Missed Calls: A lesson in innovation during tough times

Indians are popular for using innovation to create value with fewer resources. Historically known to make more out of less, you will find them making best use of shampoo sachets, shared books, computers and even a cup of steaming tea (known as ‘cutting’ i.e. one cup of tea cut down into two glasses) to save costs! Given today’s tough times the world needs to pay heed to making more out of less.

Indians use ‘missed calls’ to convey a message and save mobile balance.

When it comes to cutting costs on mobile credit balance, India banks on a fool-proof method of making missed calls (popular as dropped calls in US)! In rural India, the frugality of the mobile users has led to ‘giving a missed call’ which is aptly used as a media strategy by small businesses. Rural folk in India are known to recharge their pre-paid cards with minimum talk-time balance even as mobiles turn out to be the most effective means to reach them.

No wonder ‘missed call‘ has become a Rs. 500 cr business! The ‘missed call‘ is a smart choice for pre-paid mobile users (which forms 96% of 900 million users) like students, traders, workers, housewives and a great opportunity for businesses like banks, small businesses, restaurants etc., though I am not sure how pleased the cell phone companies are with this non-commercial trend in India. For if SMS is a cheap way of communication, missed calls run a marathon on ‘no-money—just one ring!’ culture today.

The intended missed call is a ‘no-cost’ communication for people not wanting to spend their mobile balance, but cleverly conveying their message across. Where a call or SMS would be more time consuming, just a missed call to say “I have landed”, “I have reached safely”, “money has arrived”, “the parcel has left” etc. looks like a smart move. Missed calls show the true ingenuity of the Indian mind. It is truly amazing to see how the telecommunications revolution has led to every household being able to afford a phone but finding ways to communicate cost-effectively using innovative ways.

I believe there are companies that are beginning to tap into the business opportunity by trying to decode the meaning of these missed calls to save company costs and increase customer loyalty. Banks use them for usual queries like account balance, mini-statements etc. Dial a number and these banks will text message the information to your cell phone. Some dance reality TV shows request their callers to simply give missed calls to cast votes. I believe that the ‘one missed call’ campaign can be used to increase brand sales, while the regional campaigns can benefit from penetrating the rural areas using regional languages.

App developers are cashing in on the 'missed call' in India

App developers are cashing in on the ‘missed call’ in India

But the missed calls have now gone beyond saving on cost and make a simple, time saving way of getting the message across to the outside world. This splurge in missed call has also spurred growth for online apps for mobile phone users and phone apps like Missed call and SMS alert, other android phone apps are popularly used to alert a user about a missed call/SMS with sound, vibration, LED, and even lighting up your screen every 10 minutes.

But all of this need not be limited to Indians alone, as Americans are a truly innovative society and given the economic uncertainties they can find inspiration in the missed call and look for ways to do more with less.

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