Hong Kong

DRM stupidity

A year ago we arrived in Hong Kong with no TV, but a Mac Mini, broadband connection and a stack of DVDs from the UK.  When the DVDs were all watched we turned to the local video shop to hire or buy DVDs.  Only they would not work. Hong Kong is in a different region to the UK.  The DRM of dinosaur logic does not allow you to be an international traveler.   If we wanted to buy new DVDs in Hong Kong we would have to make a decision to effectively throw away our UK DVDs.  And it was then that we really discovered Bit Torrent…

I was just a humble consumer wanting to do the right thing but was denied this by the entertainment industry and their flawed business model.  (Indeed rather than preventing piracy DRM encourages it).  Now our own Prime Minister has experienced the same thing after being given a collection of Region 1 DVDs by Obama that he cannot watch because they are unplayable on his Region 2 DVD player.

“Maybe this experience will help the British government understand how many of the entertainment industry’s efforts to strengthen intellectual property controls do little more than irritate legitimate consumers.”

Musical call tones and my mental model

Musical call tones when you are waiting to be connected to the person you are calling are great from a marketing and technical point of view, but they are inconsistent with (many) user expectations.  Does this mean they are wrong? Is there a cultural or demographic dimension to this?

I have a mental model for the way that phones work.  I dial a number and get a mechanical ‘brrrr-brrrr’ tone.  In some countries it is a simple sine wave tone, but it is a recognisable feedback mechanism that lets me know that the call is waiting for the person (or machine) at the other end of the line to answer it.  If I get a single tone it means the line is engaged or can’t be connected.

I’ve another mental model about music being played to me on the phone.  It means that I’ve been connected to the other person and have been put on hold.  If I have initiated the call, and it is not a free number, it is costing me to listen to the music.

In China, Hong Kong and Singapore musical call tones are becoming increasingly popular.  Instead of the mechanical brrr-brrr you get a song that the person you are calling has selected.  The first time I got this I was calling a colleague in China and I immediately put the phone down.  Was I being charged for this? I associated the music with being on hold, and I didn’t want that on an international call.  The musical call tone broke my long established mental model of how a phone works. That caused cognitive dissonance and I didn’t like that.

To my knowledge, none of the UK telco providers offer this service.  Could this be because consumers would find it hard to accept it?  If so, why is it so popular in China?  Ubiquitous phone ownership is relatively new in China, could it be true that they don’t have such an ingrained mental model of what a waiting call tone should sound like?  Or is it (more likely) an age thing.  I’m just too too conditioned with my ‘brrr-brrr’ and youth the world over will cast it away in favour of whatever is top of the download chart. (Eeugch, I’m sounding old!).

On doing business in Hong Kong…

…there are two things that are essential, the business card and the company chop. Every business meeting starts with the customary exchange of business cards, after a year in Hong Kong I have amassed a mountain of them that lined up end to end would get me a fair distance. And no official document is official without a company chop – ink stamp in any other language. Probably a remnant from British bureaucracy, a signature is not sufficient, no document is complete without a chop. The fact that you can get a chop made up at any stationers doesn’t seem to matter. In fact you’d probably get away with a potato print as a chop if you were that was your thing. The chop and the card are de rigueur, if there was something else I might add it would be the fax machine. It is not unusual to suggest correspondence via email to be told to send a fax instead.

Day trip to Shenzhen

Day trip to Shenzhen from Hong Kong. Most nationalities can now get visas at the border (why do us Brits get screwed with such expensive visas?), but be warned, you have to pay for them in RMB. Once you’ve cleared immigration Hong Kong side there is no ATM, so if you’ve got no Chinese money, you are at the mercy of the folk in no-mans land. There’s a counter by the visa office that will change money, but the rate is truly lousy.

Cross cultural considerations at the Sandwich bar

In their paper Content preparation for cross-cultural e-commerce: a review and a model, Liao et al. conclude that (1) Westerners pay more attention to information about product components or contents than East Asians and (2) East Asians pay more attention to information about price… than westerners. This is in the context of eCommerce in “present[ing] appropriate information content to facilitate consumers’ decision making”.

A practical example of this in the bricks and morter world can be seen at this Sandwich bar in Hong Kong.

Sandwich bar counter

Clearly modeled on the western way of buying sandwiches, the counter layout supports the customer selecting the product (sandwiches and fillings on display) moving on to the cashier at the end of the counter to pay.

This isn’t the way things are done in Hong Kong where money comes first before the product. “Please place your order at the cashier”… before dwelling in front of the display cabinet. This results is congestion around the cashier counter and poor workflow and a slow and tedious customer experience.

Sandwich bar or internet offering, consider cultural differences before transferring the concept and content.

Forty five grand to line your trolleys up?

Trolleys lined up at Hong Kong MTR station

They’ve thought about the customer at Hong Kong airport. At every MTR station on the express route to the aiport, the trolleys have been lined up so that they are in front of the passengers getting off the train. No hunting for a free trolley – they are waiting for you! Nice!

But stop to think about that. Someone is employed to line up the trolleys. Given the hours the station is open (18 hours) it is going to be more than one person every day, more likely two; three to cover shifts across the whole week. Trains arrive every 15 minutes, so there will be other tasks for this role to do, but if they are offering a consistent customer experience then the focus will be this role.

So let’s work a UK equivalent, we need to employ three additional employees at, say, £8 per hour. Once Employers National Insurance is factored in (and not including sick pay or any benefits) that’s about £15k for each individual, or an optimistic £45,000 pa for the customer experience of having the trolleys lined up.

Justify that to the beancounters…

Missing planes

Reminder to get to the airport on the the right date.  flight is post-midnight

After a month living out of a suitcase, circumnavigating the globe I’m homeward bound. I’m flying with Oasis… going to be interesting how the words “budget” and “longhaul” reconcile with each other. So far the experience is promising, a nice touch with their e-ticket (the date which I have subsequently changed). The plane flies at 00:50. BA fly back from Hong Kong a little earlier; on their e-ticket they don’t make it clear that the flight is a post-midnight one. Last time I did this trip I arrived at the airport on the Sunday night beleiving my flight was late on Sunday. Only it was a few minutes after midnight… on the Monday morning. I’d missed my flight by 24 hours. An easy, and expensive mistake to make. Oasis have gone out of their way to help me not make this mistake.

Blue sky apple pie

I’m in Hong Kong in a workshop and we are asking the group to think beyond what they do today. To come up with a “blue sky” vision of what they want from an application.

“Urrrr, excuse me” says one of the team, “what is a blue sky?”

Earlier on, one of the team had talked about “motherhood and apple pie”. Urrrrr. What is that?

Another workshop, “We are interested in how you do things, soup to nuts”. Uurrrr, nuts? Who ends their meal with nuts. If that is what you are trying to say…

On agile projects we talk to customers and soon start talking about “stories”. Urrrr, aren’t stories something I read my daughter at bedtime
We assume that people will understand what “stories” are. They nod their heads in agreement, but do they really understand what we are talking about.?They’re requirements right? If calling them requirements makes communicating with your customers easier, then isn’t it better to use the words they are comfortable with?

When you do a retrospective (urrrr, what’s that? you mean review of how we got on?) how about spending a couple of minutes reviewing the language you have talked to your customers in. Have you spoken their language, or talked at them in your own? Have you communicated in plain English or have you been wallowing in bullshit bingo land.

Oh, and if I’m on a language theme, when you go into Starbucks it is “can I please have a cup of coffee”, not “Can I get a coffee”… 🙂