Monday, March 13, 2017

How Technology Makes us Trust Strangers

Trust is a high-value currency that applies very well to the online world. From a physical store to a toll-free support line to a verified page to a Verisign or TRUSTe symbol, to user reviews to support for good causes – each one of them creates trust in the user. After the internet era, we seem to have developed almost absolute trust in online.

In recent years, that faith is getting extended to services that begin online and are fulfilled offline by strangers – the ride sharing, the product and food deliveries, the room-sharing and such.

What has really changed? In the real world we trust people and organisations based on the reputation of the brand, our knowledge, past experiences and social influences. The same has extended online, although a bit differently. People believe online services are trustworthy. We also trust the notion that ride-sharing, room-sharing or placing money in online wallets is safe. We believe the platform is built to be safe and secure and that it has proper mechanisms for speedy resolution in case of disputes. We also trust the person who delivers it (the cabbie, the matchmaking company, the food delivery person, the host on Airbnb).

What could be the reasons we trust strangers? The benefits and convenience offered by the service override any rational concerns we may harbour. There seems to be a sense of obligation too, because you can choose to pay in cash for the goods ordered on Flipkart or Amazon, you pay Ola or Uber online after you’ve taken the ride. Because they trust us to pay after delivery, we tend to reciprocate.

Humans behave and reward differently when they’re trusted. The peanut seller’s story is a classic case. A peanut seller outside a busy IT park always had a long queue of customers. His peanut were tasty, but that’s not why. He just packed the stuff but never handled the money. Next to him on a table was a box that had paper currency and change. People had to drop the money and pick up the right change themselves, based on their purchases. Every day he got 20 per cent of his sales as tips. The reason: When people were trusted to tender the money for the product purchased, they repaid the trust generously with tips. Yes, there’s the fundamental reason too – the trust in people doesn’t seem to have altered at all in our society.

The speed at which we trust has been forever altered by technology which seems to have persuaded us with the sheer convenience and benefits it offers.

However, when a stranger rings our doorbell we’re not going to be relaxing our trust norms, simply because we don’t have anything trustworthy to relate to the stranger and we have seen and read quite a bit about crimes and thefts at homes. The dichotomy of behaviour will continue to exist. The question, though, is whether this will change in the long run?

What does all this mean to marketers? It simply means that they need to create trust by using cues relevant to them. While a 10-day full-refund guarantee may work for Flipkarts and Amazons, a simple mobile-verified profile may work for matchmaking companies such as BharatMatrimony, brick-and-mortar presence may work for some, visual clues like ‘1 per cent of your payment goes for CRY’ might work for others and Verisign secure payment can suit some businesses. What works for you?

Rajasekar KS is a speaker, writer and social media strategist who works as GM – Marketing at BharatMatrimony. Views are personal. His article was originally published here

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How technology disrupts human behaviour

Some new technologies make a significant impact on our culture. When mobile phones arrived, it changed the way people interacted with each other.
But the internet, social and apps have impacted in bizarre ways that confounds even sociologists. Here are some changes that surprise and sometimes scare us.

Sharing our homes with strangers
While, as children, we were told not to speak to strangers, today, we find young girls with seeming nonchalance share their Ola and Uber cab rides with complete strangers. And they don’t seem to have any complaints.
On Airbnb, we rent a part of our home to total strangers. Even all-women families let out a room to unknown people, on daily rent and even serve meals for a fee.
Not long ago, we treated anyone who rang our doorbell with caution. But now thanks to OLX and Quikr, strangers visit our homes, check out living rooms and even have a coffee before buying our stuff. Strangers have come a long way, thanks to digital changing the way we “trust” people.

Losing the moment for the memories
Whether it’s a restaurant or a visit to a hill station, people are keen to take pictures to share on WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. The truth is - the experience of the moment is lost. Instead of seeing the world through our eyes, we’re doing it through the lens. Instead of enjoying the moment with the people around us, we seem to be seeking elusive happiness in a virtual world.

Lonely in a connected world
When the family is out for dinner, members are animatedly snapping pictures for social sharing, furtive glances are exchanged but hardly any conversation.
The silence is torturous. The whole scene seems bizarre. We know more about where our friends dine during the weekend and less about what our family likes.
The social compulsion to keep up with what’s happening online with our friends and family is detaching us from real world relationships.
The phones have led to a visible decrease in the outdoor activities and real world interaction of children. The bedroom culture where kids have access to various devices has led to the privatisation and individualisation of family life.

Buying online like crazy
Our buying habits have drastically changed in the recent past. While in the real world, we take time to consider a purchase, on Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal we don’t bat an eyelid while ordering goods worth thousands of rupees.
There’s a huge difference in user behaviour on the app and website. There is a sense of urgency that mobile apps impart on the new path to purchase. Users spend less time evaluating stuff on an app vs the offline world.
We tend to do think faster and think less when on an app. It’s easier to sway such a user with extra discounts. The flash sales and the one-hour deals are baits to keep users hooked to the app.
The audience is a bit captive here with dedicated viewing and no comparison options. The convenience of mobile devices and availability of internet 24X7 has shaped new consumer buying habits.

Short attention spans
It’s a fact that our attentions spans have become shorter over the past decade, the multiplicity of mediums being a culprit. Since the medium of news consumption is going the digital way, the size of devices make it difficult to read for long and consequently, have contributed to changing our reading habits permanently.
We scan news, we don’t read them any longer. The book stores and private libraries that dotted our local landscape have long disappeared while the iPads, Kindles and iPhones have taken over.

While these rapid changes happen right under our nose, we’re oblivious to the potential privacy and personal data risks that we could encounter soon. The way we view our privacy offline is completely varied with online privacy, although the trace we leave on social networks is permanent.
Our notions of privacy and confidentiality have undergone drastic changes.
One thing is sure, privacy may in future may well become a major issue for governments and the people. We have a need for strong policies and frameworks to protect our privacy and personal data, the sooner the better.

Until then, I’m accepting all the terms and conditions on my Bla Bla app.
Rajasekar KS' article was originally published in The Economic Times here

Friday, February 10, 2017

Why we should love what we do… to achieve more than we think we can

The only way to do great work is to love what you do. What really happens when we fall in love with something or someone… if only you knew you it, you’d fall in love right away.

We’re driven by the love
When we love what we do, we’re energised and find meaning that anchors us. We’re connected to the purpose which drives us forward. We look forward to the challenge every day because we’ve chosen it out of sheer love. We don’t shirk the hurdles.

We don’t find excuses
To procrastinate. The devil called “resistance” never builds up inside our heads ‘cause we’re looking to ride into the storm and steer the ship forward. Because we know nothing other than do the thing we love. Like Sachin Tendulkar, Dhoni and Virat Kohli, Roger Federer, Usain Bolt get up every morning and think nothing other than their game, we also get up and look forward to doing the thing we’re passionate about. We simply offer no excuses for not doing it.  

Responsibility for success lies on us
When we are passionate about something and make a choice to do it we know that we are accountable for our actions. Success, even failure rests squarely on us. Therefore, we’re driven to our goal. Just do it and the joy of the journey will keep us happy. You started it, therefore you’ll finish it.

Love raises the state of the being
The moment we fall in love (with someone or something), the self is at an exalted state of being. The energy, confidence, courage that stems from it defies logic, and sometimes us too. One needs to be in love to feel this aura.

Love is a great feeling
We humans are driven by emotions and nothing drives the world forward than love. The feeling of love is the most powerful one. Fall in love and you’ll find yourself doing things you never imagined.

I’m in love with what I do. Are you?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Why Flipkart and Amazon Offer Extra Discounts on the App

pic: offersbiz

Ever wondered why the Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal offer extra discounts for purchases on the app? Let’s unravel the mystery.

There’s a huge difference in user behaviour on the app and website. There is a sense of urgency that mobile apps impart on the new path to purchase. Users spend less time evaluating stuff on an app Vs the website. When one’s on an app, we tend to think and do things faster and think less when on an app. It’s easier to sway such a user with extra discounts.

And app users compared to website users, it has been proven, take lesser time to decide whether they want a product or not. So conversions are superior. According to Criteo’s Q4 2015 State of Mobile Commerce Report, which is based on a global analysis of 1.4 billion online transactions, app-conversion rates were 120 percent higher than mobile browser conversions and higher than desktop conversions, as well.

No comparisons on app
Wait! There’s more to it. Unlike an app which is standalone, the user on a website is prone to do comparison with a quick “control N” on the keyboard. So apps cut out comparisons and in some ways the real time price cuts that happen on shopping sites.

More focus on buying
Due to the smaller size of device screens, there’s better focus on the product and lesser distraction on the app. Whereas on the website, the email notifications, the hyperlinks, videos, images are all distracting our attention. On the app, user attention is better and consequently the purchase.

Cost-effective pull mechanisms
Not to forget, the app notifications make it a low-cost affair to push messages to the users. The click rates on an app notification unlike emails (where’s there’s a clutter with many mails screaming for attention) is high. Notifications can be pushed at the right time when the sale is on, converting much better than other sources.

Always on
The availability of the mobile devices 24X7 with users is of course very enticing for ecommerce sites, who’d like to create new consumer buying habits by offering extra discounts on the app.

Tapping a human behaviour
The rewards (extra discounts etc) that apps offer conform to Skinner’s behaviourism, which explains that human behaviour is a function of incentives and rewards.

Convenience is the key to success
Not just that, it turns out that users find it more convenient to buy on an app. They can do it wherever they are. The storage of payment information and the quick checkouts prods the user to action also helps.

Research also proves that users who shop on mobile seems to be more open to try new retailers and brands and Supershoppers love the abundance of options on an app.

The advantages of personalisation
Apps allow ecommerce brands to study user behaviour, mine better insights and offer relevant products thereby increasing the conversion. Apps also provide a deeper engagement with the brand and build loyalty when compared to usage of a website. The scope for personalisation is very high on apps.

Now or never hooks
The flash sales and the one-hour deals on apps are baits to keep users hooked to the app. The audience is a bit captive here with dedicated viewing and no comparison options. The usability and experience can be controlled very well.

Hey, I have to stop here as I’ve got the “deal of day” notification on my Flipkart app. See ya and Happy shopping!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Pudhucherry Born Neuroscientist and Author Teaches Kids Complex Science Through Simple Activities

Praba Soundarajan, born at Pudhucherry, India, and currently living in Tampa, Florida, strives to develop and grow the type of creativity and curiosity our kids need to become tomorrow’s inventors. He has authored two books: Pumpus Has A Glowing Idea! and Pumpus Has A Flowing Idea to foster creativity and help children understand science through experiential learning. Rajasekar KS chats him up on what made him choose this journey.

How did the idea of making complex science easy and simplistic for kids strike you?
In the United States, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) topics are typically not introduced until middle school.  However, studies suggest that every effort should be made to start introducing STEM topics as soon as children enter elementary school.  Furthermore, recent studies have identified the elementary school years as the period when students form their interests in STEM identities and careers—much earlier than people traditionally believed.

As a concerned father wanting to help introduce STEM topics to young children, I volunteered to read stories to my daughter’s kindergarten class with hope of encouraging a positive shift.  To my surprise, it was near impossible to find STEM books for young children.  So instead, I gathered up information and talked to them about inventors and their inventions.  The response was incredible!  I was amazed by the children’s level of intelligence and how quickly they grasped concepts—and they were excited to learn more.  This experience served as my inspiration and motivation for creating BOON-dah, the company I started to create a "series" of books and educational products that help address this gap in our current education system.

To start off with, BOON-dah is going to offer books that feature a group of friends going on adventures together or doing a project, and while they are doing these activities, they use a particular invention or scientific concept to solve a problem they have. The lead character in all my stories is “Pumpus the Pumpkin.” He is this cute, little fella who happens to be a smart geek; and in each story, he solves a problem using concepts from an invention perspective. I am sure the kids will love him—and I know my daughter certainly does!

Your first book “Pumpus Has A Glowing Idea” is pretty interesting. Tell us a bit more about what the kids loved the concepts.
Kids loved how Pumpus and his friends solved the problem in a "practical" way with all the tools they had with them and were intrigued by the exciting story line. As they read the story they came up with their own solution to solve the problem. Furthermore, the kids liked the characters’ expressions and those tiny details that bring a scene to life, such as the notches in the wood when trying to build a fire. Sounding words like ‘boon-dah!’ gave them an experiential quality, hence they could relate to the characters in the story.

Children world over are taught theories, but doesn’t really help create scientists or writers or artists…

Children are born as natural engineers and tinkerers. Creativity, as we know, does not stem from a formal or conventional education. I firmly believe that one of the ways we can foster creativity early in a child’s life, particularly at the early developmental ages of 5 and 6, is by describing how things work from a unique, simplistic, and imaginative perspective. It’s very similar to how we learn a language after birth. First, we hear it; then we learn to speak it, and then we begin to understand all of its grammatical components. Applying this same concept, my stories explain different inventions and scientific concepts from a 30,000 foot view, and in a way that children can understand. They provide a way for sowing the seeds of creativity at a very early stage in a child’s development, and they will help nurture their curious minds as they grow by encouraging them to investigate how things work the way they do.

How do you provoke the curiosity of elementary school children?
At birth, children are curious by nature and have an inherent desire to learn how things work.  They are natural tinkerers, engineers, team players, and problem solvers. It is by giving the elementary school children a practical platform to build and solve problems we can nurture their creativity.  My stories are designed based on BOON-dah's early childhood "Experiential Learning" Platform to teach children STEM concepts through hands-on approach in parallel to their prime brain developmental years. BOON-dah's experiential learning platform is build on the concept of "I do and I understand".

How do we foster creativity in children during the early years?
In addition to teaching our young children math and science, it is imperative that we also teach them how to apply these concepts to create and innovate better designs and make the world a better place in which to live. For this to happen, we must expose our future inventors, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to STEM during their pre-school and elementary school years. To be successful, we need to change our approach in educating the next generation and focus on what I call the Four P’s. We must instill a passion in our children to figure how things work, the patience to find problems, the persistence to solve problems, and the prudence to learn from their failures.

Tell us a bit about how neuroscience helped you create these books?
As a neuroscientist, I believe the key to addressing the issue on fostering creativity lies in understanding how the human brain develops after birth.  During the first decade of life, the human brain is highly malleable and forms new synaptic connections.  However, after this first decade, when most children are completing elementary and moving on to middle school, the formation of synaptic connections in the brain occurs at a slower pace. An excellent example of this is how we learn a language. Children are able to learn a language much faster when compared to learning it during adulthood.

For the reasons above, we need to be exposing our children to STEM concepts during the first ten years of their life, and especially during pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade.  By introducing STEM concepts early on, we can help shape our children’s brains and not limit their potential from an ability, interest, or knowledge point of view.  This is particularly important for science, which gets little or no attention in most elementary schools.

What kind of concepts is your next book teaching?
All my forthcoming stories will be based on BOON-dah's experiential learning platform focusing on STEM education to parallel the brain development during early childhood learning. Each book will contain a problem that Pumpus and his friends will solve from an invention perspective. For example, building a robot, periscope, sundial and so on with infinite possibilities to nurture their curious minds.

Experience at schools
The kids from Kindergarten through Grade 5 loved both the "glowing and flowing" stories. The most important thing they liked about the stories is that in each story Pumpus & his friends encounter a problem and they solve it with their tools available with them along with the surrounding nature. The teachers loved the stories because it taught the kids critical thinking, problem solving, collaborating with friends and creative tinkering.

Next plans
For each story, we are planning to introduce interactive audio-visual books and augmented reality based versions to enhance interaction with the characters and their surrounding environment.

The team: Jack Spellman (Illustrator), Kim Clement (Social Media Director), and Praba. For details, go to Boon-Dah.