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Forced opt-in by the French government January 29, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Customer Experience, France, Hong Kong, newsletters.
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Yesterday, quietly minding my own things, I received a strange email in my personal inbox:

From: Nicolas_lassus@yahoo.com (That’s me! … usually a sign of a spam email or virus)

Subject: (French Consulate in Hong Kong and Macau) Confirmation (in French of course)

Email from French Consulate

Seeing the subject line I thought that the consulate was reminding me that my new passport I requested was sitting in their drawers waiting for me to pick it up… but wrong I was! Although I cannot recall ticking a box saying I want to receive anything from my dear Consulate when I applied for a passport a month ago (my last interaction with the consulate), here I get a “confirmation” for my subscription to the Consulate information newsletter.

Luckily there is a link for me to modify my subscription in the email. This leads to a page where I can choose between HTML and text format, and where I can unsubscribe. Note though how the link says “modify your subscription” and not “if you want to unsubscribe bla bla bla”. But then I stop… would unsubscribing from this newsletter make me a bad citizen? Will the government flag me and check my tax receipts for omissions (I actually never worked in my own country, and thus never had a tax declaration done there)? Anyway. I decided that it was safer for me to at least pick up my passport before removing my name from the distribution list… or at least see what the first newsletter will look like.

It is funny how governments in the UK and Canada seem to be at the forefront of user experience and accessibility… and how the French government still does not get the concept of letting users opt-in to a newsletter… scary!

Interactive Billboards equipped with Bluetooth: Good or Bad? October 4, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Advertising, France, Innovation, Trends.
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BBC interactive billboard with a live pollYesterday in the French newspaper Le Monde (sorry, article in French) there was an article about interactive billboards supposed to be installed in the Paris Metropolitan stations. These billboards will be equipped with Bluetooth and will be able to send information through SMS or other means to people passing by.

Interactive billboards of such kinds are not new, but it seems to me that something is different about this initiative. Browsing the web we can find quite a number of interesting brand-driven campaigns that use interactive billboards. Below are just three examples, that I think are pretty innovative and can be efficient:

What is different here is that the initiative is not brand-driven, it is media placement company-driven. This could mean that instead of being surprised by a funny and innovative interactive billboard somewhere in town, people could be overloaded with interactive stuff and potentially unwanted SMS all over town if that type of billboards spread.

I am also puzzled by the choice of location to kick-start the project. People in the Metro don’t strike me as having time to interact with some ads. They strike me as been tense (especially during rush hours) and potentially running late. It seems to me that an initiative like this would make much more sense in the waiting area of an airport where waiting cannot be avoided.

As quoted from the Le Monde article, right now, Métrobus (website in French), the company behind the project and which is owned by Publicis and JCDecaux is waiting for approval from the CNIL (Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés/National Commission on Computing and Freedom) before the project can be launched. Other companies like CBS Outdoor or Clear Channel are waiting for the approval as well to potentially launch their own projects.

I personally would prefer the approval not to be given as it would change what is a very effective niche advertising channel into mainstream advertising that would just overwhelm people and could lead to serious privacy issues.

Privacy with Web 2.0 October 1, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in France, Social Networking, Trends, Web 2.0.
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Privacy RedefinedSome time ago Times reported (I got the link through the blog “Putting People First“) a virtual suicide on Facebook; a lady whose former boyfriends would send “flirty” messages on her “wall” (public notice board where anybody can write or read about you). That was bound to happen. One of my friends had a similar case although she did not commit “virtual-suicide” just yet. She is in China, her boyfriend in England. She parties sometimes and some of her friends post pictures on Facebook… “tagging” her on them. So, if you look at those pictures, it looks like she is partying all the time and tagged by many different people… the boyfriend is not pleased. The solution: now she “untags” herself from people’s pictures, as quickly as possible.

Isn’t the Web supposed to make our lives easier? I think there is something big happening today. Our private life is less and less in our control and the rules of the game are yet to be clearly defined so missteps are unavoidable.

On a really insightful report (in French) on mobile phone usage in France (obtained again through “Putting People First“) the researchers also compared habits from adults and teenagers with their mobile phone, a tool that is considered our very own private safe box. The study reveals that teenagers now use their mobile phones as a way to share things more than to keep them away from others. Mobile phones are ways to share pictures, songs, movies and much more; they are thus passed on from people to people and not the best place anymore to keep secrets.

For adults on the other hand, mobile phones are regarded as keepers of secrets. For example a boyfriend or girlfriend keeping his/her mobile phone away from reach is seen as a very suspicious behavior, sometimes for good reasons.

So what is happening with the new generation? Is it just that during teenage years one has less secrets to keep away? Or do teenagers just care less about the private side of their own self? Or is it that new ways to keep our private lives are going to be developed to replace the tools the “old” generation used?

I personally think that soon we will see tools appearing and getting mainstream that will allow us to keep our personal life away from other people. What about a “This is top secret” button on emails, phones, basically anywhere, that can allow us to send stuff to a virtual black box of which only us have the key? The so-called Web 2.0 is about sharing, but in the long run do we really want anybody to be able to see, comment and edit our privates lives?

Velib – Renting bikes in Paris August 10, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Customer Experience, France.
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Velib StationSome time ago, I wrote a post about transportation in Paris, saying that the new measures taken to curb traffic were making drivers’ life a nightmare. Well, now a new project has been launched in Paris. This one differs entirely from all the measures that were taken before in several aspects – it sends a positive message, it is innovative and bold.

The Velib project is Paris aims at providing bikes for rental (in some cases free) all over the city. With an aim to open 1,450 stations in the city (more than 700 already set up) the location scheme will cover the whole of Paris. More details on the official Website and on Wikipedia.

The important message of this project is that it finally sends a positive message, it offers alternatives to other public transportation means and to driving. It is not clear how much a scheme like that will actually reduce traffic, or if it will have any effect at all, but people seem to like the project. Many people I met had already tried to service and wanted to use it more, and while walking the streets of Paris people can see more and more “Velibs”.

It is also an innovative and bold project. The speed at which the stations have been and are being installed is just amazing. It brings freshness to Paris and states that bold things can be done in France. A message that to me is too rare…

I just hope now that the project will be successful and free of troubles like in Copenhagen where entire stations were emptied of their bikes by thieves…

Service level – Comparison between Hong Kong and France August 7, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Cultural Differences, Customer Experience, France.
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I had a visit from my family recently and we ended up talking about the level of service customers receive in Hong Kong as compared to France. My family members were complaining that in Hong Kong any request that is a bit “outside of the box” meets the same “it is not possible” answer or sends the customer service staff into pure panic. At first, the comments made me hesitate. Was I wrong? Is service in France better? Did it change? A trip to France and going through a French airport helped me put my thoughts back in order…

When flying Air France from Hong Kong these days, you arrive at a brand new terminal in Paris – Charles de Gaulle airport. The problem is… the terminal is not totally finished. So upon arrival, instead of stationing at a gate, the plane stops away from the gate and passengers need to take a bus to reach the terminal. Keeping in mind that most Asian flights reach Paris around the same time (in between 6am and 8am) and that security measures (I guess) has policemen check passports when passengers get off the bus at the only available door of the terminal, passengers after a 12-hour or more flight are forced to wait standing on the bus for a certain period of time (from 10 to 30 minutes I guess) while buses in front of them finished getting emptied from their passengers.

Once this first step completed, passengers have to go through immigration, which is compulsory even for passengers in transit (strange if people fly to another country). There two or three lines are available. Each line is wide enough for 3 to 4 people to stand side-by-side leading to much pushing and jumping of the queue. The lack of signs leaves passengers  wondering if they are in the right queue, while passengers with a connecting flight are stressed out because they are afraid to miss their flight because of the long queue.

The airport, I guess realizing passengers’ distress, had a ground staff standing next to the queues to assist. One passenger in front of me asked the staff: “I will miss my connecting flight which leaves in 30 minutes. What can I do?”. Then the staff to answer: “Sorry, I can’t do anything for you. You have to queue up. If you miss your flight, well, you just miss it”. Sure enough the passenger after this was not in distress anymore… but just was plain angry!

In my two-way flights between Hong Kong and France, I had many more stories on board the plane, in the airport, in the parking lot of the airport…
The result was clear to me. Living in Hong Kong is great! People may not be the best problem solvers, but at least the infrastructure and processes are designed following best practices and most of the time the service received is very acceptable. In France, where I think people are much better at solving problems, the infrastructure is the problem. Places, things and processes are not designed in a customer-centered way (here I generalize too much to make my point) and it makes service levels even lower. Hopefully, and some examples seem to show it is the case, things may change in France.

Engineers vs. Businessmen January 2, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Cultural Differences, Customer Experience, France, Hong Kong.
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I continue here on the few posts I made on France

In France, we are used to say that we are great inventors and engineers, but are unable to market and sell any of the good ideas we have. It is true that historically France has had some compelling inventions that in the end did not spread outside its borders that much: look at the Minitel (predecessor of the Internet) or the Concorde plane. On the other hand Hong Kong people are relentless entrepreneurs and salesmen that may build several businesses at the same time. These businesses often focus on very short term profit and are not meant to last very long.

I would like to use an example to highlight how this simple comparison can translate in the consumer world. It is related to the approach used by one of the most successful store chain in France: FNAC. In Hong Kong, the equivalent of FNAC would be a merger between HMV, the Publishing House and Fortress all under one roof and with a very significant share of each of these markets. Some people in France developed a symbiotic lifestyle in relation to these stores, spending their week-ends reading comic books or listening to music sometimes not to buy anything.

FNAC has developed a very strong trust with its customers that led it to publish selection guides to help customers choose their products. The products are rated and compared by FNAC “labs” and the shop is recommending the best picks. This practice never surprised me before I came to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong it is inconceivable for a shop selling products to review them and recommend “without bias” which one the customer should purchase. Why would a shop recommend a product of better quality to its customers if that product will not bring significant margin to the company? And what would be the reaction of brands that are not well rated?

So on one side, if a French person wants to buy a new camera, this person may check FNAC’s comparison charts, while a Hong Kong person would never consider trusting a shop enough to hear its recommendations and will rather rely on friends or “independent” magazines/forums for the job. This behavior is based on experience and relevant to each environment… but what would happen if a Hong Kong store decided to follow the French way and develop a stronger bond and trust with its customers?