Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Hygiene/Product/Relation model fo...

This is a little something I wrote a year ago to clarify my thoughts on the future of telcos. It's still in a draft format, but it also may still be useful so I'm publishing it. sept 30 - 2010 - rmz


A Hygiene/Product/Relationship model
for communication products.


Bjørn Remseth

October 2009

The basic idea

Communication products satisfy needs may conveniently be grouped into three groups: Hygiene, Product, and Relationship. The hygiene needs contains features fulfilling that absolutely positively needs to be in order for anyone to bother using a product. Product features are whatever is necessary to work with products: Names, brands, pricing, product identifiers etc. Relationships are the reason why communication takes place in the first place: They motivate the need for communication.

Motivation and inspiration

The model is inspired by Maslow and Hertzberg's work.

Maslow's studied successful people:

Maslow based his model on studies of successful people (Einstein being one of them), so in a sense he worked "top down" to make some sort of sense of how successful people (self-realizers) behaved. In brief, what he found was
Maslow saw human beings' needs arranged like a ladder. The most basic
needs, at the bottom, were physical—air, water, food, sleep. Then came
safety needs—security, stability—followed by psychological, or social
needs—for belonging, love, acceptance. Then, came esteem needs—to feel
achievement, status, responsibility, and reputation. At the top of it
all were the self-actualizing needs—the need to fulfill oneself, to
become all that one is capable of becoming.
This is a useful model, since it means that all needs are not created equal. If you have no air, nothing is more important than air, but if you have enough air, even more air is not really of any concern. In my mind Maslow's layering ties in to the concept of diminishing returns but relates it to human motivation rather than economics. I find this important since motivation and tastes are highly important for human behavior, but economics says nothing about them.

Herzberg studied what motivated engineers and accounants at work:

Herzberg interviewed a couple of hundred accountants and engineers in the Pittsburg area to try figuring out what motivated them for work. His findings are summarized (very briefly :-) in Wikipedia:

Two-factor theory distinguishes between:

    • Motivators
      (e.g. challenging work, recognition, responsibility) which give
      positive satisfaction, arising from intrinsic conditions of the job
      itself, such as recognition, achievement, or personal growth
      [4], and

    • Hygiene factors (e.g. status, job security, salary
      and fringe benefits) which do not give positive satisfaction, although
      dissatisfaction results from their absence. These are extrinsic to the
      work itself, and include aspects such as company policies, supervisory
      practices, or wages/salary
    • (Source:

That is the basic idea: Hygiene factors are those needs to be fulfilled otherwise you'll be irritated, motivators are what will keep you there even if you only have a slight chance of achieving those needs.

Both Maslow's and Herzberg's models are nice constructions for human behavior in general, or at least for the generally successful people Maslow studied and the engineers and accountants in the Pittsburgh area Herzberg interviewed. But how can I apply them to understanding communication products in a business setting? Actually it turns out not to be so hard :-)

A three layer model of communications products

Product features seen as a set of Hygiene/Product/Relationship features.

I propose a model to describe communications products. The lowest level are the hygiene factors, the needs that has to be adequately addressed before anyone will even think about using the product on a regular basis. For speech telephony such factors will be sufficient basic geographic coverage, legal use of the service (as opposed to e.g. illegal radio telephony), adaquate voice quality, sufficient availability. Initially all of these factors will be basis for competition between companies, but as the industry matures it is to be expected that everyone who survives the competition will be adequate in these areas. It is probably fair to say that in a mature market all competitors have hygiene factors down cold, if not they wouldn't be competing. Over time exactly what constitutes a hygiene factor will probably change somewhat. Data communications and web browsing capabilities wasn't a hygiene factor when cellular phones were introduced, but it is arguably becoming one now.

That takes us up one level to the differentiators. Products have a set of product-specific parameters: Phone numbers, customer identities, price plans, payment options, credit management, customer service, brands targeted at and communicating more efficiently against various segments etc. There is a whole industry built on tuning product parameters and pushing products using various different combinations of interesting graphics, beautiful people and catchy music. And of course pricing the products in ways that are competitive when compared with what the competitors come up with. Gaming product parameters is a fascinating endevour that can and do occupy several lifetimes worth of activity in major corporations. However, it is a mistake to believe that customers are primarily interested in products or tightly product-related features.

Nobody is so interested in talking that they will regularly pick up a phone and start talking in it regardless if there is anyone in the other end of the conversation. Everyone I know who talks in the phone talks to someone for some reason. There is a wide range of needs that can be fulfilled by talking to someone, but I choose to group all of these reasons into one category: Managing relationships, and that is why I call the top level in the model the "Relationship layer".

There are many relationships to be managed: Friends, family, colleagues, interest groups for this that and the other thing. At various times these needs to be (among other things) understood, coordinated, managed, convinced, impressed, seduced, coerced and bullied. All these needs are usually independent of any particular product that is used to fulfill the need. The product is a means to an end, not the other way round. But this doesn't mean that the product has no business in helping the customer to manage their relationships.

How is this model useful?

The immediate usefulness comes from the perspective it takes: It puts the users of the communication services (in our language, "the customer") and their needs at the top. Furthermore it imposes an ordering of the needs. Some needs are "hygienic", irritants if not met but otherwise not something one notices. Others are "motivators", and direct user behavior once hygienic needs are fulfilled. Product parameters are somewhere in the middle: To some extent they are hygienic, you don't want to think too much about it but become irritated when they are missing: Voice quality, coverage, correct invoices and customer service that actually offers service all fall into this category.

For the most part however, the relationships that are the subject matter of and motivator for almost every phone conversation is seldom explicitly assisted by the actual communications product, at least not for private commercial voice communication products. Business subscriptions and switchboard services are arguably in the relationship management part of the spectrum, but for private customers and private subscriptions it is harder to find any part of a phone subscription that facilitates relationship management. The only thing I can think of are ring-plans that makes it somewhat less expensive to call your family and closest friends.

This leads us to the other actors: Handset manufacturers are very much into the relationship management business. They have understood that managing conversations, phone books, images, groups of people in the phone book etc. is important for their customers. They understand that ringtones that indicate who is calling, and selective blocking of incoming calls is useful for the customers. It is unclear to me if the handset manufacturers actually understand that what they are doing is relationship management, or if they are simply seeing themselves as managers of a bunch of product features that happen to be possible to embed in a handset. I guess both interpretations are possible, so they are probably both true. The fact remains; handsets are tools for managing relationships more then they are tools for managing phone subscribtions.

Some of the new voice actors, in particular Google Voice and Ribbit (and to some extent Skype) are very much into relationship management, and I do believe they know what they are doing. Google Voice handles call screening, like many handset does, but also makes it possible to route incoming calls to various different voice mailboxes, and offers a speech-to-text service that lets the user or computer programs acting on the user's behalf react to incoming messages. Ribbit's first commercial product (as far as I know) was focused on assisting salespeople by facilitating their relationships with their customers.

The components that facilitate relationship management seems to be more compute-intense and less network oriented than voice. This may be somewhat misleading since compute-intense tasks may very well also be network-intense, but that is invisible to the end user who may only perceive voice communications as network-intense. At least that is how I think about users thinking about this :-) Nonetheless, I believe it is fair to say that relationship management is either more compute intensive than voice transmission, or uses a broader range of handset capabilities than pure voice, or both. This means that if relationship management is important for successful future speech products, then telecommunications companies must either leave the stage altogether and leave relationship management to others, or they must increase their presence in relationship-related products.

Extendability to other communications products

So far I have only discussed voice communications, but the hygiene/product/relationship perspective can be applied to other classes of services as well. Here is a short sampling of other types of products and their decomposition into H/P/R components.

Google MailPicasa web albumFlickr
RelationshipConversations, filtering, autoreply, Sharing, visibility, groupsSharing, visibility, groups
ProductFreemium, Outsourcing of mail for organizationsFreemium, google accountFreemium, yahoo account
HygieneSend/receive mail, enough storage to not bother about quotas, high availability, chat integration, Google IDStorage, image manipulation, geotagging, tagging, freemium, use Google ID, screensaver, printing, infusing content into social networks, ratings ...Storage, freemium, tagging, commenting, feeds, searching, use Yahoo ID, screensaver, printing, spreading into social networks, ratings, ...

An important thing is that these products explicitly care about relationship management. They are not afterthoughts, it is really important both that conversations in gmail are threaded correctly, and that comments and ratings in Flickr are well executed. They are not tacked on to "have ratings", they are central for the product's sucess, since they enhance the relationships of their customers.


Identity is who we are. It is not a term that is easy to pin down. Being a parent is part of some people's identity, so is their email account, but those two aspects of identity are very different and other aspects of identity are different from these two still. Wikipedia defines many different meanings of identity, here is a sampling from the social sciences section of the wikipedia article, all of which are relevant when thinking about the kinds of identities that goes into relationships that motivate communications:

  • Identity (philosophy), also called sameness, is whatever makes an entity definable and recognizable
  • Identity (social science), umbrella term used to describe an individual's comprehension of him or herself as a discrete, separate entity
  • Cultural identity, person's self-affiliation (or categorization by others) as a member of a cultural group
  • Gender identity, also known as core gender identity, the gender(s) or lack thereof, that a person self-identifies with oneself
  • Identity formation, the process of the development of the distinct personality of an individual
  • Identity politics, refers to political arguments that focus upon the self interest and perspectives of self-identified social interest groups or minorities

The wikipedia article then lists other types of identities that are in fact also relevant for communications services. For the sake of this discussion I will choose to concentrate on the philosophical definition above, "whatever makes an entity definable and recognizable".

From this definition, we see that the H/P/R layers have different aspects of identity. At the lowest layers are technical identifiers that are necessary for communicating. For phone networks these include MSISDN numbers, and for Internet services they include domain names (DNS registred names) and numerical ip addresses. These identities are necessary for communication to take place, but they are by and large (with some exceptions for DNS) not related uniquely to neither products nor customer's relationships. Product identifiers include email addresses, phone numbers, URLs to websites, product names, product numbers etc. OK, I'll admit it, there are meaningful relationships in the product layer: Product/customer relationships exist and they can carry importance. However, at the relationship layer people expose
their identities: Their affiliations, the processes that form them as individuals, the social interest groups the take part in or sympathize with. All of these things are up there in the relationship layer, and may or may not be closely affiliated with the identities at the lower layers. They certainly don't in general depend on lower layer identities. It is fully possible to love cats without having a Facebook identity, but it's so much easier to join up with and relate to other people interested in cat welfare if you do.

And that's where the the thesis of this little piece becomes clear:
Anyone who wishes to play a role in the relationships that exists between people had better be relevant at the venues where relationships meet product identities. If you wish to communicate with people interested in cat welfare within Facebook, you will send them an email or send a message to the group. You won't call them because Facebook does not currently offer voice telephony. But what if Facebook did offer voice telephony? If you had the option to "click to call" anyone on the group, or perhaps to have a "party line" conversation using voice telephony, who is to say it wouldn't have been used? But it isn't used, because Facebook isn't offering any form of voice telephony.

My point here is that any service provider who has positioned itself at a junction where relationships and technical identities are matched is ideally placed for selling technical products that facilitates relationship development. Those that don't position themselves at this junction will sooner or later be bypassed by those who do when they by some means gain access to voice telephony.

At this point I should note that the technical infrastructure necessary to offer voice telephony is really quite well developed. The main obstacles are a combination of technical, pricing and regulatory, but that is the topic for another time.

What should be done by incumbent voice actors?

A witty saying proves nothing

Wait and see
The simplest thing to do is just to wait and see. I make a few predictions above, in particular I predicted that at some point barriers for entry into regulated voice telephony for internet actors will be lowered. At that point the internet actors will play hard on their mastery over relationship facilitation and pure voice actors that chose to "wait and see" will have a number of very bad days at the stock exchange. Until barriers drop not much will happen. Place your bets.

Do some research

  • What motivates users? Talk to users, interview them. Find out what motivates their use of communications products, see if those motivations fit with the model depicted above or if some other system is better at describing their needs.
  • What are the regulatory changes on the radar? What we want to know is how regulatory barriers of entry for internet actors into regulated voice will be affected by regulatory changes that are planned or being talked about. Find out which changes are in the pipelines in the relevant jurisdictions, which will include the US and EU regardless of which market you are interested in. Who supports and opposes them, what is the timeframe for their implementation, and what can their impact be?
  • Long Term Evolution: LTE. What is known about the technical capabilities of LTE (and competing future technologies) and future voice over IP. What is know about the introduction of LTE in relevant markets? What are possible timeframes for Voip over LTE to be realistic opportunities for internet-based companies to gain "first class" access to handsets?
  • Consider pricing of data traffic: Perhaps it's ok to lose some or all income from dedicated voice services? Perhaps it is better to increase the price of data traffic to a level where income from that is sustainable as a source of income for wireless operators? This will mean that speech will be just another type of service over a generic networking device. Perhaps that is a reasonable future? I don't know.
  • Roadmap: Make a reasonable roadmap for voice for the next ten to fifteen years. Plot in the technological and regulatory milestones and estimates/guesstimates for when they will be passed.

Get serious about relationships
Another thing that can be done is to start playing the relationship game ourselves. This is harder than just to wait and see since it involves actually trying to make better products for our consumers, not just to print nicer logos or tweak price plans. Helping subscribers to manage their phonebooks, which is the entry point to many of their relations, is an obvious move. Another move is to make voice relevant in internet-style relationship-managing services: Invade Facebook, Google, and Microsoft's universe and make it easy to use regulated voice there. Make the phone-subscribtion/online identity (or identities) relationship (or relationships) matter. Vodafone goes a bit in this direction with their
Vodafone 360 initiative, and theirs is an important step but there is certainly more that can be done. Facebook, LinkedIn, OpenSocial, MSN, Hotmail, .... . They are all opportunities for integration and product development, but for sure they are also threats.

Think about the brand
Telcos need to do some soul-searching: Who are we? What do we do? Are our customers' relationships of any interest to us? Is voice and radio networks our prime concern, not the costumer's needs? Whatever we choose, how do we express that through our brand? If relationships are to help us defending income from voice, then perhaps this should be reflected in our brand? If so, how? All I can say is that this sounds important to me, but since I know next to nothing about brand management I'll just raise the questions and offer my participation in any discussion about it. I won't even begin to try to offer any conclusions.

Further reading:

Voice Chat app Vivox comes to Facebook.
Phone calling coming to twitter.;title

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