In his 1994 book “The Pursuit of WOW!” business speaker and writer Tom Peters observed that American auto manufacturers had achieved parity with their foreign counterparts for product quality and reliability. However, public perception was lagging. His research showed that while those metrics had significantly improved since the low mark of the 1970s, American automotive styling appeared dated when compared to imports. He observed that the only thing differentiating vehicles in the eyes of the public was how they looked. “In other words, it is no longer enough that a car works well. It has to look like it works well.”
Would anyone buy a Bentley if it looked like a Chevrolet? No knock to Chevy but you pay that extra $200,000 for a Bentley because it explicitly does not look like a Chevrolet (or a Ford, etc.). You pay for the perception.
Whether it’s a car, a coffee pot or software, our perception of quality, competence and reliability are shaped by how things look. On the other hand consider this: an Apple iPhone is a Smartphone. Motorola makes smart phones too. Apple charges twice as much for theirs. Why? Because they can. Because they are perceived as higher quality. Are they? Maybe. Maybe not. But the public believes they are and shells out the money. An Apple iPhone looks like it works well.
We underestimate the value of product differentiation. Silly us. Risk takers and “what ifers” know the value of it. They bring forth products that are changing the game and disrupting the market. Case in point: a few years ago Hyundai, which was formerly known for building capable but otherwise frumpy cars, introduced their “Fluidic Sculpture” design theme, beginning with their bread-and-butter Sonata family sedan. The design was dramatically different. Sales shot through the roof. Hyundai took away market share from Camry, Accord and Altima. Like Apple with its iPhone, they changed the perception by offering breakthrough design. So, was the Fluidic Sculpture version of the Sonata of higher quality than the previous model? Actually, no. But that’s the point. The quality was there to begin with (relative to the price point, of course) but the perception of the vehicle changed. The Sonata’s appearance became a testament to its high quality.
I worked for a start up in the early 2000s that sold an entirely capable, competent, SaaS-based software product. Like most startups, the software was initially built ad hoc by developers working long hours and for little pay. Our reputation grew to become as strong as our ambition and sales steadily climbed. Nevertheless, we knew that to really grow the company in a big way we had to elevate the product and diversify the client base. That meant moving beyond the smaller agencies and getting our foot in the door of some major corporate accounts with software that looked as good as it operated. With Tom Peter’s dictum above in mind, we did a significant user interface overhaul. It took a year, but when it was completed, our client roster included BNSF railroads, Vanderbilt University, McKesson, DaVita and a host of other big players. Behind the scenes, the functional code was the same, however, now, it had a cutting edge appearance that was worth every penny.
So, is good design, functionality and customer service enough to sell a product? Uh…no. You also need competence.
Without it, you end up with something like those British cars of the 1960s: passionate design mated to dispassionate ability. No one cared if an engine was prone to oil leaks as long as the car looked good and sold. No one bothered to improve the engine in order to stop engine leaks. Perhaps no one knew how. The difference between a journeyman and a “what ifer” is the difference between Its good enough and we know how to make it better and we should.
Competence is the process of continual improvement. It is wisdom and knowledge. It is experience. It is lessons learned, processes improved and dogged, persistent refinement.
Not too long ago Seibels did one of those mental exercises where we tried to tally up the cumulative years of insurance industry knowledge among all our current employees. You know how it goes. It sounds fun to say, “We have a combined 50 years of experience in the industry.” Since I had worked for several startups, I knew this was a useful marketing device to offset the relative newness of the company. After all, you can’t say “Been in business since…er, last year.” For Seibels, we exhausted ourselves after the tally surpassed 300 years. Plus, it seemed a bit smug to go around touting a figure like that. We knew we could make the same point by emphasizing our competence. After all, we’re well known for it.
We are an insurance service provider with a focus on technology, and we have deep knowledge of it. All of it.
Just like the software company, the user interface (UI) for our software products had become dated, and a complete overhaul was due. Throughout 2014 and 2015 we began re-introducing our products which featured a much more appealing and streamlined user interface. It is easier to navigate and conforms to all of the technology industries best practices for visual scalability and multi-platform support.
It isn’t dependent on any specific brand or version of browser. Use it on Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer… even Apple’s Safari. It isn’t for Windows only, or Apple. Use it on anything from a 10” tablet to a giant monitor. It will scale to visually optimize itself for each. With our new user interface, we can customize the look-and-feel so it looks like it belongs to you, not to us.
So in conclusion….
Delivering a world-class product is all about strong functionality, deep competence and exceptional customer service all wrapped up in innovative design. To learn more about how we can provide all-encompassing insurance technology solutions
to your business, contact us
Blog post written by Richard Carson, Web Developer