The Quest to keep Tech Customers Loyal

As early as 1999, I started looking closely at the concept of customer loyalty and, more specifically, what would it take to keep me loyal to a particular OS or service.

As a heavy technology user going back to the early 1980’s, my own computing journey took me through various PC operating systems, applications and dozens of hardware devices and platforms that delivered a lot of functionality but, in most cases, were proprietary to each platform with data localized and hard to keep straight. I had some files on one system, other files on another system, etc.

My biggest problem in those days was with email clients. As a small business user, I did not have access to things like Lotus Notes or even richer email programs that had some semblance of synchronization as part of the program. My email was highly localized and tied to a single machine, something that caused a great deal of frustration since, as an analyst, I had to use many different PCs in my work.

Thankfully by 2000, I was able to switch over to Microsoft’s Outlook and ActiveSync and I was finally able to have an email client on multiple machines. My email was now always in sync no matter what machine I was on. In another fortuitous event, I started consulting for a company called Intellisync and during that time came to understand the importance of synchronization and how it would eventually become the glue that kept all of my files, data, content, etc. up to date at all times.

This consulting assignment also shaped my view of the loyalty question. It became clear, at least to me, that if a company could create an OS environment or service that would allow me to have my digital world synchronized at all times, then this company would earn my long term loyalty. In the end, I wanted my email, files, contacts, docs, etc. all in sync and available in this updated mode all of the time. I would use these products and services faithfully because of how it would impact my digital life.

In a sense, this is what Apple, Google and even Microsoft are attempting to do as part of their grand strategic visions. Microsoft calls their version Microsoft ONE, Google’s might be called “Google Everywhere” and Apple uses the term “continuity” to describe their approach to this idea. My friend Walt Mossberg over at Re/code wrote a good piece entitled “How the PC is merging with the Smart Phone” which talks about Apple’s continuity approach to make the PC act, look and work like an iOS based iPhone or tablet. He also mentions how Google is doing something similar with their Chromebooks and Android.

These are good first steps but I really believe consumers are asking for this merged experience on all of the screens in their digital lifestyles. Apple’s CarPlay program has this in mind as they offer a version of iOS to automakers and I am hoping they soon apply this concept to the Apple TV too. In the end, this idea of a single UI, with connected and synced screens and apps, will go a long way towards helping these companies keep their customers happy and, at the same time, use this to entice them to stay in their Apple, Google or Microsoft ecosystem.

This does not mean some people won’t also have devices from other ecosystems. Today, my primary smartphone is an iPhone but I also carry a Samsung Note 3 tied to a Gear 2 smartwatch and one of my key laptops is a Windows PC. In today’s world of diverse devices, especially among knowledge workers, this mixed OS and mixed ecosystem is the norm.

I believe the three big players – Apple, Google and Microsoft – are all driving towards this vision of all of their devices being connected, synced and working the same. The company who pulls this off in the most concise and elegant fashion stands to build an extended loyal customer base that lives within this ecosystem and, because their customers invest more and more in the devices tied to that ecosystem, they will most likely become lifetime loyal customers and not easily swayed to jump to another ecosystem easily.

Of these three companies, Apple seems to have the best chance of delivering on this vision in the short term. I have been testing the new version of Mac OS X called Yosemite and am struck by how close the Mac and iOS are becoming in terms of look, feel and functionality. More importantly, the role iCloud plays in keeping all of our content in sync and easily accessible across the Mac, iPad and iPhone should create in those who buy into Apple’s ecosystem even more loyalty.

I don’t see the same level of continuity and clarity of this concept yet in Google or Microsoft’s world but as I stated earlier this too is a big part of their longer term strategy. I also see this type of continuity in a lot of services. Facebook and Twitter have the same UI across all devices and keep everything in sync. Same for Twitter, Instagram, etc. I also find it in productivity apps like Gmail and my favorite productivity tool, Evernote.

In the future, I really think that, when it comes to developing loyal customers, this issue of creating an environment that has the same look and feel and keeps people’s UIs, apps and services in sync will become a major differentiator for hardware and software companies and services and, in the end, drive the greatest level of loyalty. If they don’t deliver, it will be hard to compete in a world where customers expect all of their digital stuff to be easy to find, instantly accessible and always in sync.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

24 thoughts on “The Quest to keep Tech Customers Loyal”

  1. Probably… just “not burning your customers”, would be a good place to start.
    Cutting support and orphaning systems has happened too fast and too frequently, in far to many companies.
    The latest and greatest is fine I am sure, but having to learn a whole new system, while being torn unwillingly from the comfortable and familiar, is going to do nothing but engender resentment.
    Only the very young, or complete techno-geeks think learning the newest thing is OK, fun or cool.
    The vast mass of late adopters are not looking for change – they are looking for continuity.

    1. I think I agree with you but I am not sure if you are talking about Microsoft’s Windows 8 disaster on the desktop or if you are upset that Apple in a number of cases is quick to orphan systems that you would think they should still support at the expense of future progress?

      The thing is that anyone that is a late adopter does not know or care about the history of the technology. They just want the technology that they purchase today to work well for them. For example, I am sure to many when they look at the standard keyboard and see F keys they have no idea why they are there and when they would ever be used. Having the F keys there does provide continuity from the old CLI (Command Line Interface) world to the GUI (Graphical User Interface) worlds. Of course for most people if they where not there they would not miss them.

      So there are going to be times when it does make sense to cut off the old to make things easier for the next generation of technology buyers. The next billion people getting online have needs that are much different that those of us who have been using technology for the last 30+ years. So we should not burden them with things that they do not want or need.

  2. “Thankfully by 2000, I was able to switch over to Microsoft’s Outlook and ActiveSynch and I was finally able to have an email client on multiple machines. My email was now always in synch no matter what machine I was on.”

    This might be a dumb question, was there a reason you couldn’t just use an IMAP email account? I know, not exactly on topic, but I was curious.

    1. I am going to take a guess but IMAP is only for e-mail and Microsoft Outlook with ActiveSync also does contacts and calendars. Also IMAP also has only recently started to become the standard. Many ISPs and email service providers have been pushing POP for a long time as it kept the load off of their servers but when you have more than one device it is not the right solution as the changes you make on one device do not carry over to the rest of them.

      1. Ah, contacts and calendars makes sense. We’ve been doing IMAP email for clients for many, many years, any of my clients that use multiple devices and travel a lot, that’s what we set up. It’s been around for quite a while. But it seems Outlook only recently became able to do IMAP?

        1. Outlook has been able to do IMAP for a while but its implementation has not been the best. For example, when you would delete an email on Outlook it used to just put a line through the message title and not remove it from the message list. It is only when you moved to another folder would it clear it from the list when you came back.

        1. Most people need a lot more. This is why Google has implemented not only IMAP but CardDAV and CalDAV support on Gmail so you at least have the option to use a native client. However ActiveSync is still king for businesses. This is why Apple did license ActiveSync technology for iOS and then OS X as it was and still is one of the best ways to keep your e-mail, contacts and calendars in sync. In the consumer space I am quite happy with iCloud and what Apple is doing there.

          Tim, FYI it is ActiveSync and not ActiveSynch. 🙂

          1. Thanks..My stint with Intellisynch seems to force me to write Synch on everything.

  3. Only Apple delivers UX. Neither Google nor Microsoft have demonstrated the ability to design, engineer, manufacturer, market, distribute, and support hardware successfully. For Google, its OS is milk most often delivered in a honey wagon. For Microsoft, it’s Dell.

      1. Everything. Altho’ the “software is eating hardware” mantra has had some validity over the last couple years, it’s never really been a matter of software OR hardware; it’s both. Apple’s iOS wouldn’t be what it is visually without retina; it’s security wouldn’t be what it is without Touch ID; its games without Metal; it’s gesturing without M7; it’s speed and battery life without A7. And Apple is just getting started with new materials and sensors.

          1. Do you? “User experience design … is the process of enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product. User experience design encompasses traditional human-computer interaction (HCI) design, and extends it by addressing all aspects of a product or service as perceived by users.” Wiki

          2. You just took a paragraph out of context that MAY regard to hardware. Cheeky.
            You may as well extrapolate to manufacturing and mining influencing UX.

          3. That’s a straw man argument.

            Anyway, here’s how I see it. You said having good hardware automatically improves UX, such as Metal creates smooth games. I say UX is automatically setting the quality of graphics based in available hardware so that the game is smooth regardless of hardware. That’s a good user experience in my book.

            From what I understand, that’s where we disagree.

          4. In the real world, hardware like Metal makes a difference. Great UX regardless of hardware is … let’s say, theoretical at best.

          5. That’s what UX is in my book. Offer the best possible solution given the available hardware, not waiting for everyone to use the latest hardware.

          6. Also, since you posted the second part of the comment later I’ll respond to it now.

            Apple maps may work for you, but it doesn’t for me. It still uses a black and white satellite picture for my home town and only major streets are covered. 0 business as well. It’s not regarded as bad because it never works (I’m sure there are locations where Apple maps works better) but on AVERAGE it’s much much worse.

            And give me a break with “it’s better because of experience”. Lot’s of companies are old but shitty and vice-versa. There’s 0 correlation between those parameters.

            Also, I do NOT say Apple does not have good UX or that it has bad products (mostly) so don’t start preaching.

          7. I never said all things are better because of experience. I only said Apple has committed itself to the effort for thirty years, through thick and thin.

            Are you suggesting that having no experience is equal to a lot of experience? That’s your zero correlation?

            You are down to laughable positions. Just push the king over and be done with it.

          8. I actually don’t think we understand each other. I never said experience isn’t worth anything, I just said experience doesn’t guarantee good products.
            And I don’t know what “positions” you’re talking about. You’re probably imagining a different conversation.

  4. I have to agree with all of your points Tim with a few additions to the conversation. Samsung would definitely like a bigger piece of the pie after the original purchase and with the competition coming on from the Chinese, Samsung will definitely be squeezed in the middle. Google wants their handsets loaded with all Google services and I could definitely see a day or a point where they would be wise to profit share add revenues,games and content revenue with pure Android implementations by OEM’s. This gives a serious benefit in revenue to the OEM’s cutting of the Chinese AOSP manufacturers at a disadvantage except on price.
    Loyalty from customers and manufacturers is earned. It starts with a quality reliable , product. Easy expansion and maintenance ( swappable batteries for one thing) extend the usefulness. Reliable, quality software is expected these days. Have a method in place to insure that with either certified or approved apps list. IT control features for Enterprise for the workplace to compete with Apple/IBM/MS. The final piece of the puzzle these days has to be unified communications, cloud backup, and media services in order to compete withe the stack that Apple has brought together over the years.
    Samsung/LG have display IP. Sony has optics/games and multimedia. Lenovo has engineering/IT/cost. The whole market should be an extremely competitive market with many niche products. Google has the responsibility to provide the right mix of backend pieces to make it thrive.

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