A fantasic product will only take you so far to success. I have argued that a strategy based mainly on product differentiation; without considering other aspects of a customer’s journey, is not a robust strategy for the long run.
Simply, it is hard to stay ahead of the pack simply by product differentiation. Design, engineering, and manufacturing capabilities throughout the world have improved so an innovative product can come from most anyplace now. These global capabilities mean that reverse engineering and offering a product that is almost-as-good is a viable strategy. (Think Hyundai competing in the automotive market. Many of their models look like other well-known brands but are much less expensive and have comparable performance).
In many markets, buyers are very close to making up their minds before purchasing.
The internet plays a role in this as well. Consumers can find out a lot about a product through websites, product reviews, and various social media. In many markets, buyers are very close to making up their minds before purchasing. This information lowers the risk of buying a lesser-known product.
This type of strategy brings me to a recent experience I had with an iconic brand, Apple. I have an iPhone 6s. Like many other buyers, I found the performance of the two-year-old phone declining and decided to take it to the local Apple store to have the battery checked. I walked into the store and found a support person who put me on the list for battery checks. I was instructed to take a seat at a table with seven other people, all waiting for a battery check.
Given that the Apple battery recall is generating much traffic, I would have thought there’d be signs in the store to direct customers to the proper place for service. None were there!
After a few minutes at the table, another customer commented that “Apple makes a great product, but their customer service is terrible,” to which others around the table agreed. The young technician working with us was quite knowledgeable and apologized for the wait. He laboriously checked the battery for each customer to see if it did need to be replaced. If it did, he went to a back room to physically check the battery inventory. Given the technical prowess of Apple, I would have thought he would have had that information on his iPad.
I am not certain how well organized their inventory was as it took him quite a while with each customer to determine if the battery was in stock or if it would need to be ordered.
During one of these trips to the back room, another of the customers at the table expressed his frustration with the service experience and said he would look at other products the next time he needed a phone. Others at the table were more ambivalent about the customer experience. Most said they would probably repurchase Apple but that the service experience on that Saturday was causing them to question the product.
My sample of Apple customers is so small I cannot draw any conclusions. However, given the sentiments expressed by most of the seven people around the table, Apple needs to consider ways to improve the retail customer experience.
Remember, a fantastic product can only take you so far on the road to long-term success.