What makes us prefer one cola drink over another, or choose one vehicle manufacturer, particular clothing brand, or phone brand over another? While there might be one major factor, there are usually multiple factors or dimensions that help us make our choices — all of which add up to an overall satisfaction or quality score. Over time, our satisfaction with a product or service may increase or decrease due to good or bad experiences. If delighted, we might review the product/service and leave 5 stars (a promoter) as a way of rating or measuring our satisfaction. If dissatisfied, we might leave a scathing review and 1 star (a detractor). So, feedback on a product or service can not only directly impact the reputation of that product or service, it can also impact the vendor’s reputation, their brand value and ultimately their bottom line. While there are perceived or actual costs associated with quality, poor quality often has even greater costs.
First impressions play a critical role in our perceptions of a product or service — and in fact the vendor and the vendor’s brand. If your first experience involved constant issues with a product or service and the vendor fails to address the issues, you might decide never to do business with them again.
A brand name or previous experience of a product can be key influencers in buying your next product or service. Depending on how good or how positive and how widespread these experiences are, over time a product can sell itself.
Quality – an Experiential Encounter
While having many meanings, one definition of quality that resonates with me is the set of inherent properties of an object or service that satisfies a set of stated or implied needs.
From the discussion above I would assert that the same rules apply when it comes to software products and services.
Multiple “dimensions” help build my overall perception of quality through the experience of using a product. In short, over time I may come to trust and value that experience and how it meets my particular set of needs and wants. This can sometimes be represented by a product quality score or metric as shown in figure 1.
Figure #1: Example of a product quality score
From Start to Finish
Software products have their own lifecycle and can be packaged, licensed and offered in various form factors to meet different buyers’ needs. This can range from acquiring a product that is downloaded locally with the responsibility for management and maintenance on the downloader, to software that is hosted and managed by a third party and provided as a service through a pay-as-you-go subscription model based on processing and data consumption.
From a buyer’s / user’s experience it starts with the discovery of the product often following the journey shown in figure #2. Prospective users might learn about other people’s experiences with a product over time, helping to build the product’s reputation within the marketplace among their peers. That can be a powerful influence to driving people to their first encounter with maybe a no-charge online trial. An organization might then be invited to create an account, upload some data and experiment with certain features and capabilities. Ease of use, intuitiveness, a unified experience, performance, convenience, stability of the product, how it is packaged and priced, all play a key role in determining whether the user decides if the product meets their organization’s needs. These are all effectively “tipping points” to whether or not a buyer proceeds with paying for the product licenses and their preferred consumption model.
Products that require local or remote installations need to provide a smooth problem-free installation and configuration experience. If a product takes days and weeks to install or is dogged with issues, it will leave the user with the perception that it might be just as difficult to use as it is to install. When a product is part of bigger ecosystem of products it needs to integrate seamlessly within that ecosystem or infrastructure. It needs to provide a consistent look and feel – as well as use the same terminology. Lack of a unified experience at any point along an organization’s journey may give the impression that the vendor does not have a clear strategy of how one or more of the jigsaw pieces fit together moving forward.
Every touch point, every encounter along the lifecycle of the product determines what the buyer does next.
Vendors need to provide a high-quality experience – from the buying experience, through to order fulfilment, install, configuration, usability, service and support, upgrades and maintenance, feature and capability enhancements, engaging the buyer without burdening them in any aspect of the process. It’s a delicate balance. But if a vendor gets it just right, it can result in happy clients promoting the product/offering to other customers through positive feedback.
Figure #2: Buyer’s / user’s journey – based on IBM design universal experiences
Service and Support Excellence
Every vendor wants buyers to rave about their products. Every touch point is an opportunity to grow brand loyalty as this can result in future upsell and cross-sell opportunities. Conversely, one bad encounter can put all that hard work and loyalty at risk. How a support or service call is managed can determine the future relationship between the consumer and vendor. The vendor’s own culture in managing the support experience and resolving all issues can help maintain and even repair a damaged relationship – particularly during stressful times when a critical system is down. It’s not good enough to just meet expectations, vendors need to set out to exceed expectations.
Market Applicability and Longevity
When designing and building a product, customer segmentation is important. The size of the customer segment can determine revenue and profit margins. If the product is positioned for a niche market, opportunities may be limited. For example, a software product that only works for one particular infrastructure or cloud provider or only works on-premise for a particular customer industry limits the market opportunity. A customer’s journey may start on-prem with the objective of moving to cloud or an “as-a-Service” offering over a particular time scale – and needs to be part of a seamless experience. This will vary from organization to organization as will the velocity of their journey as shown in figure #3. Organizations need to be able to start simple and grow as the business demands. Vendors need to think about how their offerings – from point product to say a complete data and AI platform can adapt with each client’s journey. Even if the client makes strategic architectural changes and decisions on their chosen infrastructures (yes plural “infrastructures”, as many large enterprises may have invested in several different cloud providers and infrastructures to meet the dynamic and growing needs). Having software that can transparently run on and is portable to any cloud provider and infrastructure widens the market applicability and, therefore, the opportunity and product longevity. The unified experience needs to be consistent across all platforms.
Figure #3: Entry points to IBM Cloud Pak for Data – available in different form factors
In closing, we have discussed what could be considered the different dimensions of quality. But cost and value play a big role. A product may have all the bells and whistles an organization may ever need and want – but if the total cost of ownership outweighs the perceived value, the longevity of the product might be limited, no matter how good the quality of it is – ultimately impacting brand loyalty and the vendor’s bottom line.
So, when considering, say a data and AI offering – whether a point product or a complete platform solution, prospective clients will want to know how it will meet their immediate and long terms needs, whether they will be locked into a situation that limits their future flexibility. They will seek other clients’ or peers’ insights and experiences of value to the business, support and service, feature function, install, provisioning, capability, upgrades, maintenance, the user experience. These insights may come from case studies, customer testimonials, word of mouth, press or industry analyst reviews. Everything is on the line. Everything is an opportunity for success or failure. It just depends on how each client’s relationship is built and managed through every encounter. Get it right at every point and the product can potentially sell itself on its own merits.
And finally, I invite you to try IBM Cloud Pak for Data as a Service, at no charge , by clicking on this link.
Let us know what you think by including you feedback on the product trial page.