In this age when markets are teeming with equally brilliant products, the question is no longer “Who does it better?” but “Who delivers it better?”
A few years back, the consumer spotlight was on the brands that created the best innovations. Impressive products were what made customers happy.
Take Apple for example.
Everybody was surprised when Apple, a tech company that developed mostly desktop and laptop computers, ventured into the mobile phone industry and unveiled the iPhone. It was among the first mobile phones that dropped the physical keyboard in favor of a full capacitive touchscreen. It was a tiny, handheld computer that can do plenty of things. At the time, there was nothing quite like it in the consumer tech niche.
And so the game was over, and Apple won it. Over Nokia. Over Motorola. Over other frontrunners in the mobile phone industry at the time.
Now, however, brands’ and customers’ priorities have changed. Of course, good products will always have an undisputable value, but it appears it’s been relegated to just another one of consumers’ expectations. Probably because the market’s saturated with equally brilliant products, people started looking past what brands can offer and are now placing more value on how they’re offering it.
From product-centric to people-centric
In the contemporary marketplace, brands no longer pay isolated attention to their products. Instead, they’ve begun to look at their products within a context. Are they making the right products that capture what customers want? Are they delivering these to the right customer at the right time through the right channel? This approach is more customer-centric, experience-focused, and hence more holistic.
The ensuing business competition thus became largely driven by people’s emotions: Who can make customers happy? Who do customers trust the most? Who can make people’s lives easier? Customer experience—not impressive products—is now the best brand differentiator and the most powerful weapon for business success.
Taking it a step further: the frictionless experience
The brands that are truly revolutionizing the consumer experience are the most proactive ones. These brands anticipate their customers’ needs then address those needs before customers even realize they have them. In doing so, these companies create a “frictionless” experience—hassle-free and effortless.
But before you can do this, it’s worth looking at what “frictionless” means. This is how customer experience expert Don Peppers, founder of management consulting firm Peppers & Rogers Group, defines the concept:
“…the ideal customer experience should be designed to be frictionless. The ideal experience would require no extra effort on the customer’s part, it wouldn’t require the customer to repeat anything they’ve already said, and wouldn’t pose any obstacles to meeting the customer’s need.
Probably, in fact, the ideal customer experience would be no experience at all, to the customer. That is, the only thing the customer would ‘experience’ would be the elimination of whatever need or problem drove them in the first place. So when you design your own company’s customer experience, you should aspire to that goal—the goal of receding from the customer’s awareness altogether, fading into the background of the customer’s life, never to cause a worry or require a task of any kind.”
One of the brands closely emulating these principles is Amazon. Though currently a prototype open to Amazon employees only, their new convenience store called Amazon Go is an interesting example. The store makes use of sensors and other technologies to identify the products that customers pick up, re-shelve, and add to their virtual shopping cart. After shopping, customers can just head out without having to stand in long checkout lines. Their Amazon account will then be automatically charged.
Car-hailing apps Lyft and Uber, which became popular in recent years, are another good example. With an app, they enable their users to book a cab to pick them up and take them to their destinations. With these services, they eliminate the hassle of waiting for taxis outside or competing with other cab-waiting passengers to grab a ride.
Innovative processes, not products
Notice anything similar among these companies? They don’t offer new products. What they offer is a different and much more convenient way of doing things. They focus on the customers’ journey and provided an easy way to get customers from point A to B. And in doing so, they deliver a frictionless experience.
Customer experience—not impressive products—is now the best brand differentiator and the most powerful weapon for business success.
The framework behind this, however, is much more complicated. For this to work, brands must manage customer information well. We’re talking about browsing histories, credit card information, people’s locations, product preferences, and even day-to-day schedules. Plus, they must effectively leverage different technologies and integrate them with their customer support system. It’s a lot of work, but the brands that can make this work will be setting the bar for the ideal consumer experience.
In the coming years, we can surmise that delivering frictionless customer experiences will be brands’ biggest and most important goal. We’re entering an age wherein companies will be focusing less on products. Rather, they’ll be thinking of ways to allow customers to maximize and enjoy their products—that is, through innovative and frictionless experiences.