Successful consumer experiences are as much about behind-the-scenes business operations and processes as they are about easy-to-use products and cool designs.
There is no doubt anymore that most companies recognize the true power of experience—thanks in large part to Apple, who has successfully emphasized user experience as an important element of success. And yet, it’s amazing to see that there is no simple definition of what “experience” really means or entails. Is it the overall interaction with a cool or smart design or is it confined to the graphic user interface (GUI)? I would say both. But I would also add that the complete user experience must also entail the service flows around various experience touchpoints.
The fact is, the experience is the art of taking all those behind-the-scenes business processes and operating complexities (which we always tend to overlook), rationalizing them into streamlined functions, and then hiding them from the user by creating easy-to-use touchpoints and cool designs. So far, this is what has set Apple ahead of the competition, even as the competition floods the market with a surfeit of Apple look-alike products.
I’ve been associated with customers who go through an innovation cycle to replicate Apple’s success. Most of these initiatives ended with marginal success, and none created any industry-changing paradigms. What they all had in common was a single-dimensional approach of hurrying the service functionality to the market. Existing operations and business processes were given short shrift and overlaid with ad-hoc upgrades in order to address service impact requirements. The result was that while the functionality excited technology innovators, it failed to generate any momentum because the experience wasn’t seamless enough.
These days, as the world becomes more connected than ever, dependency on the entire business eco-system has increased significantly. Touchpoints of customer experience now extend into multiple and diverse back end systems and processes (e.g. authentication and user identity/profile management, discovery and recommendations, download and upgrades, optimization for bandwidth and performance, campaigns and advertising, billing and revenue assurance, business analytics and service assurance, inventory and fulfillment, and third party eco-system management across CRM, billing, BI, OSS and SDP systems). Initially, it’s fairly common to overlook the complexity and impact of creating a comprehensive user experience, and when the challenge surfaces during the later phases of deployment cycles, the impending launch dates leave no room for innovation in that area.
In my experience, the most well-defined experiences get created when the impact on operations is envisioned at the same time as the product or service itself. This allows for all dependencies to be built in upfront into planning while ensuring that a separate focus is created to commit to seamless end-to-end operation. This may be possible through simple rationalization or through the evolution of existing systems, but in some cases, it may require a full transformation. As the world becomes more connected and more people and products come online, the biggest challenge to service delivery models and business processes will be to sustain dynamic ever-changing real-time user and business parameters.
This is, in fact, the difference. Apple designs for the end-to-end service—not just for a product. What this means is that companies must plan for service integration as part of an innovation strategy. At least, they do if they want Apple-like success.