Differentiating Through Superior Service

Ross makes a couple of interesting observations about the value of end user support for complex products. As this relates to Apple, Ross’ inspiration for the post, they really nail it when it comes to customer experience. First they create products that minimize the need for support and then they couple that to a retail strategy to emphasizes an anti-sales strategy that builds in “white space” in their retail square footage and encourages lounging in addition to shopping.

I’ve bought more stuff at Apple stores just because I dropped in to use their network to work, get help or ask a few questions. I buy Apple products because they work and because there is a company that I know will stand behind them. Not everything Apple is great, but they are consistently better than the competition.

Ross makes a good point about support being a cost center as opposed to a revenue driver and for most companies this is true and it’s also why they underinvest in support and compensate by over-investing in sales. Yeah that sounds funny to suggest but if companies looked at support as a revenue creator they would re-proportion how they invest in it.

When Sony started opening retail outlets this attitude was front and center. Their retail spaces were crowded and cluttered, the store personnel were behind counters and usually adjacent to a cash register, and no where was hanging out or learning about how you use the products you already own apparent. They have bombed in comparison to Apple and it’s no surprise to me, and I’d be willing to bet that Sony relied on retail sales people to build their retail strategy.

For enterprise software companies end user support is not likely something companies will differentiate themselves with, but it’s certainly something they can hurt themselves with by not investing sufficiently in. Simplifying products to minimize multi-vendor support is an obvious opportunity but probably not too likely given that enterprise software in inherently complex, at the moment at least.

Lastly, it’s easy to talk a good game when it comes to customer and community support, in reality it’s really hard and very few companies do it well. While we can all learn from Apple on this point, just being like Apple isn’t really a strategy either.

So I wonder if Apple’s vertical integration strategy is what makes this possible. Is the 50% rule only a rule if you tackle the multi-vendor support problem? Alignment or integration between Marketing and Support plays a role and some organizations put the same person in charge of Product Quality and Support. But this opportunity space inherently requires rethinking not just organizational boundaries, but the firm itself.

[From Ross Mayfield’s Weblog: Service and the Fifty Percent Rule]