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The one inbox to rule them all.

Simple, satisfying, efficient and quite charming.

It’s not an app.

It’s not the new iPad.

It’s the Citibank Internet banking in-box.

Recent encounters with financial institutions direct consumer engagement exercises have left such an unpleasant taste that I almost forgot that there is one bank where direct consumer engagement is actually rather pleasant.


Waive annual card subscription fee. Email. Done.

Have a query on an odd charge. Email. Done.

Waive 1-day late payment charge. Email. Done.

Remove from marketing lists. Email. Done.

No IVR system.

No muzak.

No need to spew your personal particulars.

No need to hold.


At last, there appears to be an organization that seems to understand that consumers engage with a brand on their own agenda i.e. own time and on their preferred platform.

In a time where customer interaction takes place along multiple channels (and that cannot be controlled by organizations), companies have no choice but to truly enable and empower these channels to engage with and solve customer problems, convert interactions into business opportunities and transform each encounter into a potential advocate point.

Technology stands ready to enable and empower these channels, the big question is, “Are companies ready?”

On a personal level, thank you Citibank. Your simple, efficient and charming Internet banking inbox has gone a long way in keeping me loyal and your credit card my only card of choice.

Three strikes and you are out!

In under 3 months, I have had the great fortune to encounter 3 below-par customer engagement marketing experiences. And now this last one.

I recently renewed my car insurance policy and with it came a 25% discount (for being a valued customer) for a travel insurance product. Since I was going to Beijing soon, I decided that I would take up the offer both for the good discount and the expectation that it would be a hassle free buying process since I am an existing customer.

So I called the hotline and found myself repeating ALL my particulars. Now, I understand the need for security measures such as identification and payment details and new information such as travel details.

I DID NOT understand the need to repeat my full name, address and telephone number. And it did not come across as if the call center person even realized that I was an existing customer.

With the wide availability of smart customer interaction practices and technology platforms, surely something as basic as a “unified customer view” is a standard expectation?

In this day and age of limited customer loyalty, hyper competition, undifferentiated products and services, can marketers still afford to be careless in the practice and deployment of quality customer relationship management strategies and execution?

“I’m not important”. I hear you loud and clear!

Preferred, premier, priority etc … the sandwich class in banking gets it – we are NOT IMPORTANT!

I counted 4 ways in which the following letter says, “You’re really not important” (can you find more?):

1) Not a single piece of information about the exciting world

2) Names of the Relationship Manager (RM) or the Relationship Officer (RO) were not clearly indicated (“you cannot find us if you do not know who we are!”)

3) I have already been passed to an RO even before the relationship started

4) The contact card included was not clear

Most troubling, 0.00017 of a tree was wasted for this one letter telling me “I’m not important”.

Guys, I get it. I am really not important.

Apologies to my dedicated Branch Manager for not dropping by.

Headline reads, “Bank A innovates on new frontier with real time interactions.”

On 7 Jan 2011, I received a “we want to be closer to you” letter from this same bank kindly informing me that I now have a dedicated branch that is convenient to me. Sweet!

However, in their quest to mark their time across Asia, a sense of distance appears to have been misplaced as my dedicated branch is 16.5 km away. Given the breadth of Asia, perhaps that’s not a big deal.

Interestingly though, there is a branch of this bank that is an easy to breathe walk of only 1 km away from me – could that have been a better option?

Now, there must be a piece of software that enables address matching by postal codes to ensure that the intent of a “closer customer relationship” is not let down by practical considerations such as a dedicated branch that is half the city away?

Or create a practical strategy that assigns “dedicated branches” based on client proximity before unleashing the mail merge function to produce these lovely letters and in the process, start to save 0.00017 of a tree per letter sent out.

Meanwhile, I regretfully send my apologies to my dedicated Branch Manager for not dropping by. I have not quite decided that 16.5km is a worthwhile trek.

Have you discovered Discovr?

Every person has a killer app.

Mine is Discovr.

The other day, I decided to put it to the ultimate test.

I switched off the wireless and 3G connections for my iPad.

Then I loaded my new Discovr app.

It was amazing. Nothing worked.

Excitedly, I turned on the wifi connection and tried again.

It worked like a dream.

Ah, such is the power of the elegantly designed app.

At just 1.3MB, Discovr is a mere placeholder for data residing on the web. But once connected, it is your window to a limitless world of music discoveries.

Yes, Discovr is a music discovery app with a cool interface and some bloody clever thinking.

Just enter the name of any band you like, and it creates a music map (much like Pandora) showing you connected bands or singers that make similar music.

Tap any band to create a further map of connections.

Ready to delve into a particular band?

Double tapping the band name brings up an elegantly designed page with biography, reviews, blogs, links and a beckoning panel of YouTube videos.

I spent hours exploring my adolescent musical influences to see what I could read into them.

Teenage angst, heroic dreams, romantic yearnings… bring it on!

Of course, now that my kids have discovered Discovr, they are busy exploring their own musical universes.

And we’ve moved from a ‘once a week’ iPad charging family to the ‘twice a day’ variety.

Sigh, there goes next month’s electricity bill.


An Aside:

One of my first creative directors had said – “Write any headline, then write the body copy… you’ll find a better headline in there!”

I was leaning towards “Every person has a killer app. Mine is Discovr.”

What do you folks think?

To the ladies of Lorong 18 Geylang…

Firstly, thank you for waving to me as I crossed the street in search of a lunchtime treat. (food, of course!) And a special thanks to the one who pursed her lips as I passed by her umbrella. All of your actions caused me to reflect on my situation. And for that matter, on yours.

Let’s look at you for a minute.

There are over a dozen of you on every street (or Lorong, for the uninitiated). And while some of you do drift across to unmanned corners (no pun intended), most of you tend to hang around in groups. Not very useful if there is just one man walking along. How is he to choose between largely undifferentiated offerings? In this case, the advantage rests with the “outliers” amongst you who are looking for niche corners. Of course, the financial viability of that strategy in the long run depends on the amount of traffic that goes to those niches. But for the moment, let’s say there is enough to go around.

Now lets talk about me. I have just set up an ad agency with a couple of partners. Like you, we too find ourselves on the streets having to drum up business in a crowded marketplace. And while we are busy staking out some “niches” that we think will offer better returns, at present we are like any of the 350-odd agencies in Singapore. Hungry.

Which brings me to the elegantly coiffured Madame I ran into on Lorong 20. She was standing at the entrance of a large gated residential building. I forget the name of the building. Probably best that way. Anyway, as I passed by, I saw that she had just used her passkey to open the main entrance to a man and his woman. As she turned back, she saw me pass by. She raised her eyebrows and waved her key card. Now the advantage this woman had was that she was close to the scene of the action and had just shown me a live example of “success”.

Quick, back to the world of advertising and marketing! If we are able to show clients that we are not just dreamers but can actually deliver results, and have done so for “x, y and z” clients, we are more likely to see a relationship develop. This explains the plethora of case studies that one finds in an average agency presentation. But are case studies enough?

Needless to add, I did not take the bait from the gatekeeperni of Lorong 20. In spite of the case study she dangled before me. So what is the solution?

I have two words for the lady, “Think Geisha.”

Get to know the client’s real motivations. Realise that, in most cases, it isn’t the sex he is after. There are other reasons why he wants to forget his life / boss / wife / loan shark for a while. Or as Sir Jagger so eloquently put it, find out why he “can’t get no satisfaction” in his daily life.

Likewise in fields of advertising and marketing. Find out why clients can’t get no satisfaction from their current business. See if you can figure out a personlised solution, like the famed Japanese Geisha, who knows the intimate needs of all her clients. And present it to them in an elegant manner.

Once you’ve got the answer (it isn’t 42), do pop down to Lorong 18 or 20 and put the ladies out of their misery.

Compliments of Ram & Litmus!

The simplicity quest that began 7 years ago.

Found an old book review I did in 2003 (The Power of Simplicity) when I was a newbie on the path to senior management.
The beliefs held then still hold today.

What do you think?

On the Similarities between IITIANS and Potatoes.

My earliest memory of fine dining at IIT-KGP is Sunday dinners where “paneer” replaced the potato in our weekly menu lineup. (The origin of p2p?) All other days, the menu featured a binomial series: Potato + A, Potato + B, Potato + C, and so on. At times, in the interest of variety, we even had Potato on its own. While the omnipresent potato did contribute the bulk of my diet at IIT (the effects still linger), the similarities between the humble spud and the humble IITIAN don’t end there…

Potatoes are common.

There are about 100 varieties of edible potatoes, classified as mature or new. At IIT, we went in as new and came out rather mature. Or so we thought. Of course, today one comes across half-baked specialists, couch potatoes and overcooked big shots emerging from the ever-increasing number of IIT’s planted all over India.

Potatoes are environmentally friendly.

Potatoes are cheap and easy to grow; plus they don’t need fertilizers or chemical additives to thrive. Save for the last point, I would slot all IITIANS I know into the same group.

A Potato is 20% solid and 80% water.

IIITIANS have 20% real substance and the rest is all fluid mechanics. Four years of swimming against the tide helps us keep our heads above the water, no matter how stormy it gets.

Potatoes contain significant amounts of vitamin B6, which aids in athletic performance and endurance, as well as neurological activity.

Many IITIANS displayed their athletic prowess at Inter-IIT Sports Meets. On campus though, their feats of endurance usually involved dancing at Victory Parades and weeklong rooftop drinking sessions. As for neurological activity, there was clearly a surfeit of it at IIT, especially during the Freshers “orientation”. From the couch in my shrink’s wood-paneled office, I am often transported to smoky rooms filled with seniors firing questions at me – “Recite Pi to 20 digits”, or the more enigmatic “What’s my name, year and department?”… Huh?

The Potato was the first food to be grown in Space.

IITIANS have often gone where no sane man (or woman) has gone before. There was a spaced out variety of IITIANS who spent entire nights on hostel rooftops staring up at the Cosmos. In those days, IIT felt like another planet altogether and these characters were just out of this world.

In the US, Potato products are the second most consumed food group.

If they were a food group, IITIANS would be the first. The US has always had an insatiable appetite for IITIANS. Even in the days of severely curtailed H1B quotas, having an IIT degree gave you automatic entry to the USA. Most of my classmates moved to the US almost immediately upon graduation. Of course, now that opportunities are opening up in India, there are signs of a reverse brain drain. And everyone’s headed for the Aloo Tikkis.

– Ram Kapoor (aka Blondie)
IIT-KGP 1987

Why is simple so hard to do? When it is essential.

Read Chapter 4: The Fix is in – and it’s cheap and simple

2. Jack Trout’s
Read the whole book!

3. Apple’s focused simplicity.

Time and again, it’s been proven that things must always get simpler before they get better. Cut to the chaff. Focus on what will bring real value to the business and brand. Resist temptation to be seduced by fancy business, marketing and advertising fads. Tune out senseless noise.

The path to fantastic results is often simpler than imagined yet no easier to find. It simply takes clarity of thought, boldness, removal of clouded self-importance, loads of sense and sensibility, relentless focus, and importantly, decisive action.

Not too difficult. Yes?

Guilty! Using my iPhone 4 while walking with a hot drink.

Which one(s) are YOU guilty of?

Great expression of a simple universal truth – our obsessions with our phones. The new Windows Phone TVC – watch it here.

But I am not quite sure about the payoff. A Windows phone? Hmmm ….

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