Design

When monopolies, dominant brands take consumers for granted

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In India, the oft-quoted example of how competition forced a hitherto monopoly brand to change for the better, is likely to be Indian Airlines. Consumers experienced better customer service, punctuality and more after the entry of private airlines, forcing Indian Airlines to improve its customer experience. A big manifestation of this change would be about better in-flight service and punctuality which would then have to be conveyed through advertising. That was a couple of decades ago.

In today’s world, a brand’s customer experience could be through a myriad more ways. Depending on the product category, a brand’s advertising, sales staff, website, mobile site, store, customer support staff, social media content, mobile app, actual consumption, an ATM kiosk… and more are all potential customer experience moments. It is a tough ask to offer a seamless brand experience across all these touch points. When competition is rife and tough in a category I feel brands do their darnedest in ensuring that they do a good job across such moments. But the opposite is true when there is monopoly or weak competition for a dominant brand.

The speed and alacrity with which a product experience would be re-defined is different when competition looms large. It also manifests in continuous improvement of a brand experience. I am not suggesting that monopoly or dominant brands have utter disregard for their customers and offer a downright pathetic performance, as an intent. But an element of complacency creeps in when the brand knows that the consumer has nowhere else to go. The reasons-why could vary from:

A few examples which come to mind:

IRCTC: the team behind the portal may be working really hard with respect to the site’s security, uptime and maintenance and so on. But there is no disincentive if customers have a poor experience on the site. Having said that I must say that the site has improved over the years in terms of functionality, not the design. The same could be said about other Govt sites like KSRTC too – the focus is more on the form than function.

Telecom providers: virtually telecom brand every user is likely to complain about dropped calls, poor network strengths, low data speeds and so on. The gap between advertising claims and actual delivery is likely to be highest in this category. I have been an Airtel customer for 10+ years now with many moments of sheer pain and anguish related to poor service. I used to find their website and mobile very user un-friendly for years (both have improved now). But the prospect of changing a service provider who is likely to be no different and the associated pains involved in keeping the number unchanged etc are too daunting. Typically the consumer simply accepts one’s fate and tolerates any drawbacks in customer experience.

LinkedIn: it has become the default brand for professional networking in the online world. In my view this lack of competition shows in the way they have delivered different experiences across digital screens and got away with it, in these days of similar, seamless experience across screens

Economic Times: pink paper, you say? That’s not what you’d say if you looked at the mobile apps. What’s more the look and feel of the mobile app is different from that of the tablet app. The navigation sections in the printed paper are different from that of the digital products. That is not the case with NYT, FT or USA Today – the brands looks and feels the same across forms and screens.

ET

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There are several other examples which others have mentioned on social media: ICICI Bank (it’s iPhone app was horrendously bad up until a year ago),  Tally accounting software and Craigslist to name a few.

What these brands forget is that its consumers may not be interacting with a competing brand (due to regulation or other reasons mentioned above) but they are exposed to great brand experience in other categories and would soon demand it across all brands they interact with. Good design and aesthetics is no longer restricted to premium products – take a look at affordable mobile phone handsets and beautifully designed apps & games consumers interact with.  The bar is being set high across the board. Another factor to bear in mind is that in today’s times there is no telling how soon or in what form a disruptive development will take place – negatively impacting the dominant brands and monopolies. Brands like Uber & Ola are good examples of how they disrupted the hold of unscrupulous auto & cab drivers in our cities – in double quick time. Dominant & monopoly brands should not assume things would remain the same forever and take the consumer for granted but it seems like they do.

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A marketing communications professional with a keen interest in all things advertising. I share creative ads and views on the ad industry here. Views are personal. See Disclaimer for more.

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