The VALUE of Negative Innovation 101

This morning’s HT Business piece “Can India become the Coca Cola of the BPO sector” by my friend N. Madhavan, (twitter: @madversity) shows how India is steadily cornering the ‘back-office’ business. His article got me thinking about whether this has happened by design or is the kind of happy accident that made India an IT superpower by the Y2K paranoia of the west. Here’s why.

The Indian service industry is fast mastering the art of Negative Innovation. When they try to add value they end up becoming a nuisance.

Negative Innovation Case #1: 0.75p for Voice SMS, Value Added Service (VAS) –  Airtel.
I scroll down my list of contacts and call N. Madhavan. Maddy’s on another call so this ‘friendly’ VAS kicks in telling me I can leave a voice sms for him. Easy! So what does it ask me to do? Without hanging up, I have to dial his TEN-DIGIT-NUMBER followed by STAR or HASH (I don’t remember which) and VOILA!!! . . . I can leave a voice sms for him. #Fail. I was telling someone the other day that if Airtel could show me ONE . . . O N E person who had ever used the service, I’d eat my words now and forever more. VALUE for whom?

Negative Innovation Case #2: TM RBS N.V., SELL REL CAP…, etc., Unsolicited BULK SMS – Direct Marketing Cos.
For the past year or so there’s been this ‘NUISANCE’ of unknown and cryptic Direct Marketing SMS’s that sell property, insurance, stocks . . . unameit! And there’s no way you can block them. #Fail. There’s your killer idea you wannabe entrepreneurs … SPAM FILTER for SMS!! Go for it. I can’t imagine that clients are paying these goddamn marketeers (Don’t miss the extra ‘e’ as in racketeers, profiteers …) to successfully erode their Brand equity. VALUE for whom?

Negative Innovation Case #3: eShakti, Smart Card for NREGA –  Smaartech.
We’ve all heard of the UPA’s flagship political program – guaranteed 100-days-per-household employment a year. Our IT wizkids sold the idea of using smart cards to progressive Bihar without as much as a thought beyond the technology parts. So now we have over 13 lac people who can barely afford a meal a day become proud owners of snazzy plastic that they can swipe for attendance. Never mind that they are employed for ‘EARTH WORK’, meaning that they go out into the fields in the sweltering summer heat in skimpy (no I’m not thinking what you’re thinking ;-)) attire who have to figure out where to keep their prized SMART CARDS. Smart! #Fail. Next we’ll have some nerd from MIT suggesting we implant a chip on their shoulder. (Pun wasn’t intented here!). VALUE for whom?

Sure, technology is great. We’ll keep thinking up new applications for fatter pipes, faster data transfer and efficient number crunching. Effectiveness be damned! India’s billion-strong population is not only growing in numbers but also in purchasing power. 3G, 4G, LTE . . . CONVERGENCE has come. But what about the customers . . . huh? WHAWASTHAT? Who cares. Numbers are far more attractive than people anyway. The more the zeros the more the adrenaline. India has so many people that you don’t bother about a customer once you’ve acquired one. Screw users.


14 Replies to “The VALUE of Negative Innovation 101”

  1. hahahaa..never in my cell phone’s exasperating life with Airtel did it experience the Atoot network in fact it had the anagram of it ‘toota’ network. I would shamefully admit though, I did use the voice sms service can we call it #fail? 😉


    1. … your patience is laudable Vibhuti. And it’s the provider who should be ashamed to offer something so ridiculous. Not you!!

      Let me imagine the possible scenarios when the VAS asks for the TEN-DIGIT-NUMBER,

      Either …
      I. hang up, then …
      Step 1. Get hold of a pen and a piece of paper,
      Step 2. Go through your phone book,
      Step 3. Note down the TEN-DIGIT_NUMBER,
      Step 4. Hit last call dialled and be ready to read and dial the number when asked.

      I suspect if your called party has hung up by then and you get through, you’d be tearing your hair apart. But you’re lucky that s/he was still on a call so you had a chance to use the ‘friendly neighborhood’ VAS.

      The other contortionist version could go like …
      II. Without hanging up … have your phone tucked between ear and shoulder while you dig into your pocket for a scrap of paper, hurriedly get hold of a pen … then figure where to keep these while you take your phone off your ear and try to access your phone book, scroll down to the contact and note the number, 3 digits at a time while repeating the above subsequence. I wouldn’t be surprised that the IVR hangs up while you’re busy multitasking.

      Do share how you used the service successfully, unless of course it was your sweetheart you were calling and you already knew her number by heart! 😉 (Pun Intended).


      1. hahaa..your response is more interesting than the post itself :-). Well, the scenarios u described above were so true. I hung up twice, then noted down the number and sent it finally 3rd time, fortunately my friend had still kept the phone busy 🙂 I got wooed by the zoozoos and made switch only to deal with the heavy charges for every service the most important one being the ‘network’


  2. Interesting as always 🙂

    Shared view regarding #1 with the guys from BubbleMotion who power the Airtel voice SMS – I agree with you totally.

    #2 solution on way – company ready to launch its offering in India. Will tell you more.

    #3 agree completely – someone made another pile off our money.


  3. Nice post Sunil.

    The mobile and sms industry in India has seen every kind of innovation except Product Innovation. The core product remains bare bones. And breaking at that.

    RT Your last words .


  4. No doubt a lot of times consumers actually are ignored by service providers, but about the cases you state:

    case #1 Voice SMS: I use it myself on Vodafone. It can’t only be used when a phone is busy, but also when it is switched off. So, if I want someone to get my message as soon as he switches on, I’d rather record a 60 second voice sms than spend next two minutes straining my fingers typing a text message. So it is value added service for me. And btw, that can be done after hanging up.

    case #2 is of course profitable for the ‘marketeers’. It is not something that the service provider does, it is something that other people (‘marketeers’) do. So, it’s not about the service providers not giving a damn about the consumers. But anyways it is very bugging for us consumers. You’re absolutely right on that.

    case #3. I know nothing about it actually. It might have those negative points that you mentioned, but I guess a simple swipe would save a lot of time and paper than signing or taking thumb impressions for attendance. I also think there could be some other uses of the smart card as well, like all the records of payment, attendance and other stuff would be electronic rather than on paper, which makes it easier to make, easier to maintain and easier to access.

    So things are probably not as bad as you think are…


    1. Good points Owen and thanks for your comments.

      Case #1. Obviously the Vodafone service you are using is not as ‘stupid’ as the one I’ve talked about and you therefore find it a convenience. (See my reply to Vibhuti’s comment above).

      Case #2. Agreed. That a company believes bombarding people with SMS-es 30 times a day would build brand presence should understand that it is negative recall they’re achieving. But I wouldn’t let service providers off the hook. They have a ‘duty’ towards their customers too, besides making money by allowing ‘their’ customers to be harrassed.

      I agree things are probably not as bad as I think – they’re actually much worse! 😦


      1. Well Sir, you’re right actually. The service providers should intervene here. And they can, I guess. And in fact, these companies also have a moral duty about limiting the no. of messages the send. They could at least maintain a database so that they don’t waste their real-estate sms’es on students like me.

        And about that voice sms service, all the moblie phones that I have used have an option ‘edit’ in contacts that brings up the contact no. on the screen. You can just add a ‘#’ in front of it easily and dial. Maybe not all phones have it, but mine does. So, I hope no one is thinking that I went through that rigorous process you mentioned in order to send a voice sms 😀 😀

        Anyways, nice article. Thought inducing, it was 🙂


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