By Jeofrey Bean
During 2007 and the particularly economic emptiness of 2008 it became very noticeable that there were a group of companies, large and small, from several industries that were better, different, more profitable and more sustainable than most others.
These Experience Makers redefined industries and changed customers’ lives for the better. They also changed the expectations of existing and future customers. Once a market has been changed to a difficult-to-duplicate customer experience, those left competing with just price, features or value-added services are usually marginalized or eliminated.
The customer experience includes all interactions people have with or about a company’s messages, people, processes, products or services.
Customer experience companies purposely create experiences people want to have along that continuum at the strategic, tactical and operational levels. “Delivering extraordinary customer experiences is becoming more and more important,” according to J.D. Power & Associates. “We know from the data that people will pay for it.”
Seeing the customer experience opportunity
The crowd at the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco on January 9, 2007 could barely contain its excitement. A confident Steve Jobs entered the stage, peered out at the suddenly hushed crowd, and confidently announced, “Today, we are going to reinvent the phone.” It was a brand-new phone from a company new to the phone market. Apple launched the iPhone. And in a few short months the phone industry was changed forever.
What made it a great idea for Apple to enter a market with large, firmly entrenched corporations that seemed to most people indomitable? It was a bold step. Apple was entering a field crowded with tough and experienced competitors. Where exactly was the opportunity for a new entrant to compete with all those successful companies making phones?
Before 2007, there were already many successful companies making smartphones, which combine computing, Internet connectivity and other capabilities in a wireless phone. Before Apple entered the market, these smartphone companies included formidable competitors such as Nokia, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry®, Palm and Motorola. These telecommunication giants leapfrogged each other every three months, constantly adding innovative features and functions.
Suddenly, with one announcement, Apple changed the playing field by changing customers’ expectations of what a smartphone should do for them. In the first year of production, Apple sold 3.7 million iPhones.
Apple’s entry into the phone market was in many ways a competitive failure. The iPhone was expensive, with a poor camera, no 3G capabilities (a standard at that time), no keypad and no memory card. But this technologically weak and feature-poor product transformed customers to enthusiastic advocates at a rate unseen before.
As Apple saw it, success in this market wasn’t about the technology, the features, the calling plan or the price. While all those are important ingredients, Apple’s iPhone delivered exactly what it promised — an extraordinary experience. From the time people heard about the iPhone until they became customers and then enthusiastic advocates, the iPhone offered, by far, the best smartphone experience. People wanted what they heard so much about from iPhone owners — the pleasurable experience of using it.
Creating the iPhone customer experience
The iPhone offered an innovative experience by intimately understanding and anticipating what people wanted to do with their smartphones. The iPhone promised and delivered a pleasurable experience as a phone, an Internet communicator, and a music player.
Apple began studying the market and its competitors at least three years before it introduced the iPhone. While some people were having good experiences, most were not.
Phone makers promised ease of use. But customers’ actual experiences were hampered by phones that had cramped keyboards and tiny hardware pieces that many reviewers and users experienced as feeling “unsure, toy-like or plastic.”
Broken promises created an opportunity for Apple to create a better experience.
The smartphone experience that Apple created started with the elegance of the phone itself and the user experience that would deliver on the promises made from the beginning of the customer experience. For example, Apple replaced the stylus (plastic toothpick) with the human finger. What Steve Jobs called, “The best pointing device in the world. One we are born with.” Apple assured that the screen and finger were a gratifying and efficient combination. An intuitive touching of the screen that allowed users to “flick” through a menu, between photos, or from one screen to the next. This is very much like the experience of turning the pages of a book in real life. It is natural, engaging and, for many, fun.
iPhone’s lure confounded many competitors. Some of them had trouble understanding the customer experience advantage of the iPhone. This is likely an important part of the reason why Nokia and Research In Motion’s Blackberry® eventually went out of the smartphone market. They were marginalized by an Experience Maker.
The iPhone is a great example of how a company can create a customer experience that results in major success.
A purposely created customer experience will make a company better for customers and more valuable than most others.
Are you seeing opportunities to be created by customer experience in your fleet business? Are you next in the fleet customer experience revolution?
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