User Experience (UX) and Relationship Marketing

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At the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Ford and GM both announced initiatives to make it easier for third-party developers to create apps for the on-board navigation/entertainment systems found in their cars.

Facebook agreed to purchase Instagram for an astonishing 1 billion dollars.

What do these seemingly unconnected events have to do with each other?

The answer is User Experience—or the buzzworthy “UX” for short.

In the case of the automakers, they understand that the iOS and Android smartphone experience is made better by the enormous number of apps available. The internal teams at Ford and GM have realized that providing a universe of apps that enhance the on-board experience of driving a Ford or Chevy is beyond their capabilities. Ford and GM (like Apple and Google) will provide the platform, outside developers will create apps that make the UX better, and the universe of useful apps available to their consumers will greatly expand.

In the case of Facebook and Instagram, Facebook realized that Instagram rather quickly cornered the market for mobile photo-sharing—a feature already in use on Facebook. Instagram launched in October of 2010, and has since grown its user base to 30 million users. Photo-sharing is a key driver of the “engagement model” for Facebook, and Instagram was providing a better UX. Rather than try to out do Instagram, Facebook simply bought it (at an inflated price).

According to its ISO definition, user experience is “a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service”. Customer-centric companies focus on not only selling products and services to their customers, but also understanding how their customers interact with their products. They use this feedback to continuously improve those products and services to better meet the needs of their customers—and gain loyalty and market share in return.

When we think of UX, we often use innovative and customer-focused companies such as Apple or Disney as examples of effective UX management. But effective UX doesn’t have to be as slick as the next iPhone design or as grand as the end-the-day fireworks at Magic Kingdom. Something as simple as re-designing the mustard bottle so the mustard will flow without having to shake the bottle is also an example of effective UX management. It shows that the company has thought about how the customer interacts with and uses the product, and seeks to strip away those factors that could inhibit a positive experience.

For the antithesis of this concept, we can return to Ford and Facebook.

In 1909, Henry Ford said of the Model T: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” That policy is a model of efficiency, but it’s not very customer-centric!

For Facebook, controversies surrounding user Privacy Settings—including the 2009 incident that gawker.com famously labeled “the Great Betrayal”—have tarnished the social network’s reputation among many users.

What does UX management have to do with Relationship Marketing? Well, everything.

For a company that is concerned with UX, that concern must extend to how the product or service is marketed. There must be a positive UX all the way through the cycle—awareness, trial, adoption, and advocacy. Relationship Marketing affords the marketer the opportunity to interact with customers on an individual basis, understand their needs and wants, provide relevant information and offers, and communicate via the channel that customer chooses.

There is no greater UX for a customer than the feeling of being listened to and understood. Data-enabled Relationship Marketing can be the catalyst for this kind of experience, and smart companies know that Relationship Marketing is an integral part of their overall UX plan.

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