What makes up a user’s experience of purchasing and using a product from any given company? There is a discoverability/marketing component, where the customer needs to be made aware of a product’s existence. There is the purchase decision component, where various factors, many psychological, come together to make a transaction happen. There is the actual product usage component, which lies squarely on the customer and is what we often refer to when we talk about “user experience.” Finally, there is the customer acquisition and retention component. For a product without users is the proverbial tree falling in the forest.
The truth is that over the course of the current business era, a loose term I am using to describe how current business trends have lined up, companies have been focused on marketing, purchase, and are starting to move toward a full embrace of user experience and customer service. Mature companies have thought through all of these components and are doing well. But many others are still faltering when it comes to these last two big components.
The time seems to have finally come when companies are beginning to realize that offering top quality service is the key to community building, customer acquisition, and retention strategies. A new business era is beginning, and this new era is what I am calling Service as a Service.
It’s the rediscovery of service. The offering of top quality product coupled with top quality personal experience which keep customers coming back, and becomes a compelling draw for new customers. It’s about end-to-end relationships with customers and recognizing that customer loyalty is about to trump volume product sales in terms of product strategy.
And it all makes sense: as companies come to terms with the fact that they have to build less product, but better, they realize the volume game doesn’t work any more. Our markets, both physical and virtual, are flooded with products, things, nicknacks, sundries, and novelties. We live in the abundance of our age, where everything is available at the click of a mouse; even shipping time is being reduced to create the shortest wait possible for physical goods.
And as more companies are UX experts shape up product offerings, cull massive lists and focus on core competencies and superior user experience, the only place left to play seems to be customers.
A new-ish concept is that of growth hacking, which is the practice of growing a company’s user base in the desirable “hockey stick” pattern. Whether you consider this marketing or a separate entity, that’s irrelevant. The fact is companies are embracing the growth hacker, the community manager, and other skill sets of the like to focus undeniably on customers. On service.
2-4 years ago, we all started talking about community building in the publishing industry. And this is finally coming into its own. Large houses are starting to hire people to focus on communities more; they are perhaps realizing that the community/customer retention aspect of what was traditionally performed by the “indies” is not so far off. Today, it seems, almost every publishing company is getting involved in the community game.
And what does this actually mean? First off, it means we are beginning to take the benefits of direct-to-consumerism seriously. It means we are starting to come around to understanding how to compile and analyze data that is generated from our users and customers. It means we are accepting that volume is not going to work in an overabundant world, but user experience and SaaS is.
I would argue that a latent manifestation of this is in our current obsession with discoverability. While in itself not salable, discoverability is a service that publishers are pushing to show that we can best serve readers. “Let us help you find something you want to read. That’s what we’re here for” is the added value of discoverability.
And so, to all the community builders out there, to the data analysts, to those studying customer behavior, there is more to what you are doing than just building a community or compiling a massive group of people. You are setting the stage for the next wave of customer interaction, which is primarily focused on not just selling, not just offering a good user experience in regards to product usage, but also on treating your customers well.
Ultimately, as supply skyrockets and demand remains flat, service (aka end-to-end user experience) becomes an essential component to navigating the business landscape.
As publishers, as media companies, it is up to us to define how we treat our customers, who we’ve never had to interact with ever in the past. It is essential that we comprehend the implications of customer service and d-2-c relationships on the wellbeing of our businesses. Let’s not be scared, and go forth into the good night…