The MEX guide to user experience success


This is the second part of ‘The MEX guide to user experience success’. You can read the first part, entitled ‘Know your customer’ here.

Subsequent chapters, including ‘Faultless marketing’ and ‘Make the experience personal’ will follow over the next few weeks.

2: Choose a partner, not just a platform

Regardless of where you sit within the mobile value chain – handset manufacturer, mobile operator or software developer – you will find yourself making choices about ‘platforms’. This is one of the most loosely defined terms in the industry, applied to everything from operating systems to carrier networks. The term implies something greater than the sum of its parts, such as software which benefits from compatibility with third party applications or an alliance of companies commited to furthering particular strategic objectives.

Indeed, the most powerful platforms are those which combine technological partnerships with a strong business relationship. A successful platform strategy will leverage the strengths of several technologies and companies to help improve the user experience and – crucially – enable customers themselves to tailor their experience.

The complexity of meeting diverse customer requirements – whether you are a small software developer or a global service provider – is immense and only through building a platform which can adapt to these needs and encourages additional innovation will you be able to provide a compelling experience for all of your customers.

Enough flexbility to deliver a differentiated and constantly evolving experience

Consider the example of an operator which wants to increase data revenues. NTT DoCoMo, the largest network in the Japanese market, has been one of the most successful in this area. It’s approach is characterised by two main priorities: ensuring consistency and compatibility across its basic platform specifications and encouraging diversity, competition and third party innovation in all other areas.

In many ways DoCoMo has married the best elements of two opposing strategies: it has fostered openness and an eco-system of content and application partners, but retained control over the specifications of its handsets and network technology.

DoCoMo has achieved this by working closely with a range of partners. It collaborates with equipment vendors such as handset manufacturers and infrastructure suppliers, even investing directly in some of these businesses. With handsets, for instance, it has defined a set of minimum software requirements for devices on its network. For 3G products, these include use of a Linux-based or Symbian operating systems, Adobe’s Flash player and support for certain video and audio formats.

By combining technologies from a range of different suppliers, but co-ordinating supplier activities to ensure compatibility, DoCoMo provides content and application providers with an ideal environment for launching additional innovations. Content developers can create services for use on DoCoMo’s handsets confident they will work across all devices on the network and knowing there is a substantial installed base as a target market.

This enables customers to tailor their own mobile experience with unique applications, images and sounds. The result is a subscriber base which feels as if their mobile service reflects their individual needs. For DoCoMo, which takes a percentage of revenues from the content sold and charges for the transmission of data over its network, this translates into higher revenues.

The basic principles of a flexible platform approach can be applied to businesses throughout the mobile industry, not just those in the operator community. When you’re building your products or services, start with getting the basics right and then ensure there is scope within the platform for expansion, improvements and – above all else – the ability to respond to changing customer requirements.

A platform is only ever as good as its ability to service your customers; no amount of technology and patented intellectual property is subsitute for delighted users.

Ensure your partners understand and grow with your vision

Many companies looking to make a business in the mobile industry, particularly new players in the content sector, will recognise building and managing the complexities of technology a platform is not their core area of expertise. There are numerous solutions providers offering everything from outsourced payment mechanisms to complete environments for authoring, developing and delivering applications.

Qualcomm, for instance, provides the tools, delivery server and client software required for developing applications compatible with its BREW technology. It has seeded the market with BREW handsets through its relationships with device manufacturers and works with network operators to supply the infrastructure for delivering and charging for this content. Qualcomm also handles business relationships with content providers, ensuring they receive a percentage of revenues when their service is purchased by a user.

Nokia offers a similar programme through its Forum Nokia organisation.

For content providers, partners like these can be a valuable source of marketing assistance and technical expertise, eliminating much of the cost and time involved in reaching a large number of customers.

However, consideration of the impact on customer experience must be the basis for any decision about platform partners. You must ask yourself questions, such as:

  • Do the partners you are working with understand your vision and relationship with your users?
  • Could your partners’ strategies come into conflict with your customer experience ambitions?
  • Do their platforms offer enough flexibility to allow you to differentiate your own products and services from the competition?

At the heart of successful partner relationships is openness over technology and strategy. If you are a network operator which invests in extensive customer research, share this information with all your partners – if they understand your customers, they’ll be better equipped to help drive your business objectives. For smaller players in the software and content space, ensure you are communicating your goals clearly to the partners which control your distribution channels – if they don’t know what’s happening at the ground level, they can’t adapt to improve the overall customer experience.

It is also worth remembering that customer service and support can be your most valuable source of insight into future platform strategy. While many companies see this function purely as cost centre, it is a goldmine of information to help you understand how your partnership and platform must evolve to better meet your customer requirements.

Open the platform to third party and customer innovation

SMS is frequently cited as an example of a mobile success story which grew without any planning by the industry. While that over-simplifies the true picture, it is certainly true that peer-to-peer messaging was never anticipated as the biggest use of SMS. It is a service which customers picked up on and put to their own uses, creating a revenue stream and communications phenomena mobile executives could never have predicted.

If you provide your customers and partners with the basic building blocks it is amazing what innovations they will create. One of the most common mistakes made by companies when they first start investing in customer experience is to assume it means having more direct control over how their user’s interact with their products.

In many cases the opposite is true. Giving customers and third party developers the freedom to customise will allow a service to evolve into an entity better equipped to serve the users. The customers themselves will also feel more loyalty towards the product because they have participated in creating the experience.

Google is pioneering this approach with services designed for desktop PCs and is also starting to experiment in the mobile environment. It allows developers to use its basic platforms, such as mapping and search, to build their own customised applications. The resulting ‘mash-ups’ are often tailored for very specific markets, which Google would otherwise have been unable to identify or service itself.

This openness to third party innovation and customisation is particularly important for operators and handset manufacturers. They will need to develop tools, in collaboration with software providers, which allow customers to take control of their own experience. As competition intensifies in developed markets, it will quickly become apparent the best way to meet the diversity of customer needs is not by trying to second-guess the behaviour of all your users, but by offering simple ways for them to define their own mobile environment.

Summary

  • A successful platform strategy will leverage the strengths of several technologies and companies to help improve the user experience and – crucially – enable customers themselves to tailor their experience.
  • Start with getting the basics right and then ensure there is scope within the platform for expansion, improvements and – above all else – the ability to respond to changing customer requirements.
  • A platform is only ever as good as its ability to service your customers.
  • Share information with all your partners – if they understand your customers, they’ll be better equipped to help drive your business objectives.
  • Customer service and support can be your most valuable source of insight into future platform strategy.
  • One of the most common mistakes made by companies when they first start investing in customer experience is to assume it means having more direct control over how their user’s interact with their products.

This is the second part of ‘The MEX guide to user experience success’. You can read the first part, entitled ‘Know your customer’ here.

Subsequent chapters, including ‘Faultless marketing’ and ‘Make the experience personal’ will follow over the next few weeks.


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