Jitterbug brings individualism to seniors

Following-on from my earlier article entitled ‘Segmentation is a step, individualism is the goal,’ I was delighted to discover a new service called Jitterbug which embodies this approach. Jitterbug is a telephony service aimed at seniors requiring simple voice communication and is operated by a company called GreatCall, founded by husband and wife team Marty Cooper and Arlene Harris.

For those who don’t know, Marty Cooper invented the first cellphone for Motorola and made the first ever cellular call on 3rd April 1973, 33 years ago. Marty spoke at a conference I organised a couple of years ago and kept an audience of cynical telecom executives captivated with his unique account of cellular history and good humour. He was accompanied by his wife Arlene, also a veteran of the telecoms industry, whose experiences date back to her work as an operator with her parent’s communications company in the 1950s.

Arlene is the CEO of GreatCall and her bio includes a refreshing mission statement for the service: “I like to innovate and solve problems for people that make their lives better.”

That is exactly what Jitterbug aims to do. It solves problems for individuals. Users choose from one of two handset designs provided by Samsung. Both occupy a clamshell form-factor and have large, easy-to-read number displays. One of the designs has a keypad with over-sized buttons, the other has just 3 main buttons – one for calling an operator, another for emergency services and a personalised key which can be linked to any number you wish and labelled accordingly. Both devices incorporate a soft plastic moulding around the speaker to help those with poor hearing.

The technology employed is quite basic, and entirely irrelevant. The web-site doesn’t even mention whether the service operates over GSM or CDMA or which carrier is providing the network.

The promise is simple: GreatCall provides a personalised communications service with an emphasis on making it as easy as possible to get in touch with the people you need to. The handset can be configured over-the-air with a list of numbers using a simple web interface or by talking directly to one of GreatCall’s operators.

The integration of a human element into the service is key. It enables a level of personalisation which will allow GreatCall to respond directly to the needs of individual customers.

Human contact has the potential to be the premium service of the future. There are some situations where the most effective and reassuring way to achieve a particular quality of service is to employ well-trained human intemediaries within the network.

There are already examples of this in the mobile premium services business, such as the highly successful text message question answering services run by AQA and Re5ult. Users pay a premium (GBP 1 per question) to receive an answer to a particular query. Both companies employ advanced database technology to answer simple or repeat queries automatically, but more difficult questions are passed directly to human researchers, who typically respond within 5 minutes.

The user experience is very simple, yet the service has a high perceived value because it fulfills its objective in the quickest and most efficient manner.

Jitterbug will achieve a similar value perception because it has been designed to allow personalisation for individual customer needs first and foremost. The technology employed has been chosen only because it helps create a particular user experience. When technology alone is insufficient, Jitterbug will use human intelligence to offer the ultimate in personalisation.

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    G L Mason

    I bought a Jitterbug for my 89 year young Dad. He has “age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Between the generational problem of living a full life “before” cellphones and not really being able to “see” he is having quite a time with the phone. I know that the Jitterbug is not being sold as an aid to to visual impairment, but I was hoping, and am hoping that they make it as a company. But their customer relations and processes from ordering through maintenance of the phone is very disorganized, and as a result I imagine they will have a hard time staying in the market. The intent may be there at the higher levels of management, but the follow through on the ground does not meet the the high cost of service. The website seems to be trapped in vaporware, but let’s hope not.

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