Aside

Correlation is not causation

Porn companies know their audience well. So they were braced when, on Friday 3rd March 2017, their traffic began to nosedive. That weekend, Nintendo released its new Switch console, a highly-anticipated event in the gaming world. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide had pre-ordered the Switch to arrive that day, and by the end of…

via A major porn site’s traffic sank the weekend Nintendo released its new console — Quartz

This article, the infographic it talks about and the implied causation is precisely why people need to understand and practice better data interpretation.

I’d assume that such a trend happens when any new retail brand launch happens. It’s not just Nintendo who would cause such ripples, but any other retail brand.

Logan and Wolverine

When the first X-Men released, it was more than 17 years back. It was not a major role since there were other heavy hitters in the movie as well.

Wolverine_from_X-men_2000

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

The character was rough around the edges and it always had a lone ranger kind of aura with it.

The one word description for this character has always been bad-ass.

The movie series is excellent at doing some base level course corrections – one of those being the horrible yellow spandex suits that Jackman never got to wear.

X-Men fans loved the first, and then Hugh Jackman became a regular feature in all the other movies. So much so that despite of the other X-Men being introduced (Nightcrawler, Iceman, Colossus, Gambit, etc) the one character that everyone yearned to see time and again was the Wolverine.

The Wolverine does not have an issue with aging, in fact that’s his mutant power, however, the creators of the series and the movie series knew that the character would have to be killed. This is where the adamantium that’s in his body came useful.

** Spoiler Alert **

Logan the movie is created in order to phase out Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine and bring in his daughter. The young and feral Dafne Keen.

In this movie, Logan is shown as a tired Wolverine who is slowly dying because of the adamantium in his body. We also have an Alzheimer ridden Professor X who bids adieu to the series as well.

Fans of the series will realize that Professor X is the only character in the movie series to have been killed twice on screen (thanks to the Days of Past storyline).

I won’t get into the plot any deeper. This movie is one of the most grittiest and goriest X-Men movies to be every released. Some of the signature movies of X-Men feature slick moves and awesome super powers … Logan and Wolverine are the two movies where there is a fair amount of gritty hand-to-hand fighting. If you want to see how those blades are put to use, then you definitely need to see this one!

After 17 years of hit movies, Hugh Jackman gets to hang the Wolverine claws at the back of his den and relax.

Aside

Owning a Car or taking an Uber

Travis Kalanick, founder and CEO of Uber, built his cab-hailing startup with one ambitious goal: to stop people from buying cars. And while his ultimate goal could well be achieved globally, India would remain an exception. New research by Swiss investment bank UBS says that ride-on-demand (RoD) apps won’t stop Indians from buying their own…

via The simple reason why Uber and Ola can’t deter Indians from owning cars — Quartz

The investment bank UBS research might be saying that Indians still want a car, however, I still prefer taking an Uber ride over driving. Here’s why –

  • I can sit and read while the car is happily en route to my destination. Taking calls and thinking through things is a breeze.
  • Labor as well as Time & Material are saved
  • Dependency on cash is more or less removed. After demonetization, I have reduced my cash dependency completely, and I am loving it.
  • Whereas, its great to have a car and a driver handy to do on random jaunts like drop the kids to school, go for shopping, et al … however, an on the spot Uber is almost as good

Indians would treat the car as a status symbol, perhaps in the interiors they still do – however, with parking space coming at a premium (last I checked, a parking space in Nariman point as expensive as a 15 Lakh INR) taking an Uber is just more convenient.

यथा प्रजा तथा राजा?

Indians who considered Trump’s America a safe haven are in for a nasty wake up call. Like Muslims and Jews, Indians are not immune to racist attacks. On Thursday, a Kansas man open fired at a bar in the city of Olathe, killing 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla and injuring his colleague, 32-year-old Alok Madasani. Both men…

via Indians around the world are realizing the harsh reality of Trump’s “America First” policies — Quartz

This post is why people should learn to correctly attribute effects to the right cause. The way in which the article is attributing racism in the United States to Donald Trump is not fair. The article is glossing over the fact that there is racism in the country and most white citizens cannot identify the origin of a colored citizen based on his skin color.

Worse, the issue that needs to be discussed is gun control laws and not Trump.

On an off note – I have been using WordPress reader in the last couple of days and am liking the share mechanic that they have.

Stuttering Start-ups

Stayzilla, an Airbnb for homestays in India, is closing down its service. The company was founded six years ago and had raised $34 million from investors, including a $20 million Series B in 2015. Now is the time to pause and “reboot” however, CEO and co-founder Yogendra Vasupal explained in a blog post. The company reached a…

via Stayzilla, India’s Airbnb for homestays, closes its service — TechCrunch

Another one bites the dust, as start-ups and investors start rethinking their approach to creating unicorns. One of the largest ones being discussed (and also a poster child for Indian e-commerce) is Snapdeal, who in a recent email announced a lay-off of more than 1000 employees.

So why do it in the first place?

Well, it was good while it lasted, and at least the team that started it knows that they gave it their best and things did not work out – due to whichever reasons … be it a bad business model or unbalanced promotions, or whatever.

Over the years, investors have also become much more skeptical on which businesses would they put their money in.

Invest smart!

One of the things that peeves me off is that the investor success stories which have 1000% gains and great exits had the investors not just invest money, but also time and efforts in different capacities.

As someone who works with multiple ideas, one of the key components that I myself do not have much is time. Money is a transient thing, sometimes you are floating in it, sometimes you do not have much to spare. However, as time goes by … one of the key assets that people should look at is the time required to nurture that unicorn.

If that time is not there, then its best that you don’t put in the money – thinking that some smart people will grow that money and give you handsome returns. Somewhere in that dynamic, people are forgetting to create sustainable value.

What is Sustainable Value?

Any transaction happens because of both the parties seeing a certain economic value in that transaction. A buyer gets a good or a service for a price that he can afford. A seller gets a reasonable price for goods/services that he/she are providing.

For a time being, the buyer or seller can extract more value from the market. This could work due to information asymmetry (or third degree arbitrage). However, as information is made available to every user and as customer discovery becomes faster and smoother, this arbitrage is being worn down.

So, how does sustainable value come from … simple, it comes from fair play, it comes from co-operation and knowing that co-operation is the winning strategy when it comes to game theory.

How many start-ups get the sustainable value creation point is something that I am most interested in.

 

Using Data Studio to create beautiful Reports

In the month of November 2016, Data Studio was made available for all users in India. The product was launched quite some time back, however, it was only accessible in the US and for premium Google Analytics 360 users.

However, as of today, anyone can use Google Data Studio to create dazzling reports that can be shared with teams and clients.

So how does one go about creating awesome reports?

That’s where Data Studio shines, it allows users to create one template which can be utilized across multiple data sources. I tried to create a quick report using one of the default templates provided, here’s a step by step guide on using Data Studio to create reports.

An update: As of 2nd Feb 2017, Data Studio has been declared a free product for everyone to use.

Adding a Data Source

First, we need to add our data source (in this case my site’s Google Analytics account) to the Data Studio.

Choose the Data Source menu from the Dashboard

Choose the Data Source menu from the Dashboard

Once you click on the menu, you would be directed to a screen listing all the data sources that you have added to your account.

Note, by default Google keeps some data sources in your account, so that one can practice on the product before moving on to your own data sources.

List of Data Sources

List of Data Sources

As all Google products, you can see the clear use of Material Design in this interface. Use the blue floating action button at the bottom right of your screen to add your own custom data source.

Connecting GA as Data Source

Connecting GA as Data Source

As the screenshot above shows, that most of the Google products can easily be integrated to this product. What’s more you can even use a MySQL database or a Google Spreadsheet (Excel ahoy!).

So, I could do most of my number crunching in existing styles, and use this tool only as a slick presentation layer.

After I press connect, this GA property of my site is now added to Data Studio as a source of data.

The minute you choose the right property, you would see all the dimensions and metrics that Google Analytics has. This is a pretty exhaustive list and you can import most of these into Data Studio.

GA Fields Imported as Dimensions and Metrics

GA Fields Imported as Dimensions and Metrics

Now that the important fields are linked (do check the respective fields you want to pull), we can go on to using a report template.

List of my Data Sources

List of my Data Sources

The screenshot shows the recently added data source. Great! We are all set to creating awesome reports!

Using Report Templates

We would be using the Acme Marketing template that’s there in the account. It broadly shows basic user level data in one simple report.

Keep in mind that Data Studio reports can span across multiple pages, but for this guide we are sticking to a one-pager.

Go back to your dashboard and choose the Acme Report template.

Acme Data Studio Template

Acme Data Studio Template

Click on the Use Template button, and now this is the most important point when it comes to using Data Studio report templates, choose your own data source.

Selecting the right Data Source

Selecting the right Data Source

Something for beginners to keep in mind again, is that if you choose the wrong data source (for e.g. of the default ones provided), then the report would be generated, however the data won’t be yours!

If in case, you have done this, it’s easy to change the data source after you have created the report.

Let’s move on to customizing the report

 

Customizing the Report

Customizing the Report

What I did was choose the Acme logo, and change it to the Big Fat Geek logo! A small change in the header color, and I have a branded look for the template.

This is what the finished report now looks like –

Finished Report

Finished Report

Using Data Studio

The cool part of Data Studio now shines through. What I have is a report which talks to data in real time. So I can change my data range, and my report updates!

This report can now be shared with my team or my reporting manager or clients without worrying about giving access to all the dimensions and metrics.

Data Studio Working Report

Data Studio Working Report

That’s all for today folks! It’s your turn to go and try out this tool and churn out spectacular looking reports.

The Case of the missing Engagement Glue

This is a narrative to highlight how we somehow miss the element of human engagement in our day to day interactions. In an economy such as India, where 56% of GDP comes from services – missing human engagement seems like a big concern for me.

The incident

In the month of December 2016, my parents and I decided to go to Gwalior. The reason was to attend a friend’s wedding. I figured that we would get some time to look around the city – as well as some time off from work. I did not wish to travel via train (since its a 20 hour journey). Thankfully we had enough time to plan ahead, so we bought tickets off Cleartrip.com (this being one of my favored sites purchase travel tickets – both air and rail).

Flash forward to December 9th, the date of the flight. We huddled up to the T2 terminal in early morning – hoping to reach Gwalior just before lunch. It’s not as if we had planned this in detail – it’s just that there is just one flight that goes from Mumbai to Gwalior. That flight being an Air India one, and that too once a day. So much for choice!

1 hour before the flight, we are checked-in and sitting at the boarding gate. Most of the other passengers have started showing up. My initial suspicion of this flight being empty are quickly put to rest as I count around 50 odd passengers at our boarding gate. Just then, Air India announces that the flight might get delayed by an hour or so – since there is fog at the Gwalior airport. Some folks have started grumbling, and the elderly lady sitting next to me is concerned that she may not reach the hospital in time.

An hour later, the flight is promptly announced cancelled and the hapless attendant at the boarding gate points the irritated passengers towards the Air India desk. Fortunately, I am quickly able to figure out the next steps in flight cancellation and I was able to get the entire PNR of both the flights cancelled (since it was a round trip – this was done de-facto by Air India when they cancelled my onwards journey!).

At this juncture, I realize that reaching by flight is impossible for my parents. I could have gone via Delhi or via Bhopal, unfortunately Air India was not willing to transfer my ticket to another firm’s flight and wanted me to wait for their next empty flight. Somewhere, the Air India helpdesk just stopped being customer friendly (who wouldn’t when faced with 50 angry customers all shouting for alternative flights), and started quoting the policies.

Cancellations and refund

Having my flight cancelled, I got on a call with Cleartrip.com and confirmed the refund amount we would be getting. So for spending roughly 35k for the tickets and wasting so much time, we would be getting most of that amount back. The attendant was super friendly and seemed to grasp the situation – he promptly had an Air India customer care operator on conference call and asked for the full refund. This process amongst the chaos took 5 hours or so. The customer care operator from Air India – Manoj, seemed diffident at first, however he agreed that I would be refunded in full when he learnt that it was a single PNR. The Cleartripper must have been trained for such situations – so he verified this twice on the call. Then he assured me of the refund and asked me to return back home and proceeded to cancel the tickets. We reached home in the evening, having deemed that some time and money had lost and we would be missing my friend’s wedding (sorry Jay!).

After the customary vows of not using Air India ever, and praising Cleartrip for their super awesome service, I went on with life. I was informed by Cleartrip that this refund would be processed in 25 odd days – since I did not have an endorsement copy ready.

Dec 9th: Email from Cleartrip Team

Dec 9th: Email from Cleartrip Team

Since, I did not have this aforementioned endorsement copy, I replied back stating that I’d rather wait for Cleartrip to do the same for me.

The Engagement Gap

Now, starts the real story. On the 5th Jan (almost a month after the flight was scheduled), I receive this email from Cleartrip.com.

Jan 5th: Email from Cleartrip Team

Jan 5th: Email from Cleartrip Team

I remember a cold dread going through this email. Fortunately, I remember that there was a recorded conversation between the three parties (Cleartrip, Air India and I) – where the Air India operator had confirmed and mentioned on record that the refund would be processed in full. So how can they go back on their word?

I picked up the phone and spoke to a Cleartripper about the same. The Cleartripper took some time understanding the issue, went and verified that such a conversation existed, and then asked me about the endorsement copy. I do not know how this looks like so I asked them to arrange it at their side (they claimed they could take care of this, however, it would take their 20-25 more days).

At this juncture, I trusted Cleartrip and said that the wait would be fine (since I have already waited month, another 20 days may not matter).

The Engagement Gap widens

On the 14th of Jan, I receive this email –

Jan 14th: Email from Cleartrip Team

Jan 14th: Email from Cleartrip Team

This is where I lost all hope of getting any money back. A cool 30k down the drain. Thankfully, it was a Saturday – and I had some free time on my hands to get into the heart of the matter.

I got onto a call with Cleartrip and 15 minutes later had explained the matter to one more Cleartripper (so now at least 3 of them know about my issue). In classic textbook style script, she proceeds to assure me that they will look into it and will get back to me in some time.

This is where I lost all trust that Cleartrip would indeed solve the problem. Please note, I am not bitching about Cleartrip or Air India – at least not yet! So, I decided to push for a turn around time. I was informed that the concerned person would contact me in an hour’s time.

An hour and a half later, I call Cleartrip to follow-up. A separate person this time, another round of explanations go and this chap also placates, re-assures and promises to get back. I refuse to hang-up, and call him on this point that everyone promises to get back – but no one does. At this juncture, the fine chap that he is informs me that it would be simpler if I had the endorsement copy in place.

Wait, what? So I waited 35 days for Cleartrip to get something which I am not supposed to get. Why did they not say the same in the first place? Why offer to do this if they do not really engage with the problem.

Look who’s talking!

At this point, I realized that screaming or ranting this won’t solve my problem. If I do not chose to do something about this state of issues, then my money is most certainly lost. Grumbling obscenities with Air India, I head on to T2.

I reach Air India’s office and explain that I need an endorsement copy for the flight number. The officer asks me the PNR number which I provide. She looks at the date for a minute and goes to the senior officer. He proceeds to process this (while handling 2-3 other emergencies), he asks me why did I not get this on the day of the flight itself. I narrate the entire incident to him and he gives me the copy in 10 minutes flat. My impression of Air India stands changed.

While this was happening, the Cleartripper (the last one) calls me and suggests me to get the endorsement copy to process the refunds. I email him the required photographs of the copy and there ends the matter.

As I was typing this post, I thought it might make sense to double check with Cleartrip. True enough, they haven’t yet received the endorsement copy from me. It seems that their CRM (which is Salesforce) is not configured to receive attachment to replies, and expects me to send a separate mail (not as part of the mail chain) to them. I send this, and receive acknowledgement of this. I have been told to wait for 2 days on this for any further update. There is a trust deficit in my mind when I talk about Cleartrip … a site which I have been using for around a decade now.

So who is not engaging here?

I don’t know! Is it Cleartrip or was it Air India that f**ked up?

Or was it me who simply did not chase these matters?

Does it have to be this hard? In this mess of exchanges, there were so many opportunities for one human to go the additional distance and close the gaps.

  • Air India could have given the endorsement copies the minute the cancellation was announced.
  • Cleartrip could have fetched this themselves and not kept buying time
  • I could have chased after both Air India and Cleartrip and addressed this matter. I certainly plan to do so now.

The Engagement Glue

If I have not lost you by now, most certainly you are piqued by what I mean by The Engagement Glue.

There are 4 basic interchanges happening here –

  1. Purchasing the ticket on Cleartrip. I think they have nailed this experience.
  2. The actual flight. Air India could not help here, the Gwalior airport is controlled by the army base and it shuts down operations after 3pm. The fog was a natural act, and could not be helped.
  3. The cancellation process. This is where a clear engagement failure happened. Air India officials should feel more concerned about the emotions that a passenger goes through, and not cite policy.
  4. The refund process. Another engagement failure, Cleartrippers should look further than providing text book responses. The user should also actively track this (I am the user), it’s his money after all!

In the last two points, there was a need to bridge the engagement gap with some understanding. With some Engagement glue. Human empathy could have been that glue.

Conclusion

At the end of this fiasco (when it ends!), all I want to say is that the trust with which I used to operate is lost and that could have been saved simply by being a bit more human-centric.

I see this in a lot of services, the great service providers go that bit extra and ensure that everyone around them feel customer delight.

The damn thing doesn’t end here!

26th January 2017. This addendum after 10 days.

After waiting for Cleartrip to respond, I called their Customer Care team up. It seems that their representative had forwarded the matter to the wrong team! I am being told to wait for 2-3 days more, guess I will keep this updated and see what comes of it.