Lest we get into a tussle over who’s phone is better (mine is, of course), this post is less about a cool toy (OK, WAY cool) and more of an illustration of a company that has created a phenomenal customer experience. Admittedly, I am a bit of a gadget geek. I have been using smart phones since the last millennium and I have an insatiable appetite for the latest new gadget. From the Palm VII to the Samsung I300 to Windows Mobile devices to the Blackberry in all its forms; I have used them all. On the technology adoption curve, I most definitely fall into the innovator category.
As a side effect of my obsessive compulsive disorder, however, my attention span for a new device typically lasts anywhere from 8 months to a year. That is when I start eying other devices and dreaming of how cool my life would be if I only had them. It is not that my current device doesn’t serve my needs, it is just that, well… the grass is always greener elsewhere, right?
The other day I was reflecting on the fact that I am now going on almost 2 years with my iPhone and still haven’t felt the itch. It was as much a shock to me as anyone, but then it led me to the next question – Why? While I believe it is true that every moral lesson in life can be taught using a sports analogy, I also believe that every great marketing lesson can be learned from the products and services we use every day.
In my Navel Model, step number 6, “Experience”, always seems to be the least understood. I believe this is because the term “customer experience” has reached the level of cliche. People think customer experience means selling things in a nicer way. They have simply replaced “customer service” with “customer experience” when in reality, brands who deliver an experience have superseded simply selling a product. Starbucks‘ success came from moving away from selling coffee to creating an environment for meeting, relaxing, and thinking… that also sells coffee.
What are the ingredients of an amazing experience? Let’s use the iPhone as an illustration of what I call the “3 C’s of a superb customer experience”:
Customized: Every customer wants to feel like they are the only customer. Every customer wants an experience that is uniquely theirs. The first step in creating an amazing experience is to customize it to each individual customer. While the iPhone is a single device, I would venture to say that no two iPhones are the same. You can not only add whatever applications that you want from the App Store, you can rearrange the icons on your screen in whatever order you want. There is a strip of 4 applications along the bottom of your screen that stay the same no matter what page of icons you are on. Even those can be customized to be whatever applications you want. Every iPhone is personalized with accessories, ring tones, movies, music, web bookmarks, and more. Rarely do two iPhone owners use it in exactly the same way.
Not only are the phone and its accessories customized to the user, even the service and support are. Obviously, you can select your plan, but when you call in for support, my experience has been that every support technician makes you feel like your problem is the only thing he or she has to work on all day. I posted a blog about an issue I had previously and not only did the support tech walk me through it without giggling at my stupidity, he sent me a follow-up e-mail with some additional information and his personal contact info. I truly feel ownership of not only my iPhone, but of the entire Apple experience.
Consistent: At first glance, it may seem that a consistent experience is at odds with a customized experience. However, there is nothing that can kill a brand faster than a great experience the first time and a horrible one the next. In order to truly create an experience, it has to be consistent both with each customer interaction and at each location. Sometimes this is accomplished through technology, sometimes through training, and sometimes through an established process. In the case of the iPhone, I have come to expect phenomenal service, amazing technology, and simple-to-use interfaces with each contact I have had with the Apple and iPhone brands.
Constant Improvement: The beautiful thing about the free market is that if you are doing something right, inevitably your competitors will copy you. Take the Starbucks example I gave earlier. Today, Starbucks is not quite the star that it used to be. It is being attacked on all sides by competitors, most of them local brands offering something unique. They are currently going through a re-invention phase and cutting back stores. It is not because their product quality has suffered. In fact, by most accounts they still have the best coffee in town. No, it is because they stopped innovating when it came to their experience.
This is probably the area where the iPhone has excelled more than any other. While it’s true that Team Jobs makes an unbelievably cool product, they aren’t simply happy with the status quo. I have seen the evolution occur before my very eyes. I was ecstatic when I first bought my iPhone and could carry one device that was a phone, e-mail, music, video, and Internet device. Then came version 2.0 of the software that allowed me to add ring tones from my songs, move my applications around, and add new applications from the App Store. Just today, I have finally been able to add Skype to my iPhone in its native format and can now access all of my social networks and utilities right from my iPhone. With each new application comes a new and improved experience.
As always, Mr. Jobs has a habit of re-inventing industries and has done it again with the App Store as much as he has with the iPhone itself. Just as the iPod was created to sell songs through iTunes, the same holds true with the iPhone and the App Store. He has been able to do what no other carrier or device manufacturer has been able to figure out, and that is how to sell ancillary services beyond voice and data to consumers.
More importantly, however, I still love my iPhone because I love the experience. It is MY iPhone, unlike any other. I get the same experience everytime I interact with it. It keeps getting better all the time. My guess is, I’ll be an iPhone user for a long time, especially since I hear talk that the next version may have video (but that brings us back to my obsession).
What brands do you see that have created a superb experience based on the 3 C’s?