Is it Really for Free?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Recently, I read a very interesting quote: "If you are not paying, you are not the customer, but you are the product". This surely is true for all the "free" technology we use - be it Social Media websites like Facebook or Twitter; Search Engines like Google, Bing; or other SAAS based companies offering free services. It is all apparently free to use. But the idea here is that we are not actually using it, but instead they are using us to build their product.

Let's start with the Social Media model for free to use. The websites like Facebook, Twitter etc. are free for it's users to interact with others. The data generated by users is actually becoming the medium for them to sell their product - which in this case is targeted advertising. So, the users here are the product which the companies are trying to sell to the advertisers.

Another model which is popular among the Free Services is to have a free service with basic features and then a paid subscription for premium features. This strategy is better known as the "freemium" model. The principle here is to offer a service with limited features for free and as the customers get used to the product, offer them with paid premium features. Here, the free users act as a marketing tool for these companies who generate the positive feedback for the product.

A unique example which uses the best of both the above strategies is LinkedIn. The leading professional network takes advantage of the user data they have to offer targeted advertising and also, efficiently use the freemium model to sell paid memberships which are targeted towards recruiters, job seekers and anyone interested in business development.

Open source software companies are very famous for offering free software. But, they have a business model here which in some cases has generated far more revenue than the traditional software licensing model. Most open source software companies generate their revenue by providing support and customization solutions. The free users that use the software help in testing and creating new modules for it, thus helping the software creators to have a great product with free help from other developers. The user creates the product and the software creator sells the service for it.

Then there are free applications, which once they get you addicted, they'll try to sell you stuff using "in-app purchases". Ever tried playing a Zynga game? You'll know what I'm talking about. Many apps like these will offer you to play free games and once the users are addicted they'll sell stuff which will help you advance in the game. An incongruous way to sell you what you wouldn't have otherwise bought (can you think of spending money for a virtual sword or virtual gold coins?).

Yes, the free service business is a facade - it's not free after all, unless, you are the product or the means to sell the product!

Volkswagen India – Worst Customer Service

Thursday, March 15, 2012

You are in a lot of excitement when you buy a new car. Sometimes, things can go horribly wrong due to the cunningness of the salespeople or the company selling you the car. A similar experience happened with me during the purchase of my new car. Here’s what has happened till now and the way the customer service works for Volkswagen in India.

I bought a Volkswagen Vento in January 2012, from Bhasin Motors / Volkswagen Delhi South, South Extn., New Delhi. At the time of selling the car, I was promised a December 2011 car. The invoice I got at delivery stated the car was manufactured in October 2011. I was quite unhappy about it but the dealership told me that it got to them in Nov and the plant does not manufacture cars in December. Trusting them in good faith, I reluctantly accepted the explanation and kept the car. Then there was a long wait for getting the registration receipt from them - it took them 18 days after delivery to get the car registered. When they gave me the registration and road tax receipt, the manufacturing date shown on it depicted April 2011. I asked the dealership guys for an explanation and they started coming up with baseless excuses.

Next, I met with the AVP of Bhasin Motors, who was rude and said he did not have the time to talk to me as the issue I was taking up was not even a valid issue. I went to him with a letter with all my grievances regarding the purchase of the car, which he refused to accept, telling me that he does not has the time to read it. Only on insisting hard to accept the application, he accepted it. There were many instances during the conversation in which he spurted out things in a very insulting manner. This was the level of “professionalism” I got from the AVP of the dealership.

The dealership clearly cheated me by misstating information in the invoice at the time of delivery. Then, I decided to complain about the dealership to Volkswagen itself, which was a pain too. Even after 4 phone calls, 3 emails and more than a week of wait, I did not hear anything from anyone at Volkswagen. All the person on the other side of the phone could tell me was that your complaint has been forwarded to the appropriate department and you’ll receive a response within 48 hours; the request was escalated on each subsequent call and no response was ever received. They had no more information whatsoever - no status update on the complaint, no contact details of the concerned department and also, no supervisor to speak to. Probably, after 7 or 8 days of the complaint, I received an email response from Bhasin Motors regarding the complaint. I was surprised that the complaint against the dealership went to the dealer itself, with no official response from Volkswagen.

By this time, I started searching LinkedIn for contacts at VW. Thanks to my huge network, I was able to locate a few connections. I got email addresses of top executives at VW through some of my connections and emailing them again resulted in no response. Then, I found a couple of really responsive people in VW, who pointed me towards the right people to contact. I was finally able to get in touch with the Regional Sales Manager for the area, who “listened” to the concerns.

So, I had to make my own efforts to get in touch with the people at VW as the customer service is completely useless. The stance of Volkswagen has been to side with the dealer and not to efficiently or quickly respond to the concerns. It has been more than 1 month since the first complaint with VW was made and I’m still to get a satisfactory response from them.

I wanted to share this experience with everyone, so that people are aware the kind of service they should except when buying a Volkswagen. The experience with the dealership, “Bhasin Motors” has been a horrible one and the one with VW has been bad too. This is the kind of reputation Volkswagen is building for its brand in India with unprofessional and unethical dealers like Bhasin Motors. Also, their customer service seems to be a complete joke.

P.S.: The above is a very concise description of the complete problem. If anyone is interested, I can forward you a three page letter I first wrote to the dealership, stating this and other issues faced at the time of delivery.

MySQL: Sort By Column Values

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In MySQL, sorting the data using columns can easily be done by using the ORDER BY clause. Recently, I came across a requirement where I had to sort the data according to the specific values of a column. For example, if a column has the numbers written as words (one, two, three etc.), the values need to be sorted according to their numerical equivalent rather than the default alphabetical sorting.

By default, the ORDER BY clause will sort data using alphanumeric sorting. But there is a trick by using the MySQL field(str,str1,str2,str3...) function to give a different order to the values in the columns. The function finds the position of str in the list of strings str1, str2, str 3...

Here is an example on how you can combine the field function with the ORDER BY clause:

ORDER BY field(`column_name`, 'One', 'Two', 'Three', 'Four', 'Five')
The above code will sort the data according to the column values One, Two, Three, Four, Five.