We wish we had direct access to the people who use our products, the mobile phone manufacturers often complain. If only the customers felt as dependent on our service as they do on the physical devices, opine the network providers.
Twas ever thus – handset and network brands are mutually dependent, but envious of the hold they imagine the other has on ‘their’ customer.
In 2008, a Maritz funded project in the United States found that when choosing smartphone contracts, network factors accounted for around 60% of the customer’s decision versus 40% for the handset. In a market where handsets are subsidised within the contract, I’d call that a score draw.
Today, of course, there’s a host of content providers trying to muscle in on this strained relationship; app designers, media owners or, more seriously, the OS and eco-system providers who provide the (retail) window into this world of possibilities. Everyone wants to create enthusiasm that brings customers to spend more with their brand, continue using them in future and stick with them even if it means changing something else next time around.
What really drives the emotional connection that keeps customers coming back is providing positive experiences strong enough to force their way into people’s minds when they are next in the market: ‘The service from my network is so helpful … my handset is just so easy to use … I couldn’t imagine life without the app store …’
In recent UK research across a range of sectors, we found huge variation in the proportion of ‘satisfied’ customers who could recall some kind of positive experience with the brand - anything from half to more than three-quarters. Even once they’ve got the basics right, some brands do much better jobs of delivering memorable experiences than their direct competitors – and they benefit from much higher levels of customer loyalty.
But what the ‘competing’ parties fail to realise is that it’s not a zero-sum game. When mobile services fail to meet their expectations, everyone loses a bit of shine; when they work beautifully, punters don’t worry about whether it’s the network, handset or app that’s brought them the moment of joy.
So what do networks, handsets and content providers have to do to gain the favour of customers? In some ways it’s pretty simple:
1. Make sure you get the basics right.
2. Give customers experiences (services included) that really make a positive difference.
3. Then, and only then, worry about branding the experience.