Internet Pioneers Prague Meeting Highlights Need for ODR (Online Dispute Resolution) in E-commerce

These are my minutes from the discussions amongst the members of the private Youstice* meeting which took place in Prague on October 18-19, 2014 at the Aria hotel, right in the centre of the Czech capital, and barely a stone’s throw from the house where Franz Kafka used to live. Yet, our discussions were by no way Kafkian. On the opposite, they made it possible for us to link all the issues related to today’s e-commerce customer relationship management. The notions of trust and respect were at the centre of all debates, therefore highlighting the need for trusted third parties, mostly in Europe, even though the approach, as often, is different from country to country.

[*Disclosure: Youstice is my client]

Prague: at the far end of Na Poříčí Avenue, one can catch a glimpse of the Palladium shopping centre. Now, would you buy from them if you were based, say, in Belgium? Would their reputation be strong enough to reach your ears? And how could one tackle that issue?

Doc Searls in Prague: despite what the message in Czech on the screen says, a clear signal was sent by the co-author of the Cluetrain manifesto during our meeting: respect your clients!

E-commerce: it’s a matter of trust

Doc Searls’ initial title for this discussion was “terms and policies individuals assert”. The discussion started with a consensus around Doc’s introduction to the meeting: “freedom of contract was established a long time ago in order to do business but in 1943, in order to gain scale, the law was changed, which means that one party is issuing the contract and the other is forced to accept or reject it (as when we buy stuff from Websites and are forced to accept terms of conditions which keep changing)” Doc said. Doc Searls, for those who can’t remember, is a co-author of the Cluetrain manifesto, which is still available at; a fundamental piece of Internet marketing literature which was already pinpointing the need to consider Web viewers not as “eyeballs”, but human beings(1). Continue reading “Internet Pioneers Prague Meeting Highlights Need for ODR (Online Dispute Resolution) in E-commerce”

Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) Is The New CRM (Youstice)

VRM player Youstice 's Zbynek LoeblThe concept of vendor relationship management isn’t quite new. It’s been around for at least four years as far as I can remember from my earlier work on the subject at the end of 2010. At the outset, I must admit the concept was a little bit lost on me even though I could well imagine that something was brewing in the background. Okay! There CRM systems were somewhat one-way and the vendor – consumer relationship pattern was a little on the top-down side; so what!? One day, a Czech gentleman based in Slovakia gave me a ring and came to my Paris office in order to introduce the concept to me. And it all started to make sense. His angle was a lot more down to earth than what I’d heard on the subject before. Seen through the filter of online dispute resolution (ODR) management, I could well figure out that VRM naturally fits in the overall pattern of this inversion of the traditional relationship with customers, after the past six years of experiments and industrialisation of CRM and customer support on various social platforms (of which I have been an active player in the field). Here is my account of my brief encounter with Zbynēk Loebl, the founder of Youstice (aka “your justice”).

VRM is the new CRM

I think that the introduction of innovations like Youstice may well be a sign that things are moving forward in the right direction… And not only for the end customer I mean, but also for retailers who are concerned that their current level of support isn’t up to scratch and wish to do something about it before their reputation has to suffer from the current state of procrastination and before it’s too late. Here’s a video recording of my brief encounter with the founder of Youstice, Zbynēk Loebl.

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As shown in the above gallery made of screenshots taken from the demo site (which is mimicking an online shop equipped with the youstice plugin), the 3-step process is simple and straightforward (I have taken 12 screen dumps which cover the whole process), even though there may well be a few required adjustments in terms of process, brevity and wording. Anyway, one can easily picture what the solution is bringing in terms of renewal of the vendor-customer relationship.


Here’s the transcript of my interview with Youstice’s founder, Zbynēk Loebl.


What is Youstice?

Youstice is a service for retailers for customer dispute resolution. It is a new service that is globally available, simply because the Internet is no longer English-speaking or American for that matter; it is worldwide. With Youstice we have designed a communications system which enables customers and retailers to communicate very easily and to resolve their issues. And if they cannot their resolve their issues on the spot, customers can then escalate them through third party. These independent third party bodies can act as ombudsmen and help them settle the case on their behalf.

So typically a customer would go to a retailer’s website, would click on a particular button and that would lead to a plug-in which is sitting on the retailer’s website. And then, what happens?

When the customer clicks on that button, he then enters the Youstice environment. This customer will get a very simple form to fill-in, he can do that that by clicking on a couple of pictograms which relate to the issues which happened on the retailer’s website, and then he will then select the kind of resolution that he desires: product refund, price reduction etc. This is then transmitted, and then the retailer gets immediately a notification about that case and he can react. He is also presented with a very easy entry form, which he can fill in easily by clicking on a few pictograms as well and act on the issue. And then the negotiation takes place.

Case resolutions are a two-way process: first, a set of predefined responses which can be filled in by the retailers when they set up the system, and another process whereby cases can be escalated with an ODR. Can you describe what an ODR is all about?

ODR stands for Online Dispute Resolution. These are dispute resolution bodies which are either established institutions like arbitration courts attached to Chambers of commerce which just extended their services to encompass the online environment. Alternatively, they are innovative experts in online dispute resolution who have seized this opportunity fill in a gap in the market.

So your system is a vendor relationship management which can be used by consumers to settle their disputes isn’t it?

Indeed. Most people know CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems. CRM is mainly for retailers as it’s about sorting out data about customers: names, purchases etc. We have designed a system for consumers. This is different. We offer a supplement to standard CRM systems. In favour of consumers who can actually take the matter into their own hands

about Youstice: you have some very important advisors and well-known figureheads in your capital can you describe that?

We have Esther Dyson from the States for instance; she used to be the head of ICANN. And we’ve only just started. We started at the end of June 2014. We are glad to be here in Paris, because Paris is such an exciting market. I like Paris particularly, because it grabs everything new and we hope to be here again soon for further announcements.

Retail: Marketforce Set to Improve European Shopping Experience … Beyond Big Data Dashboards

ideoshoppingcartMystery shoppers aren’t anything new; this marketing technique dates back from the 1940s. It was then used even before the term “marketing” had been coined. Yet, MarketForce, a US company with offices in Britain, and more recently in France and Spain, have begun to revolutionise the way mystery shopping surveys are carried out, thanks to crowdsourcing techniques and the extensive use of digital marketing.

MarketForce offers a piece of software in a software as a service model on which customers can actually build and look at their marketing data in real time. That in itself is very much in sync with what we can be seen with other companies doing big data and is not extremely innovative. But there is one area in which MarketForce is certainly going further than all the companies trying to improve big data usage, it is the way that they collect the data itself. As a matter of fact, much of the quality of the output of big data boils down to the way the information is collected originally. As the old IT adage points out: “garbage in, garbage out”.

Besides, There is something a little bit naive in all the big data craze at the moment, in believing that software alone could actually solve all the marketing issues that companies have regarding mostly CRM, and other subjects, just by the touch of a button. First and foremost, data quality and a clear objective are required. This is definitely what Marketforce have done by integrating the whole chain from data collection to data delivery. As a matter of fact, Marketforce is as much a research company a market research company as it is a big data company, and that is what makes it standout from the crowd in what can almost be described as a blue Ocean strategy.

Janet Eden Harris and Simon Boydell who answered our questions in Paris

Above all, they are using extensively digital marketing techniques (marketing automation, affiliates marketing, etc) to recruit genuine customers who help them carry out the research. As they set up shop in France and in the rest of Europe, where customer service is traditionally bad not to say appalling, MarketForce have provided a business case about French petrol stations (check 2013_Petro Findings France_SB_Final_Clean)  which shows the level of satisfaction even for such a straightforward kind of service. As they say, “okay is just not enough” and hopefully, this piece of research, and the service that MarketForce provides is a great assets for European companies to change their ways about how they keep customers satisfied which, in turn, will help them get through the crisis that we’re experiencing at the moment.

Let us develop this story, with Simon Boydell and Janet Eden Harris from MarketForce, whom I was able to interview in Paris a few weeks ago*.

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with Janet Eden Harris, CMO & SVP Strategy at Market Force Information  and Simon Boydell, Global Marketing Manager at Market Force Information

What is market force about?

Janet: we have a solution which provides the ability for big retailers to improve their business by focusing on customer satisfaction and the experience they have when they walk in the store.

Simon: we focus on retailers, leisure and hospitality providers, any business that has B2C contact with customers and that can be across all channels, so it’s not just in-store, it could be online, using the call centres, we will be collecting customer experience feedback across all those different channels.

A SaaS model: the knowledge force platform

Simon: our customer intelligence platform knowledge force is the central point for all clients. After login each client has individual tailored user access to the site so that they can access their results live and in real time so they can see exactly how the customers are feeling about the business. It does look like it’s built like a SaaS model but itis something which is very different from the other sorts of CRM systems that are out there. All information is produced and made available across all different devices; you can login and you see those dashboards, it’s not just a predetermined set of dashboards, we also have a series of reports that users can go in and use and create their own individual reports, so they can cut and analyse the data in their own way and at their own leisure.

Data collection: from mystery visits to social media

Simon: we have 600,000 genuine customers now, while going out and completing mystery visits for us and providing feedback on experiences they receive, we also operate customer satisfaction surveys which go out to any customer that the business has and it can feed the information straight back into our system and our customers get to see the results as they are happening, so they can always keep their finger on the pulse of the customer.

Janets: we can also pull out things such as social media data and we can tie in this data potentially with other data that is collected from other vendors and even our customers’ own financial data so that they can match them all together.

Ensuring consistency

Janet: how we do it boils down to the location level so that if I am a manager of that location I can look at the customer satisfaction data for that particular location as well as my mystery shoppers and any social media commentary so that I can take action. I can understand where we’re doing well, and I can also understand where we have to improve.

Recruiting genuine consumers

Simon: there are challenges, but a lot of it comes from the way we optimise our website for search in search engines; we have a variety of initiatives in a number of websites so get a lot of people involved too, looking to experience new and different things so that these people want to get paid to get to the places they enjoy going to already.

It’s a very small amount that there own but they do get reimbursed towards any products that their purchase, so you could say that this is almost a free night out, like going out for a meal out at a restaurant.

UK, France and Spain

Simon: we’ve have been based in the UK since 2003 and we have opened an office in Paris, and we also have one in Madrid and the decision has come by opportunity. We think we have to support businesses in France to get a better understanding of their customers, because in today’s economic climate, customer loyalty is of absolute importance, and we feel the insight we can provide and the data we can collect will really help businesses understand how they can drive that loyalty and where they should look to improve specifically in the business, that will drive future sales.

Business case on French petrol stations : “okay is not good enough!” (check 2013_Petro Findings France_SB_Final_Clean)

Simon: we have recently run a piece of research on a panel to get feedback on people’s experience of petrol stations in France and we are sharing this on the web right now. This highlights which stations people find to be the favourites, not only that, but also the reasons which drive them into these petrol stations, and what are the decisions they are making in those stations and what the opportunities for those retailers to understand whether the service is okay or not. The research highlights that “okay is not good enough!”. 3


Customer experience in Europe? In the words of my old maths teacher … “could do better!” (excerpt from the Petrol Station research)

This piece of research was carried out with 1,500 consumers across France, evenly spread across ages, sex and the geography; yet our programs will vary depending on the sector.

What insights

Simon: the impact satisfaction can have on consumers on the likelihood to recommend is one of the areas of importance: if you score something like a 4/5, there is a big difference, the research highlights, with 5/5 satisfaction.

Customer experience

Price and convenience are always going to be important, that’s fairly natural but, it’s also about the service they receive in the stations, friendly and efficient service will always go along way in; whilst people might not especially expect it, when they receive it, it will make a very big difference to the customer’s experience.

About the company: a blue Ocean strategy

Our ambition is to help French businesses improve the service they give to their customers. We certainly intend to grow the business; we think we have a very exciting offer for the retailers, leisure and hospitality businesses, they are going to find that very exciting.

In terms of our competitors, we don’t have one single direct competitor, we have several competitors across the various disciplines and methodologies that we use.

We certainly intend to grow and invest into the business here in France, we intend to grow our team rapidly here and I think we’ll see a continuation of the success we’ve had in other countries, here.

Marketforce has 450 employees worldwide. In Europe, we have 156, is growing rapidly.

Janet: our revenues are about $60 million right now.

*note: this interview survived the theft all my belongings in July 2, including my notebook with all his notes. I reconstructed this interview from memory and using the sound bite which I recorded on condition

today’s presentation at the Sugar CRM “acceleration” conference in Paris

These are today’s slides for my presentation at the Sugar CRM “acceleration” conference in Paris. I will also comment on my views with regard to “Social” CRM and the integration of barely repeatable processes within CRM processes. Check my other pieces in which I mention Sugar CRM for more details on that company and its products/services.

Sugar CRM: a European perspective

This is the third Sugar CRM executive to be interviewed by visionary My first interview took place two years ago with Larry Augustin, CEO and founder of the CRM company, who is also one of the people who coined the phrase: “open source”. After a brief Skype encounter with the company’s marketing executive Jan Sysmans last year, I now had the chance of spending some time with Tom Schuster, VP EMEA of Sugar CRM. Let’s see what’s happening in Europe with regard to the development of CRM usage in this exclusive interview with took place a few weeks ago.

Sugar CRM: less known than Salesforce but doing frightfully well

Larry had explained his plans 2 years ago and 2 years later, we can say that “he has delivered on his plan” Tom said. Sugar CRM has been through phenomenal growth and is becoming, according to him, the “fastest growing CRM company in the world”. So, what are the numbers? Sugar CRM grew by  52% in 2009-2010 and 67% 2010-2011 and the company has been cash positive since end of 2010. Whereas it is still less known than Salesforce, which was started in the 1990’s, Sugar CRM are broadly recognised. “It’ a fantastic company” Tom Schuster added, “ in 2012,  we are planning 100% growth in Europe!”  a foray into the high end market … with a little help from IBM

Sugar CRM is in its 7th year of operation. It is mostly active with mid market customers (i.e. with 100-150 users), but in the last 6 months the company generated more activity with higher end customers (those with 1000+ users). “This is a space we didn’t target at first, but in which we are definitely getting” stated Tom Schuster.

This hasn’t been quite left to chance though; for “Sugar CRM has a strong relationship with IBM and work very closely with them  in the field”. This is what is driving a lot of the growth. Tom has actually seen an acceleration of his business since Q4 2010. According to Tom, Sugar CRM is “now in 3rd position globally in terms of number of users, with Salesforce at the top of course. The open source company “can now boast well over 800,000 seats worldwide and this is still accelerating” added Schuster.

Close integration with IBM has also been worked out from a technical point of view (with regard to the Cognos and Lotus product lines). IBM helps Sugar CRM address both the mid market and  very high end customers.

Sugar CRM in the magic quadrant

“There are  between 200,000 and 350,000 users in Europe” Schuster added, “this is pretty big business”. And Forrester gave the company an accolade by placing it in the leader portion of its CRM magic quadrant, i.e. not just celebrating the company’s vision but also its execution capabilities.

the ride of open source

“Open source is now able  now able to compete with regular software publishers” Tom Schuster went on. This isn’t new if you include open source stars like EZpublish (of which I am a client), Drupal or Joomla for instance. Yet, Sugar CRM is the first in the application arena to make such a big breakthrough. “With Sugar CRM we are going beyond mere open source software” Tom developed. “the code is free and can be changed, but building a business on that concept of openness and community is mostly about state of mind and attitude” he rightfully added.

3 focuses : social, cloud and mobile

There are 3 areas for the development of Sugar CRM. Let’s review them now:

  1. social: of course, our readers know about that, this is a very hot topic at the moment. The real issue is to know how to position the software in the future when social will become very big, that is to say probably very soon. “Lotus live, Web conferencing, messaging systems, linkedIn data, Twitter data are all interfaced and it’s a new way of working with  CRM software” Tom Schuster added. Hirleo (an Israeli company) and Portuguese Gulf are already using Facebook as the main gate to their CRM system. Younger workers want to work with new fangled applications and social media is their favoured starting place. “Most of the marketing data are in the social media space anyway” added Schuster so the challenge is on how one regains ownership of that data.
  2. cloud: can be run anywhere. but it can also be transferred from one hosting service to another. For instance, “one can get started on Sugar CRM with an Amazon cloud infrastructure and then move it somewhere else and this doesn’t cost anything in terms of licence” Tom Schuster went on. This transfer capability is “transparent to them” Schuster added, “Sugar’s code is free and this is a lot more than a buzzword. It’s a movement and while many have old sheep in new clothes, this isn’t the case with Sugar” he added. “Cloud means you choose your service and don’t even know where it is coming from” Schuster detailed . Sugar CRM have their own hosted on demand service, fully replicated, and it also exists on Amazon, which means that when you buy their hosting service you may choose to get Sugar CRM directly while benefitting from all of Amazon’s  cloud features. “it’s really revolutionary” Schuster added, “you have more control on your data, and you can move them 100% without loss and additional cost.
  3. mobile: “mobile usage has rocketed up” said Schuster, therefore confirming what I have witnessed over the years too. “as of 2010, only a very small fraction of B2B usage was made by mobile” he said. “2011 saw a huge rise in mobile usage of CRM, up to 15% of total usage” Schuster said, “but it’s growing fast now”. [note: mobile usage also amounts to 15%, therefore confirming Tom’s numbers. As of 2010, mobile usage on was limited to 10%]. Sugar now exists in 2 different versions: corporate and ultimate. The corporate version  now amounts to 50% of total revenue, and it includes a mobile module, which supports all kinds of operating systems. An application has also been developed for each mobile OS in order to improve user experience. “There is no other way” Schuster concluded. The mobile browser experience is not a pleasant experience”.