use our service is to keep customers updated about the progress of loan and mortgage applications. Text messages go out as soon as key stages in the process have been complete, whether that be application submitted, documents on their way or final approval given.

Sandersons are now well and truly converted business SMS users and they're now exploring what two-way SMS can do for them with an Australian virtual mobile number.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Something marvellous

This post also caught my eye,

What a stunning piece of technology, pure class.

Useful link

Found this while browsing round today: on this blog Musings of a mobile marketer: Today's useful links. Very neat for all you web popularity obsessives out there ;-)

CSIRO Irrigation Information to Growers via SMS

Had a meeting today with one of our clients Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to discuss how they're using the service.

The particular team we are dealing with take data from weather stations across their irrigation areas in Australia. They use this weather data to calculate the effect on crops and their subsequent water requirements. The issue was, getting this information out to the growers.

SMS is the perfect medium for this as growers tend to be in the field and internet connections are scarce. Internet connections are scarce where the need the information the most, in the field.

So an SMS message is sent to the growers containing advice about water quantities to use based on recent weather conditions.

This service has both economic and environmental benefits. Water costs growers money so using the correct amount is very important. Australia is also going through a major drought so any efficiencies help keep as much water in the environment, where it is also needed, as possible.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

T-Mobile Street Check

Saw this on the T-Mobile UK web site: Street Check. It allows you to check whether T-Mobile has coverage in the areas you spend most time in before signing up with them.

While it's potentially useful it also strikes me as an admission that their coverage is not as good as the rest of the networks. Almost as if they're saying: only use us if you don't move around much. Isn't it a mobile service they're offering?

SpinVox, I love it, but...

I use the SpinVox voicemail to text service and am a big fan, most of the time.

For those of you who don't know, you set the SpinVox service has your voice mail service. Once it receives messages, it sends a transcription of the voice mail as an SMS or email. No calling your voice mail and navigating through IVR systems. You've also got a written record of the message, perfect if you need to do something in response to the message.

There just two problems. Firstly, when I have to call the voice mail system to listen to a message they weren't able to transcribe (it happens), it hits you like a brick wall, suddenly you're back in IVR hell. Not sure whether this is the delta between the simplicity and beauty of the text compared to IVR; or that I've never learned to use the IVR system because I so rarely have to.

Secondly, and in my opinion more importantly, are the delays in receiving messages. Sometimes it can take an hour or two for messages to come through. Now I hear of deals with the mobile operators to provide the SpinVox service to their customers. If they can't scale up from where they are now, what's it going to be like when those subscriber bases start signing up for it.

I do really love the service, but the delays are infuriating and do take the shine of what is in essence a great service.

Send SMS using Oracle Forms

One of the guys at Oracle has been trialling our SMS SDK and kindly published a paper on it:

Message Response Time

160 Characters are running a survey on message response times for different types, Email, SMS and IM. I blogged about my views on the different communication methods recently:, so I'm keen to see the results.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Business SMS Code of Practice - My Thoughts

My business partner, Julian, as started a posting on his blog about Business SMS Code of Practice. I'm currently in Melbourne, Australia and unable to make the get together, so I thought it would be worth documenting my thoughts.

I think the key to getting something like this adopted is to just start and get to first draft as soon as possible. Trying to involve too many people in the first drafts is a recipe of the whole processing grinding to a halt and just slowing dowm. Someone also needs to take the lead, which Julian has agreed to.

Once at first draft then I think it should be pushed out to as many people as possible for comments. In the UK this should include the Mobile Data Association. The mobile operators should also be approached but I don't believe their involvement is necessary for publication of the code.

Once the first release has been published, then it's the responsibility of us in the mobile industry to get our clients to adopt this code and get them to promote their adoption to their user base.

Then we hope enough steam has been gathered and it's all been worthwhile ;).

The areas I'd like to see considered are:

  • Timing of messages
  • Frequency of messages
  • Cost of messages
  • Validity period of messages
  • Unsubscribing from services, if appropriate
  • Monitoring of message content

Timing of messages

This is the biggie for consumers. Julian's example of being sent a message at 06:15 AM is unacceptable in the context of that service but might not be in another context. For example, one of our customers, GMSL, runs a service to enable their customers to manage the supply and demand of their gas portfolios. They use SMS to notify of changes 24 x 365, thus any restriction around hours wouldn't be suitable for them.

We could consider 3 timing categories and identify the timing category of the service to the customer in this way.

  • Office Hours - 09:00 to 18:00, Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays.
  • Extended Hours - 08:00 to 20:00, 365 days a year
  • 24 Hours - 24 hours, 365 days a year

Frequency of messages

Another area to cause annoyance to users of the service will be messages coming too frequently or not frequently enough. It might be worth considering a categorisation of service, eg: Frequent, Daily, Weekly, etc but I wonder if that's going to be too prescriptive. We should probably stick to documenting how frequent the messages will be.

Cost of messages

Different services will have different charging agreements with the customers, but customers should be made fully aware of the charges both for receiving and sending messages to the services.

If the provider is using a virtual mobile number to enable customers to send messages in, they need to be sure they understand the charges involved. In the UK, sending to numbers from the non-mainland network operators can cost the customer more. T-Mobile charge their subscribers as if it's a European destination for messages sent to numbers to Manx Telecom, Cable & Wireless Guernsey and Jersey Telecom.

Validity period of messages

Not so sure about this one but it could include some information about the validity of messages, ie how long will the provider attempt to send the message to he subscriber before it is considered expired.

Unsubscribing from services

Being able to unsubscribe from services is a key requirement of consumer services but in the context of some services it may not be relevant.

Consideration should also be given to the cost of unsubscribing. Making messages free to send is possible, our Freetext service supports it, however for practical reasons I don't think it should be a requirement. It could be a recommendation though.

Monitoring of message content

There should be provision in the code for monitoring of the content of messages for acceptable use. In the same ways calls to companies are recorded for "training purposes", the content of messages should be monitored. The code should document that this is a standard part of services.

I look forward to seeing outcome of the first discussion, sorry I can't be there.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Telstra, I take it all back

I think my Sydney experience was an unfortunate exception. Having spent some time at Hanging Rock and arounf the Macedon Ranges in Victoria, I was the only one with coverage.

My companions on Vodafone and Optus had nothing at all. Talking to them further, this seems to be the rule. In the cities you can choose any network, if you're heading out then Telstra gives you the coverage.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Telstra Pre Pay

I've bought a Telstra Pre Paid Plus SIM card while I'm in Australia. Saves on international roaming charges as well as being alot cheaper for calls in Australia.

As you can see from the table below, Telstra is the leading network. As the old stated owned telecoms company they should have the infrastructure in place to support me wherever I wanted to go, or so I thought.

Australian Mobile Market

  • 17.1M Subscribers
  • 95% penetration
  • 80% population owns a mobile
OperatorTelstra (GSM & CDMA)Optus (GSM)Vodafone (GSM)3 (3G)Virgin (GSM)
Subscribers6.0M GSM, 1.0M CDMA5.6M3.2M0.9M0.4M
Market Share41%33%19%5%2%

Coverage has been good while in Melbourne and around Victoria. In central Sydney however I had all sorts of problems. I was getting 5 bars but midway through a call, it dropped and the coverage was showing 0 bars. Once the call had dropped, 5 bars coverage returned enticing me to try again, which I did and the same thing happened. Infuriating as I am sure you can imagine.

I also have my BlackBerry roaming onto Vodafone AU and that's always in range and able to make calls. Maybe it was an isolated incident, but in my experience Vodafone is more reliable.

Raddison Plaza Hotel - Sydney

Stayed in the Raddison Plaza in Sydney for a few nights and would heartily recommend it.

The rooms were furnished too a great standard, I think it's recently been refurbished, and the staff were really friendly and helpful.

Best of all however is the location: 5-10 mins walk to Circular Quay for ferries and site seeing; 2-3 mins to Wynyard Station for trips requiring a train; and 15-20 mins walk from Darling Harbour for more sites and night time fun.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

International BlackBerrying

I had an meeting with our Vodafone Australia account manager while in Sydney. Their offices are in Chatswood which is a few stops north of the harbour which meant a trip across the Harbour Bridge. I was sorting through my emails on my BlackBerry, trying to stay on top of my inbox when I glanced up to a view of the Opera House, framed by the bridge girders. It was one of those moments that makes you realise how far we haved come at Esendex. From several servers in the attic at my house to having business meetings the other side of the world. It's been quite a journey

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

BlackBerry Blogging

Being complete besotted with my BlackBerry as I am at the moment, I'm always on the look out for more things I can do with it. One of these was using it to blog. Now my idea was to find a way of managing this blog from my BlackBerry while roaming around. This article popped up on a Google and excitedly I clicked on hoping to find a piece of software I could download. Unfortunately not. It was just instructions on setting up email posting, however that is really handy and I should have thought about it before embarking on a grand scheme. It's just that, like emails, blogging is something that's really good to do when you're on/waiting for trains, planes, etc. I also like to make a few notes for a blog entry and review it several times before publishing. I'm guessing email folders are the way to go but I'll see what I can come up with.

Vaio WiFi woes

I have a Sony Vaio SZ1VP Laptop which I've owned since May'ish last year. It's a lovely compact machine with a glorious screen, fantastic battery life and was a completely indulgent purchase. We buy Dell machines as a rule at Esendex and my Latitude D400 was coming to the end of it's useful life. The company was doing well, we'd reached a major milestone and Julian and I felt it was time to reward ourselves. I had a complete nightmare with mine, having 3 different machines shipped out. I was going to Australia to visit our office out there shortly after I received the first one. I ended up taking one with a french keyboard as that was all they had across Europe at the time. Typing was fine as long as I didn't look down! Since then everything has been pretty much fine, apart from the networking. I've always suspected something dodgy with the networking and specifically the WiFi card which it reports as an Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG. Every so often it just won't talk to WiFi hotspots and access points. Further, on some access points, I can't successfully establish a VPN connection using the Cisco VPN Client. Given that most of these WiFi points are advertising Intel compatibility, I'm a little perplexed and a lot infuriated. At our holiday apartment in Melbourne they provide WiFi Internet access and low and behold the ****** thing won't connect. The company the apartment owner used was Azure Wireless who seem to be a specialist hot spot provider in Australia. On the card in the apartment was a card with their support number on it. Thinking I had nothing to lose and expecting to get short shrift from an off-shore call centre, I called them. I turned out to be completely wrong. The support person was knowledgable and geared his help to my technical ability rather than the lowest common denominator, as is usually the case. He quickly diagnosed the problem, suggested I call reception for a wireless bridge. This duly came, I plugged it in and it worked first time. I have had this problem before so, lovely as my laptop is, it's a bit lacking in the wireless department and I think PC Card WiFi adaptor might be in order. Just got to find one that's compatible with everything. At the time I bought the Vaio, a good friend of mine was waxing lyrical about Toshibas. I wish I'd listened.

International domestic, don't do it

I'm currently in Australia for a bit of business and pleasure. We are based in Melbourne but we've flown to Sydney for a few days site-seeing. Qantas run flights from Melbourne to Sydney that are Domestic but run between the International terminals and are the first or last stages of International flights. These flights are quite cheap, we paid AUD $120 each, do not under any circumstances take them. You get all the hassles of a long-haul flight, immigration (although there is special provision for domestic passengers), long boarding times (because the planes are so big) and arduous waits for checked-in baggage, without any of the benefits. The one benefit that we were expecting was to use the long-haul in-flight entertainment system we'd grown to love on the flight over. Qantas have a fantastic video on demand system along with games, CDs and radio stations. I was up for another bout of Invasion, having only reached the final attack on level 3 on the way over. Denied! I managed to just get started before they forced us to watch a healthy flying film, followed by a Sydney city guide that lasted for the whole flight. As my son put it, "this is the worst plane ride in the world ever!".

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Nothing like a glowing testimonial

Had this from one of our new customers in Australia, Wimmera Software Development, who recently signed up to use our SMS SDK. We do try hard to make things easy here at Esendex and this kind of thing really helps team motivation. Once again Chris, I'd like to thank you firstly for your prompt help with setting this all up, and also congratulate your Developer on providing such a streamlined, flexible, professional and simple system - along with the variety of SDK's that you have available on your website. I didn't expect to be able to do *everything* I wanted to do at the start - but your system does it all - and then some! I'm very impressed! (And what's better - it's going to make me look good to my client. :-)