Digital Divide in Customer Service

digital divide in customer serviceYesterday I had a very bad customer experience with Telecom Italia Mobile, the main telephone service provider of Italy. The detailed story is available here.

GIVE YOUR CUSTOMERS THE IMPORTANCE THEY DESERVE

What got me frustrated the most was their incompetence in doing customer service on Twitter. The TIM operator’s replies to my tweets were always the same, so that at one point I even thought it was an automated profile. It wasn’t, but, still, as a customer, I felt treated like a number that wasn’t making a difference in TIM’s budget. Well, indeed, that is true, but today every smart entrepreneur knows that customers engagement and loyalty is crucial to any company. Also, I would say, it is important in particular for telephone service providers, because as soon as customers are unhappy they move towards another telephone company, don’t they?

That’s why, just to stay on topic, my UK telephone company, O2, rewards loyal customers with prices and discounts. Their online presence is absolutely awesome, and their efficiency and creativity on Twitter is exemplar. For instance, here’s the promo video of their #TweetServe campaign, just to give you an idea of how they constantly innovate their customer service.

OPERATORS SHOULD ACT AS PEOPLE

Speaking more generally, other examples of efficient and customer-centred replies of customer service operators on Twitter can be found on a post of The Drum, dated 2012 — we are in 2015, and TIM still doesn’t get it. The article shows how O2, Sainsbury’s, East Coast Trains and Smart Car personalise their tweets in relation to the style of the customer, they make clever use of slang, write hilarious comments and just reply as they were real people — which, ops! They actually are! Operators aren’t machines, are them?

USE EMPATHY AND PERSONALITY

This is actually my point: doing customer service on Twitter — well, on any platform, but on social media even more — means first of all listening to each customer’s problem (listening= reading carefully and especiallyempathically), then trying to solve it or at least providing them with the moreinformation available. Finally it means giving real answers, not pro forma, and adding a little bit of personality.

…AND SAY SORRY.

Be patient and have a nice day, the TIM operator’s reply to my tweets (the same for 3 times, by the way) was cold, impersonal and, frankly, it just made me feel like an idiot. As I wrote in my previous post, not a sorry, not an apology for the inconvenience. @telecomitalia tweets were even worst: they asked me what was the problem, and once I told them they just replied we know that a TIM operator was already in contact with you, ask him for info.

This post was previously published on Medium, here.

tim customer service

How TIM welcomes new customers (or at least how it welcomed me)

One week ago I came back to my hometown, Brescia, in Italy, for the Summer. I wanted to change my telephone company, and after a long surf on the web I decided to move towards TIM, as it had a very good offer for traffic data, which is what I use my iPhone more for.

I filled the form online, and then I received a message telling me that a courier would have arrived in 7 working days to deliver my new SIM card.

Then I received a call from TIM, telling me that the courier would have come on Wednesday (today), and asking me my preferred time for receiving my SIM card. I said in the morning, because I couldn’t stay at home in the afternoon. The call center operator told me that the courier would have come in the morning before 1PM. I told her that I had an iPhone5, and therefore I needed a NANOSIM.

Today I waited for hours, and then, at 12PM, I started to be a bit worried. Therefore I contacted the call center with my phone (not yet on TIM, so I payed for the call) but there were no option for new costumers or to know where my courier was. Hence I contacted the customer service via Twitter. The operator didn’t know anything about my case and kept repeating that I should have been patient, without giving me any information about my SIM card or my courier.

Then I decided to directly mention @telecomitalia, hoping in some more information. They replied after a hour. In the meanwhile was already 2PM and the courier has arrived. The courier was actually a kind man that told me that nobody told him to come before 1PM.

Anyway, apparently everything was sorted out, but…no, actually, it wasn’t. I opened my pack and I found a MICROSIM inside, whilst I specifically asked for a NANOSIM.

I read @telecomitalia’s reply and I replied, too, telling them about the delay and the wrong SIM. They replied to me telling me that they noticed I was already in contact with an operator via Twitter, and telling me to have a nice day.

Now it’s 4PM. The operator told me to change the SIM in a TIM center. Not a “sorry”, not a single apology.

I strongly doubt I will change the SIM. I will just change telephone company. If I was in the UK I would ask for a refund, or for a discount at least, but unfortunately I know that in Italy that’s just a lost cause.

Here are the screenshots (in Italian). The whole situation is just unbelievable to me.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.11.07 Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.11.30 Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.12.08  Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.14.19 Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.14.27 Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.40.09Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 15.08.35

FROM A PASSION TO A BUSINESS

The beginning

In January 2012 I moved to London. I had a flexible contract as a sales assistant with a minimum wage salary. I barely had enough money to pay the rent and the transport expenses. Ergo I could never eat out.

It was the official start of my baking experimentations. I occupied all my spare time to cook, thus I became more and more expert and, with my surprise, even creative at baking: I had ever thought that who was creative at such a mysterious art should have been born like that. Finding myself under the same definition made me really passionate.

I couldn’t imagine that such a passion could have been so strong to drive me and my team into my first business experience.

In October 2012 I was admitted at the MA Creative Economy at Kingston University; we had just formed the Young Enterprise teams, and we were actually registering each team on website.

Solve a Need from The LeanEntrepreneur.co

As business teams we were supposed to create something which could solve a problem we encountered or observed in our living context.

A couple of days before, I was preparing the dinner. I was about to struggle trying to stir the risotto and then putting the spoon in the balance on the border of the pot, in order not to smear the kitchen surface. I failed: the tool stayed in its position for a while, but then it fell every time.

I thought that maybe many women like me had the same; therefore I sketched a spoon hanger which could be attached to the border of a pot. I showed it to my team mate Maria: she found it a clever idea, and push me to speak with the others, Lucy, Natalie and Angelika. They liked it so much that as soon as I proposed to call ourselves “The Spoonist” they eagerly agreed.

The observation

During our first meeting we started discussing about the brand. We decided to change our name in QB- quanto basta, which means just as much as needed, and is a typical kitchen unit used in traditional recipes.

That was the same day of our first “observation”:  I was cooking for all of us, and the team examined the difficulties I encountered.

RESEARCH-FIRSTWith hindsight, if customers experience is what shapes all perceptions and value of the brand, as Bernd  Schmitt and David Rogers underline in their “Handbook on Brand and Experience Management” it would have been better to observe external people cooking, ask them questions and not even name our idea of the product. Just afterwards it would have been appropriate to start to brainstorm ideas about the brand, embracing a “holistic view of costumer value that encompasses rational and emotional benefits” (SCHMITT, ROGERS, 2008).

After a couple of weeks we found many competitors, and we realized we couldn’t effort the costs of the materials as well- that was another conceptual fault: we wanted to make a product made by expensive wood, but the reason we wished that was justified just by our perspective, without any proper market research.

Since we were already so immersed into our brand, we found more difficult to adjust our product rather than restart from the beginning, even if this is exactly what a startup should expect most of the times. As Eric Ries sustains, “instead of making complex plans that are based on a lot of assumptions”, exactly like what we did, we should have made” constant adjustments with a steering wheel called Build- Measure- Learn feedback loop” (RIES, 2011). We didn’t didn’t apply Ries’ validated learning at all, and this is probably why therefore we repeated the same error.

 A New Idea

When I was a sales assistant I had a minimum wage salary; as I was also attentive to eat healthy, I started to cook my own lunch at home. Being an environmental friendly person, I hated wasting the plastic bags I used to carry my lunch: so with my boyfriend Aldo I designed a lunch bag. Since QB was in need of a new idea, I proposed it and the team was enthusiastic.

I was sure there was a need of the product in the market. I noticed that almost every Londoner used to buy meals around. I made some researches online and luckily I found many statistics regarding a high amount of expenses per capita for lunch out, other than alarming articles on the dubious healthiness of take away and fast food meals.

We started brainstorming about product development. Lucy made a model out of fabric: by the end of November we were the first team which had a prototype. Nevertheless we repeated the same mistake: we didn’t follow Steve Blank’s Customer Development. We didn’t “get out of the building” before creating the brand and defining our persona. We should have tested our product from the very beginning with just a sketch, to find out whether our lunch bag was “a vision or a delusion”. (RIES, 2008).

Blue Ocean and Experience Design

Ask Your Market from The LeanEntrepreneur.co
As long as we didn’t create a new product- there were already different lunch bags on the marketplace-, from a first sigh it couldn’t have been told we developed any Blue Ocean strategy.

Actually, I noticed that people liked the idea of bringing their own lunch, but many of them were not capable to cook or were lack of meals ideas. The Internet was already full of blogs about food and recipes, nevertheless I saw an opportunity. According to the case of the Cirque du Soleil, which, “breaking through the boundary traditionally separating circus and theatre, made a new and profitable blue ocean from within the red ocean of the circus industry”, I realized that we could act in little like a Blue Ocean company by matching the food-blogosphere with the bags market. (KIM, MAUBORGNE, 2004)

I proposed to publish on our website simple recipes not for every visitor: just for our customers. Following the rules of the Experience Design Manifesto, our aim was to make people more confident of their capability of cooking, to inspire them and feel better. We wanted to transmit them the importance of a healthy and environmental-friendly lifestyle, but also make them have fun while baking. Last but not least, our recipes sharing community was aimed to “strengthen relationships between people that live the same experience” as well. (PEREIRA, 2008)

 Design Thinking

It was Natalie who insisted on “less is better”. She was really pragmatic. I was the exact opposite, I wanted to add dozens of features to our lunch bag. While exploring Design Thinking, I discovered how much what Natalie sustained made sense. We followed her.

Our idea was respecting almost all of the 10 rules of Design Thinking. It was innovative: it matched the food blogosphere and the bags market; useful: well, at least we assumed that; aesthetic: it was functional and beautiful at the same time; understandable: it reminded the paper brown bag of the childhood, so it was “already seen”; honest: it was what it seemed; long-lasting and environmental- friendly: it was washable, reusable and an alternative to plastic bags; simple, with the pleasure of Natalie: our final design was just a sack with a ribbon to close it. (RILEY, 2013)

Fail

Never Force the Market from The LeanEntrepreneur.co

As we assumed our target was composed of students, considering they have to eat lunch at University and usually they have little money to spend, Natalie and Maria went to interview some of the potential customers. The result of our first official market research was a disaster: almost every people declared they weren’t interested neither in our product nor in the community. Some others said they weren’t willing to pay the price we set.

Many startups like us are mistaken at this step.  They “fail for lack of customers”, because they don’t “attempt to learn about their customers (or potential customers) until it is too late”. (RIES, 2008)

Luckily we were not that late in the process- it was still December- so we completely changed our target into female office workers between 25 and 40. For the third time we didn’t go out of the building before going on with the plan. We assumed. We didn’t clearly understand that customer development wouldn’t have been “an excuse to slow down or change the plan every day” but “an attempt to minimize the risk of total failure by checking” our “theories against reality”. (RIES, 2008).

Challenges

In December Lucy left us due to personal reasons. She was the leader not because she was the official Manager of the team. As Diego Rodriguez wrote on his blog, she “made the difference by acting”. Since the beginning she acted “on what she knew”– branding and product design- and “felt it was right”. (RODRIGUEZ, 2013) She was the only member who was already working in a business. As a startup, we were living in a state of “extremely uncertainty”, and this meant that the entire project could have easily failed. (RIES, 2011) Lucy was willing to risk her personal reputation for the good of QB. That is why we got lost for a while after her departure.

Angelika became the new leader. We had two urgencies at that time: getting both the product and the website done. Lucy had already found a manufacturer who apparently was interested in making our lunch bag, thus Angelika, Maria and Natalie tried to contact him and had a long journey in the Warwickshire to visit the factory.

Since I was the only team member who knew something about graphics and webdesign, I decided to take care of the website. I bought the domain, installed wordpress and started creating my own child theme during my spare time- I had already a full-time job. Although the huge number of forums, tutorials and communities of developers, it has been an extremely hard work. I assumed to publish it in 3 weeks: it took 3 months. The final version was online at the end of March.

In the meanwhile our manufacturer disappeared. Angelika and Maria tried to call him many times, but in the end he wasn’t interested in our business any more. It was February. The first trade fair we were supposed to attend was at the end of the month. That meant we had to sew the bags ourselves. From a Blue Ocean strategy point of view it wasn’t that bad: by sewing the bags on our own we managed to make the product low-cost.

Angelika went to Lucy’s to learn how to sew, and took her sewing machine. We passed entire days sewing all together at Angelika’s – she spent even more time -, and for the end of we had almost 20 products done, and finally started to sell.

Personal Epic Fails

The extreme delays of both the manufacturing and the website availability postponed our social media presence. In other words, to get our product and service done in the best way, we diverted our attention from the relationship with customers to the design and production. Instead of accelerating the feedback loop Build-Measure-Learn of “The Lean Startup”, we retarded it.

As a consequence, our sharing community actually never worked. It was mainly my fault. Even though I was supposed to be the most expert of the team in Social Media, I lost myself designing the website. I wanted it to be perfect.

In many of his speeches about customer development, Steve Blank underlined that the unfortunately diffused approach “build it and they will come” is largely wrong, because “issues are customer acceptance and market adoption”. (BLANK, 2008)

Social Media is today’s most effective channel to speak with potential customers and to test assumptions in order to accelerate the feedback loop. Nevertheless I moved it completely to the background.

Working on the website made me forget the impulse which should drive every startup: passion. Passion and Love are the first two secrets of success. I had both of them at the beginning. The story I told you speaks for me. Before developing  the website, I used to create many recipes and took pictures of them. After that I just wanted to get rid of it, because I was working hard, yet I wasn’t enjoying it. (JOHN, 2005)  

My team could felt that my enthusiasm was lowering, and that effected it as well. I wasn’t the leader, but I was the core: the lunch bag was my creature. I didn’t motivate my team; I became even negative and dubious about the future of QB.

Lessons for the future

QB was my first startup experience. It was the first business project I have ever been involved with. I never learned more from a University project than at MACE. To be sincere I wasn’t so used to fail. Thanks to Quanto Basta I became able to accept my faults. Moreover, it’s not all about admitting mistakes.  The best learning I am putting in my pocket is the 8th rule of success: persist. Persist to failure and to Criticism, Rejection, Assholes and Pressure (CRAP). And never give up.

References

(BLANK, 2008) Steve Gary Blank, “The Customer Development Methodology”, slideshare presentation for Stanford Technology Venture Program’s Roundtable on Entrepreneurship Education, published by Venture Hacks, last access on 23/05/13, available at http://www.slideshare.net/venturehacks/customer-development-methodology-presentation

(BLANK, 2008) Steve Gary Blank, “The Four Steps to the Ephiphany- Successful Strategies for Products that Win”, Third Edition, 2006, pdf file published by Lulu.com

(BRAZ, 2008) Andre Pereira das Neves Braz, “Experience Design Manifesto”, 2008, last access on 23/05/13, available at http://www.brazandre.com/manifesto/

(JOHN, 2005) Richard St. John, “8 secrets of success”, February 2005, published by TED Talks in December 2006, last access 23/05/13, available at http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_st_john_s_8_secrets_of_success.html

(KIM, MAUBORGNE, 2004) W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne, “Blue Ocean Strategy”, Harvard Business Review, October 2004, last access on 23/05/13, available at http://hbr.org/2004/10/blue-ocean-strategy/ar/1

(LANDBERG, 2003) Max Landberg, “The Tao of coaching: boost your effectiveness at work by inspiring and developing those around you “, Profilebooks, 2003

(RIES, 2011) Eric Ries, “The Lean Startup”, Portfolio Penguin, 2011

(RIES, 2008) Eric Ries, “What is customer development?”  , Startup Lesson Learned, 8 November 2008, last visit on 22/05/13, available at http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2008/11/what-is-customer-development.html

(RILEY, 2013) Wells Riley, “Startups, this is how design works”, 2013, last access on 23/05/13, available at http://startupsthisishowdesignworks.com/

(RODRIGUEZ, 2013) Diego Rodriguez, “The heart of leadership”, Metacool- thoughts on the art & science of bringing cool stuff to life, 01 May 2013, last access on 23/05/13, available at http://metacool.typepad.com/metacool/2013/05/the-heart-of-leadership.html

(SCHMITT, ROGERS, 2008), Bernd H. Schmitt, David L. Rogers, “Handbook on Brand and Experience Management”, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013

Bibliography

Babak Nivi, “Customer Development: How to develop your customers like you develop your product”, Venture Hacks, November 5th 2008, last access on 23/05/13, available at http://venturehacks.com/articles/customer-development

IBM, “The new collaboration: enabling innovation, changing the workplace”, IBM Corporation, 2008

Mirko Pallera, “CREATE!”, Sperling & Kupfler Editori S.p.A, 2012

Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In”, WH Allen, 2013

Steve Blank, “Embrace failure to start up success- An ambitious US programme aims to turn scientists into entrepreneurs.Go on, says Steve Blank, unleash your inner capitalist.”, NATURE International weekly journal of science, World View, A personal take on events, 8 SEPTEMBER 2011, VOL 477, 133, Macmillan Publishers Limited, last access on 23/05/13, available online at http://www.nature.com/news/2011/070911/full/477133a.html

Theodore Levitt, “Marketing Myopia”, 1960, in Best of HBR, July-August 2004

Tony Robbins, “Why we do what we do”, TED Talks, filmed February 2006, posted June 2006, last access 23/05/13, available at http://www.ted.com/talks/tony_robbins_asks_why_we_do_what_we_do.html

The Eve of New Year’s Eve (It seems to be OT. And it is)

Tomorrow I will do the double shift at work. As I would like to write my last post of the year, I have to write it today, on the eve of New Year’s Eve.

2012 was for me a year of change.

On the New Year day, during the morning after the party, in a cultural club which doesn’t exist anymore, I met the man of my life, while singing together songs of The Queen and of Elio e le Storie Tese. And I already knew that I had to move in London after less than a month.

On the 23rd of January I came in London. I lived in Acton for 5 months.

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During that period I learned how to live just on my own, by managing with the few money I was earning – I was working as a sale assistant for David & Goliath in Carnaby Street, and I had a minimum salary contract. I learned to be humble, to do not trust the public transport in London, to save time and money by preparing at home my lunch of the next day.

I learned to work and study in another language. I took the IELTS exam.

I learned to live with friends, which everybody think it should be easy, but sometimes it is not. But it’s always worth it.

I learned that it was not so “vital” to go out every night and have fun, but to be focused on what I really wanted was, indeed.

I learned to be loved, and I started to learn to love, actually.

I learned how much my town and my people are important to me.

whatsupI twisted my ankle, I lost 2 weeks of salary, I was evicted. I learned to hack it, on my own. I learned that being loved could save me.

I luckily found friends, I was hosted, I found a new place to live, new persons to share a London life with.

I was forced to quit my job, which I liked, because I was swindled by a recruitment agency, Seyner Benson.

I experienced unemployment.

paris_montmartre

I went to a wedding. I went back to my town, to my love, to my air. 

I went to Paris with my love.

I came back in London, and my love joined me.

We found our place. We found our love for cooking. We found upcycling. We found we were a creative incitement for each other.

My sister got married, and I was her best woman. I was really proud of her.

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I found a job in a restaurant, Franco Manca Northcote. I learned lot there. I learned how to work in a team, how to coordinate between each other, how to be focused on customers and communication.


mace12badgeI was accepted as a student at Kingston University, I started my MA in Creative Economy. I found  creative people like me who wanted to learn how to manage with their creativity, how to use it in the best way. 

I learned how to work and study at the same time, how to save money, how to organize everything.

I opened a Blog, this blog, and I found that it was a great opportunity to research, to learn and to share knowledge.

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I started a Business with my MA Team, QB – Quanto Basta. I found that my insights really creative, even if I never realized that before.

But I missed something. I missed my love, my friends, my health. Because I was too excited of what I was learning, and of the new people I was meeting, and I missed all the rest.

I suffered. I cried. I felt angry. I felt guilty. I ate 1, 2, 3 cakes all by myself. I got drunk alone at home with cheap horrible white cider.

But then I found my love again. Through a video, The Power of Words. My love told me that the woman at the end reminded him of me.

The power of words. The power of communication. It is the same power of the Web 2.0, isn’t it? The world of conversations. 

Hence, the biggest lesson for 2012 is: keep attention on the words you are using. They could change everything, either in a positive or negative way.

We live in the time of words. In the time of conversations. In the time of Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Skype. In the time when sometimes it is better to write than to speak. In the time when sometimes it should be better to speak than to write, especially if we could choose.

So my aim for the 2013 will be learning to speak again.

Arsène Lupin the 3rd

lupinWhy, It’s the way of thieves to risk their   lives” answered Arsène Lupin to the Lady Clarisse de Cagliostro (Hayao Miyazaki, The Castle of Cagliostro, 1979).

Lupin the 3rd could be a great example for every entrepreneur for taking the risk.

But what is it that famous “risk”?

The word share the same root of a word of my language, risicare, which means to dare (and a notorious phrase in Italy is “chi non risica non rosica” which means who doesn’t dare doesn’t gnaw made me think about my country, but maybe I’ll speak about it in another post). The term’s meaning, of course, has evolved since ages, and now its proper meaning is difficult to determine, because it means different things to different people, because a key component of risk is choice. (Khan, Zsidisin, 2012)

That is easy to understand, moreover if we consider that usually we see risks as something dangerous for use: we see them like something more related to loss than to gain. But, as the risks are strictly connected to the choices, we can always choose. goldfish jumping out of the water

To manage a sustainable and and efficient business, we will need a strong business model, and every business model does consider the risks, how to handle them, and how to make them profitable.

As Karan Girotra and Serguei Netessine wrote in their How to Build Risk into Your Business Model – Smart companies design their innovations around their managing risk (HBR, May 2011), many companies redesign their business model to reduce their risks. They also underline that “it can also reveal unsuspected opportunities for creating value by adding risk”

Alan Hall defines it as a synonymous of the concept of entrepreneurship. He also presents, according to the data provided by the US SBA (Small Business Administration), the fact that more than half of the startups is supposed to fail within the first three years of existence. “Of those that remain, about one third will make a profit, another third will break even, and the balance will continue to lose money. After ten years, only a handful of companies will be in business.” (Hall, 2011)

So it is a really negative perspective.

media_httpfarm9static_IgjDu.jpg.scaled500But let’s think about it. I mean, let’s think about the reasons which make him saying this,

Why so often the startups encounter a failure, and which is one of the most important risk to face?

Hall lists the possible reasons which could be: not enough customers, insufficient revenues, formidable competitors, a shortage of cash, poor execution of a business plan, uncontrolled expenses and minimal gross margins.

Regarding the competitors, Girotra and Netessine (HBR, May 2011) write that companies create value by being better at managing risk than their competitors are, and so if an entrepreneurship could manage the risks more than the others, it could even earn something from those risks. They also say that the only way to win is to identify where the risks are in the value chain of the business model, determine whether it’s possible to reduce them, shift them to other people, or even assume them.

The major risk you should keep is that your product or service is not even better than the other ones, but it is just different. This is the point. You cannot be 100% sure of it, but you has to believe that – and, even more important, your employees have to believe it, too, because all the company in this way could demonstrate it just with its behaviour- .

Of course you’d like an example, would you?

Well, I work as a waitress for Franco Manca, the one in 76, Northcote Road, London.

333827_230588850401811_945544208_oSince I made my trial, all the colleagues I met they were absolutely sure of the importance and the originality of the product we were going to sell: a proper Napolitan pizza in London, of an honest price, and, more than everything, made with the original recipe, natural ingredients and a sustainable way of cooking. That was enough for me, even if being a waitress is not my dreamt job, otherwise I should not attend my MACE at Kingston University. And this is why I could be proud of working for the Franco Manca company. 

Now, after a few years (the first restaurant opened in Brixton Market Row 4 years ago) the label is famous all around the UK, and I found also customers coming there from outside the Country, just for its name. And, what is more impressive is that that Franco Manca doesn’t have a huge marketing department, so basically its fame is just based on word-of-mouth.

I really don’t want to write a fake advertising post (at least I’m not paid for that!!), but I am writing what I learned from my master and my working experience in London, and I am just trying to link them: the company I am working for is just one of the examples which I know could make you understand that taking the risk for a product you think is a winner it is definitely worth it.

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