<Fiscal 2012> Consumer Issues and Expectations of KDDI
Consumer Issues and Expectations of KDDI
We invited two experts in the fields of consumer and social issues to discuss these topics in a lively dialogue with KDDI representatives.
The invited experts
Ms. Yukiko Furuya
Standing Advisor, Member of the Original
Japan Committee for ISO 26000
Nippon Association of Consumer Specialists
Mr. Manabu Akaike
Director, General Laboratory
Universal Design Co., Ltd.
Issues KDDI should consider to deal appropriately with consumers
Requirements of Telecommunications Operators in a Specialized Market
As the use of smartphones becomes common alongside the use of earlier mobile phones (feature phones) , a wide variety of machines and applications (apps) are on the market. Participants discussed what kinds of issues there are in this situation between KDDI, as a telecommunications operator, and consumers.
KDDI: Previously, au (KDDI) independently considered mobile phone specifications and functions, developing them over long periods. However, with smartphones the system has changed to one where each manufacturer leads development, updating operating systems and apps in short cycles, rapidly responding to the needs of the market. With this change in development style, more parts arrive already packaged.
For this reason, it has become more difficult for us to fully understand all the details of smartphone operations.
Furuya: That is a consumer issue, purely and simply. Not only KDDI but all telecommunications operators cannot manage everything in an integrated fashion within one company. I understand that fierce competition makes it necessary for manufacturers to specialize in one area, but when problems occur it is consumers who suffer. I think if corporations created structures to resolve that sort of issue they would gain more trust from consumers.
KDDI: Sometimes we are contacted with the problem that some models of car GPS do not work well when connected to smartphones using Bluetooth. Although Bluetooth is a unified standard there are cases where it cannot be connected well and we have previously discussed how far we should go in making checks beforehand as to whether phones connect properly with the vast array of GPS models. We have also had many people contacting us after we released a new model of phone to say "I connected it to a foreign charger, but it isn't charging." As we did not know what problems might occur in the handset, we hurriedly included a warning in the packaging "If you do not use the official charger, the phone may not charge or it may take a long time to charge." As new peripheral products are constantly being released, it is difficult to provide guidance beforehand.
Monitoring Claims to Develop Problem-Solving Policies and Sharing Information with the Public
Furuya: There is a tendency to think that "We've set up a customer response desk, and that's enough," but companies should take a proactive attitude toward resolving problems when consumers are in a bind, such as by introducing other systems and support bodies if they cannot address problems fully on their own.
Akaike: An NPO I know has partnerships with major children's hospitals whereby it gathers information about the details of major accidents involving children, puts them in a database and publishes them. The thinking is to create a society where safety information becomes useful. In the same way, you could release information to society about claims related to mobile communications and which identifies potential problems. Discussing and checking problems the Company cannot solve by itself with equipment manufacturers and software developers and then communicating solutions to the public would in itself be a very appealing form of CSR. I am saying that claims can lead to development, but from a CSR perspective there is also value in strategic projects connecting contact from the public with product and design development.
KDDI: KDDI has a customer satisfaction management index, "reply ratio," which represents the percentage of telephone customers operators are able to respond to. We are implementing a new index, "solution ratio," which represents the proportion of problems from customers which are resolved.
Providing customers with correct information so they can choose a model they are satisfied with is important from a universal design (UD) perspective. We do not always recommend smartphones at stores and based on the planned usage we sometimes advise that feature phones are easier to use. Also, it will become more and more important to give advice on the advantages and disadvantages of different apps, whether the ones we have checked in the au Smart Pass service or other apps.
Involving Children, Seniors, and People with Disabilities from the Early Stages of Product Development
Furuya: This is a good initiative adapted to consumers. When children and seniors use feature phones and smartphones, they sometimes feel more care and consideration could have been given to their needs. In the product development stage, do you involve children and seniors in user testing and manual improvement?
KDDI: We are focusing efforts on Mobile Phone Learning Classes for children and seniors as part of CSR, and we take knowledge gained from these classes and apply it to improving our services. We have made a number of discoveries, including for example, that when seniors turn the power on they do not understand the meaning of "press and hold," but if you say "press firmly," then they tend to understand. Also, as they have noted that in operation manuals "it's difficult to understand with just diagrams and illustrations," the instruction manual for our mobile phone for seniors-launched two years ago-was made with photographs throughout. In this way, we continue to make improvements through trial and error.
Akaike: Certainly it is an excellent initiative, but those are classes about how to use the product. An important point in implementing UD is participatory design which involves users as much as possible at the conceptual, design, development, and testing stages. This means setting up an advisory board comprised of experts with knowledge of seniors, people with disabilities, and children, alongside doctors, nurses, and caregivers, and have them contribute to planning and assess trial products.
For development of products like smartphones, it would mean launching a participatory design project, fine-tuning operating systems developed through the project for the socially vulnerable, and sharing them with society. It would be wonderful if KDDI took the lead in this kind of development. At the same time, through the development process, the Company would automatically build up valuable data and expertise about function and design development. The practice of putting in place a cycle linking public interest and business is the CSR of the future.
KDDI: Particularly in this era when it is hard for telecommunications operators to differentiate themselves through product functions, apps, and services, only companies that improve their responsiveness and actively identify issues and make improvements can increase their corporate value. Bearing this in mind, we have reconfirmed the importance of conducting a range of activities.
Ahead-of-the-Curve Services KDDI Should Aim to Provide
The Importance of Customizing Products and Services in an "Independent Society"
As society is undergoing great changes, participants discussed what kind of innovations companies should provide in products and services from a strategic CSR perspective.
Akaike: Until now, we have been targeting an "optimized society," as typified by low carbon and an optimum energy mix, but even if parts are optimized, there is no progress with optimization of the whole. On the other hand, as IT has reached a mature stage, the democratization of information is moving forward. Against this backdrop, there are signs of a new "independent society." That is a society where individuals, corporations, groups, and others plan and act independently, forming their own standards, and various individual actions take place in a range of sectors. In this case, there is a need for UD to allow many different users to be deeply involved in the creation and customization of functions and services, rather than aiming for one optimal solution. For that reason, I would like to see KDDI pursuing a trajectory of gathering experts, conducting in-depth research, and making public information and intellectual properties as a UD strategy based on the theme of "UD in the independent society and in smartphones".
KDDI: In terms of providing a product that anyone can use easily, there are many ways in which smartphones could be improved. For example, operating systems are made in English-speaking countries, and apps are provided by vendors in different countries, but perhaps because of cultural differences there are cases where user interfaces  do not suit Japanese customers. It sometimes happens that there are different concepts regarding on/off settings for switches or that apps do not have good mutual compatibility. This is not something we alone can resolve, but instead an issue for the whole industry.
- The interface where information is displayed to users and where users can input data
KDDI: To establish the popularity of smartphones in society, we developed functions and services mainly for early adopters and the younger generation, but we feel the need to pay more attention to the role of smartphones among seniors. Also, previously we differentiated ourselves through handset functions, but now that all providers are using the same kinds of handsets, we are considering how we can get people to choose KDDI. Accordingly we need to ensure that handset, services, support, and sales departments do not act separately, but that each department deepens cooperation so we can act with more of a sense of unity.
KDDI: I think that is the real issue. While it is possible to find UD initiatives across the Company, many people are working alone. It is essential that they be connected organically to create a better structure. Then it is necessary to continue cultivation of organizations and employees to ensure those initiatives retain their substance.
Akaike: That is very important. Rather than simply trying to anticipate and keep pace with changes in consumer behavior, providing products and services with completely new value, in the same way as with the smartphone itself. I would recommend that KDDI provides smartphones that are ahead of the curve in a strategic perspective that involves creating "new value consumption." As a part of that, I could imagine "kids' mobile phones" and "kids' smartphones" that encourage creativity and curiosity, rather than only focusing on safety and security. For example, I would look forward to development of products emphasizing forward thinking and empathy, providing children with cutting-edge products simply because they are children, such as handsets with high-spec solar batteries and projectors.
Applying UD When Providing Information
KDDI: The necessity of customization we talked about earlier is something we also feel as writers of operation manuals. There are arguments for and against a thick manual with legally required warnings, but on the other hand smartphone guides are popular sellers in bookstores. Given this state of affairs, we feel the time may have come for providing more personal manuals matching what customers want to do with their smartphones.
Furuya: The concept of personal manuals is interesting. Perhaps, compared with a standard operation manual there is a greater need for a guide that tells you how to do what you want with a smartphone as well as what you can do.
Akaike: For example, you could produce a series of instructional DVDs to match demand, in addition to a DVD for basic functions. Creative provision of information saying "Here is another way you can use KDDI smartphones" would be an excellent development in communication, promising synergies to generate new value for society and lifestyles.
KDDI: Another issue we are aware of is two-way communication with customers. We receive suggestions and opinions on a daily basis and rapidly respond to individual cases, but it is certainly true that we have few opportunities to provide reports as well as our thanks. We should make the most of these opportunities and communicate in greater depth.
Furuya: Please do so. Every corporation is diligent about sending questionnaires to customers asking about points where they are dissatisfied and complaints, but there is no feedback on results. Consumers particularly want to know what happens in negative cases. As this has an accountability aspect, rather than only providing information through the website and CSR report, if information was given in a timely fashion, such as by smartphone, customer satisfaction would increase.
Akaike: Finally, from the perspective of public interest quality, KDDI holds such classes as KDDI Mobile Phone Learning Classes, but I would like to see the Company make firm efforts to cultivate common sense from an early age, such as by providing a space to talk to young people about how to use mobile phones and the Internet.
KDDI: Thank you very much for the valuable advice on how to support customers when consumer issues arise. We have also realized that we are not doing enough as an organization to resolve these issues. In our recent employee awareness survey, we found that the Company is speeding up its decision making and policies, but that there are issues related to cooperation between departments and organizational activities. As this is an issue related to today's proposals and suggestions we will focus our efforts on resolving it.