Inessa got a happy surprise from Nokia

A lot has happened in a few months. The biggest news is that we moved back to Berlin, Germany. After a couple of trips during July, we found a wonderful Dachgeschoss, a penthouse apartment by KuDamm close to the international school my three kids are attending. After putting a number of new furniture items on order from various interior stores, we went to local IKEA store in Spandau to look for some items to complement the kids rooms. My daughter Inessa, who had just turned 10 and gotten a nice Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini De Fleur edition (what a monster name for a phone!) as a birthday present, joined us there. 

Then an unfortunate event happened. We left the store at the last minute, and Inessa realized a few minutes later that she had forgotten her purse with the phone to the store. Since the store was already closed, we decided to go back on the following day. We were convinced that the phone and purse was taken into custody by the IKEA employees since there were no clients after us in the store. On the following day, we had the misfortune of learning that the phone was not returned to the lost & found desk of the store, so one of the employees must have stolen it.

Inessa was quite sad - she had received her new phone only a few days earlier. I posted about her unfortunate accident on the Facebook page of IKEA Deutschland, and that's when we got a very nice surprise. An old acquaintance of mine and a Facebook friend Diarmuid Feeny, who's currently running the retail sales for Nokia in Germany and other countries, contacted me and said that he felt for Inessa and wanted to give her a brand new Nokia Lumia 625 phone as a gift. That was an incredibly nice gesture from him, and from Nokia.

Since I left employment at Nokia 13 years ago to become an entrepreneur, I have been following the company closely. Many of my friends have worked there for a significant part of their careers. The demise of Symbian and the rise of other smartphone operating systems was a key contributor to the downward shift in the company's fortunes. It didn't help when the management easily dissed Apple's announcement of iPhone as a small "niche play" on the market.

After dwelling for years in doldrums, Nokia has made significant progress with their new Lumia series. The hardware is excellent. In fact, it is so good that it is a pity that it has to suffer from Microsoft's inferior operating system and app store that has minuscule offering compared to main rivals Android and iOS. Don't get me wrong, the user experience design in WP8 is solid and well differentiated. The problem is that Microsoft is just too far behind with the features. Nokia has had to resort to smaller screen resolutions than their rivals on their phones because of Microsoft's arbitrary resolution limit of 1280x768, which is only being lifted later this year. The 42MP "monster camera" became available very late, again only after Microsoft finally built support for it in their OS.

If the operating system wasn't hindering its progress, Nokia would likely be back at the top of their game on the strength of their hardware and design, gaining significant market share in the smartphone segments. And with its new friendly and welcoming attitude, they could well have a chance at a solid following. For what it's worth, I'm now a fan. And I believe my daughter is even bigger fan. Diarmuid, big thanks to you and your team from Inessa and me. It was a very nice gesture!

PS. This gesture definitely helps our dev team to kickstart native WP8 client development of Linko app together with Android and iOS.

From bad to good: a Finnish customer service experience

Today, I needed to open a bank account for a company in Helsinki. Because of a tight schedule, I decided to visit the bank on the morning to be able to accept wirings already during the same day. I took off to a local branch office of Danske Bank. The decision for opening the account in Danske Bank was made purely out of convenience. I already had my personal and another company's accounts there and I could manage the banking in all of these using a single sign-on. They also are much more accommodating to global operation than for example Nordea, who don't even agree to send new credit cards to a foreign address, but rather require you to visit their branch in person. I have personal experience on that and switched from Nordea to Danske for that very reason.

I was expecting to visit the bank, talk to the clerk, open the account and walk away. Turns out that I was being overly optimistic. As I wrote earlier, I started the experience by entering a local, suburban branch office of Danske Bank. The customer service representative there immediately makes it clear that they do not handle business accounts. I politely asked where they had a branch office that would take care of business accounts. The response was a blunt: "I have no idea. Ask from the reps in the other room." Somewhat surprised by the ignorance of the service rep, I went to another room and repeated my question. This time they had an idea: "You could try one of two branch offices - either Kaivokatu branch in downtown Helsinki or another branch in Tikkurila, Vantaa."

I decided to pay a visit to the downtown office, and took off. Once I got there, I went straight to the receptionist. Me: "Good morning. I'd like to open a bank account for a newly founded company." The receptionist: "We are very busy here and accept only customers who have booked their appointment in advance." Me: "Could you check your bookings calendar if you could squeeze me in? I'm in a hurry." The receptionist: "You'd be lucky to get an appointment for next Friday." Me: "To me, it feels like you are doing your best to avoid gaining a new customer. I said I'm in a hurry and need this done now." After a few more pleas, the receptionist gives in: "Let me find a rep who could try to book an earlier time." She walks to the back.

After a short while, the receptionist reappears and says I can work a time for appointment with the lady in room 4. I walk there and greet her - and immediately notice she has no clients to serve there. In my mind, I'm damning the Finnish customer service where receptionists can turn down customers while the clerks are just procrastinating in the offices. I sit down and my phone rings. Its my colleague Joona who's returning my call from earlier in the morning. I tell him that I'm sitting in front of a bank clerk who does not have time for me and my business and quickly end the call with promise to call back after I'm done with my business at the bank. The clerk not only heard what I said to Joona, but reacted to it in a way that ended up completely changing my experience. 

Suddenly there was a sense of urgency and I was a priority customer. The lady was very sweet and quickly figured out the fastest way to get the account opened: I should call to their business customer call center to open the accounts. She would scan my company documents and add them to my online bank as secure files that the call center folks could access to be able to complete the task without meeting me personally. The call center responded relatively quickly, and the lady whose room I was in emailed the documents to the call center person just to make sure the transaction does not get caught up with any extra bureaucracy.

Then the call center rep said that they have this process where they have to interview the business customer for at least 30 minutes. I said that I really needed to open the bank accounts as soon as possible, but if such interview was necessary I will do it. The clerk asked me one question after which she realizes how stupid it is to follow an archaic process with a customer that they already know and have done business with for years. She says: "Let's do a shortcut here: I will open the account for you now and fill the questionnaire by myself using the documents you provided and our previous knowledge of you. If I have any remaining questions, I will call you later, but let's not hinder this process any further." Me: "Thank you for making this smooth and quick." The call center rep: "You are welcome. Thanks for being our customer."

At the end, I had a smooth and enjoyable experience in opening the accounts, but I had to persist through a lot of suffering before I ended up there. How many customers would have quit and walked to another bank before that? What can we learn from this?

How to Balance the Finnish Government Budget

[I posted the following in Finnish on a Facebook comment thread of one of my favorite reps in the Finnish Parliament. I thought the topic was interesting enough to share in my blog. I have enhanced and added to the original comment to build the right context.] 

To win the fight against slow bankruptcy of the government through destructive spiral of debt, we need to use drastic measures rather than slow and late tax increases and spending cuts. Given the current dire situation, I think Finland's best chance to win is in aggressive pursuing of rapid digitalization and automation of all possible administrative tasks. I am not only talking about back-office automation, but also offering of all possible government services online as soon as possible. We already have a good start with electronic tax filings and some other government services, but there are plenty of things that can still be completely automated.

An aggressive digitalization strategy would have the following positive effects:

  1. Every Finnish citizen would learn to use e-services and computer technology early on because of this broad commitment by the government. Access to computers for poor and elderly can be offered in specific locations, including public libraries.
  2. Finnish software developers would have plenty of new, government financed projects, contributing to the building and nurturing of local software engineering talent. However, this time around, government sourcing managers should be tough enough to require top notch software quality and state of the art technology.
  3. Finland would remain at the forefront of government usage of technology, which would provide an opportunity for Finnish e-government application startups to succeed in international competition. This will be made possible by the hard-nosed sourcing managers that accept only state of the art technology.
  4. Algorithms combined with online services will eventually eliminate the need for many, many government workers, drastically reducing the operational cost to run the government, both at municipal and state level.
  5. High speed internet access for all citizens would remain a priority for the telecommunications regulators and lawmakers, which would help to push and keep the whole country in the cutting edge.

What do you think? How big of an impact can we make with this approach?

How To Manage Privacy in a Transparent World

Today, I had a fascinating discussion with a friend of mine. We were having discussion about Facebook, and how we now live under the constant surveillance of multiple entities. Credit card companies, social networks, email providers, advertisers, store chains with their loyalty programs, governments and analytics tools, mobile phones... they all watch our behavior. The amount of data we leave behind creates an astonishingly clear trail. In front of the data and algorithms, we are completely naked.

And now to the fascinating part: My anonymous friend said that he decided to fight back. He had long since given up on the idea that someone can stay invisible under the all-seeing eye of the internet. So he turned it around.

More than a year ago, he started sharing stories and links on his social profiles that had absolutely nothing to do with him. He started randomly clicking on ads that did not reflect his personal desires. He visited web pages that he wasn't a single bit interested on. Eventually, he created scripts that make random posts at random intervals from various sources to disguise his awake hours, location and other private information.

In summary, he exists as himself everywhere in the web, but none of any analytics tools, cookies, programs and algorithms have any clue who he is, where he hangs and what he wants. It is simply impossible to know him without being his personal friend.

This is where we have arrived. The only way to fight the constant surveillance is to create enough noise to disguise the signal of our behavior. There's no other way to hide anymore.

Robert Scoble interviews Walkbase

Walkbase is my latest portfolio company, working to provide room-level location context for applications. We are looking for more Android application developers as launch partners. Contact me at mikko at walkbase dot com if you are interested.

One of the most fascinating studies I've read

As of late I've been highly interested in the data-driven future of applications and how intelligent algorithms will win over user interfaces just because they remove the need for user interfaces. This article in WSJ about using phones to understand and predict human behavior is a testament to a future where machines will predict what we want to do.