Saturday, January 31, 2015

Brand Love

I was at a Marriott in Minnesota recently.  It was cold and snowing that week.  One morning I get up and look out of my window to see the road and the lawn completely blanketed by snow.  I got ready and came down to go to the client office.  I had equipped myself with a muffler around my neck, ear muffs, winter gloves and a coat.  I was ready to brush the snow off my car and scrape the ice off the windshield. 

I walk out and am greeted by a car that had no snow or ice on it.  I glance around to see that someone had cleared the snow and ice off all the cars in the parking lot.  I was, to say the least, pleased with the pleasant surprise Marriott offered.  They made my life easier and they made me look cool.  While all my colleagues (staying at another hotel chain) were sweating in the Minnesota cold scraping ice off their windshield, I simply got in my car and drove off.  It not only saved my time but also saved me from the trouble of clearing show and ice in sub-zero climate.  You can bet I am going back to that Marriott.

This got me thinking about customer loyalty and brand loyalty. 

What is Customer Loyalty?

Customer loyalty is where a customer is loyal to a particular company/service/product.  Customer loyalty can be garnered by offering rewards, discounts and other perks. 

A simple act like clearing snow off cars, which is not part of their SLA or contract goes a long way in making the customer happy and finally loyal.  What Marriott did was make me cool and kick ass.  This reminded me of one of Kathy Sierra's posts on this subject (Image courtesy: Kathy Sierra).  

Brand loyalty, however has to be earned in a whole different way.  Brand loyalty is earned by offering exceptional products and services.  

Companies like Apple command brand loyalty mainly by producing excellent products that consumers want.  The products are of such high quality that they command a cult-like following of brand loyalists.  Apple has also creates an ecosystem (iTunes) that ties the customer into their products for a seamless experience (and forced brand loyalty).

Other companies indirectly force brand loyalty.  Take for example Canon or Nikon in the imaging market.  Once a consumer invests significant amount of money on the foundation product (say, the camera body) and a few accessories (say, lenses, flash, etc.), it is hard to switch to another brand due to the fact that they are different standards (say, lens coupling).  Switching would mean an entirely new investment to get back to where you were.  Not that these companies produce inferior products.  Both produce products on par with each other which makes it even more difficult to keep customers from wavering.  Hence, proprietary standards like lens coupling ensure brand loyalty. 

Customer loyalty is directly related to cost, discounts and rewards.  Once the rewards and discounts vanish, the customer will easily wander.  But, brand loyalty is not related to any of the factors mentioned above.  Irrespective of the cost or rewards, customers will always be loyal to the brand.  This kind of loyalty can only be commanded by producing exceptional products.

Everyone takes great service for granted.  Great service is not going to garner loyalty.  But the opposite is absolutely true.  Bad service will absolutely drive away customers.  Businesses should concentrate more on dispute resolution than on exceptional customer service.  It is human to make mistakes.  But, what sets apart great businesses is how they resolve disputes.

Businesses should concentrate on both customer loyalty as well as brand loyalty.  They both require different strategies and resources, but go a long way in customer retention.

Remember, the cost of customer acquisition is always higher than the cost of retention. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

16 Things from A16Z

Andreessen Horowitz published 16 areas they are focusing on for 2015.  This list is a good bellwether of what areas to research, work on, invest in, etc. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

CES 2015

Steven Sinofsky has published a nice recap of what he saw at this year's CES.  It is nice to note that batteries are improving in performance and how companies are trying to figure out ways to incorporate sensors into everyday products.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hotel Check-In Process

Many a times during my business travel, I have waited in line to check-in to my hotel room.  I have always thought that this is an area that needs improvement.  With mobile apps and today's technology, this whole operation can be automated, especially for regular registered guests.  This is a great opportunity waiting to be realized.

Several hotels have already started on this journey and trying to catch up with other industries.  Starwood properties has  already installed smart locks that can be unlocked using their mobile app.  That is one step forward.  Hilton is following suite.  Meanwhile, Marriott has an app for check-In, but you still have to get a physical key card from the front desk.

There are many aspects of travel that can be frustrating.  Especially for road warriors who travel often.  Time is of essence and we want to get what we want fast and move on.

Here are a few things (selective) that a road warrior would need online:
- Ability to check-In
- Ability to use cellphone as a key
- Ability to view available rooms (within the class of room booked)
- Ability to see pictures of the room
- Ability to choose a room from the available rooms
- Ability to be notified when the room is ready (for first occupancy or subsequent, after house keeping)
- Ability to order room service or other services
- Ability to contact concierge to get local information or a virtual concierge

These are a few things that come to my mind.  Of course, you may be thinking that I am anti-social and do not want to talk to people.  That is one of the main reasons I said these were selective.  I could choose to chat with the front desk while checking in (if they are free), or dash straight to my chosen room after a long red-eye flight.  I have been in many situations where I didn't get the information I was looking for or I had to wait in line to get serviced. 

Choice to the consumer is the future.  Given the available rooms, why can't I choose which room I want based on the information presented to me?  I have been in too many situations where I was assigned a room next to the elevator or the ice machine even though I had asked not to.  Empowering the consumer removes all these issues and gives the power to choose.

Hotels can not only reduce their operating costs, but can also make the experienced consumers really happy by implementing these optional services. 

Image courtesy:, Marriott

Wireless charging

Ever since I bought my first electric toothbrush several years ago, I wondered what it would take to incorporate similar wireless charging capabilities into phones, wearables, gaming controllers, etc.  The toothbrush doesn't have any exposed electrical contacts.  You just place it on its base station and it just charges using induction.  What if we could use similar technology to charge any other device.  Throw your phone on a mat and it charges itself.  You don't need to worry about carrying your cable.  you could potentially charge any kind of device on a single mat.  Wouldn't that be great?

Well, several companies are already making such chargers using inductive or resonant charging technology.  One of the reasons for the slow takeoff is the competing effort of three bodies: Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP), Power Matters Alliance (PMA) and Wireless Power Consortium (Qi). 

Good news is that A4WP and PMA decided to merge this week.  Yay! 

As long as we have fewer competing standards and hopefully, everyone will agree to just one standard.  This will pave the way for wireless charging to charge ahead and make a breakthrough.  Having one standard will allow the utopian charging pad which can be used to charge any kind of device. 

Looking forward to wireless charging on all the devices in the near future. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Wearables and Classics Fusion

2015 seems to be the year when wearables will be finally embraced by the mass consumers.  Montblanc kicked off the new year with the announcement of its eStrap wearable.  Coupled with the automatic, this is the perfect marriage of a wearable technology with the classic timepiece.  This will surely get the watch aficionados who are also into technology drooling. 

Image courtesy: Montblanc
Here is some press coverage of the watch.  Love to see more fusion of wearables with classic consumer goods in order to spur broad interest.