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How Big Companies Keep Consumers Happy With Product Micro-Changes (and How You Can, Too)

No, you don't need a major overhaul to keep customers coming back for more. Just ask Apple.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As of this writing, the iPhone XR and iPhone XS dominate the homepage of Apple’s website. Their pitch? Longer battery life, faster performance and better photo quality.

Daniel Acker | Getty Images

Sound familiar? This is the same pitch we’ve been hearing since these products came into being.

Related: The 7 Steps of Effective Product Development

Clearly, Apple's strategy is to keep its consumers' mouths watering via tiny, seemingly insignificant changes. From 2007 to 2009, the iPhone's various versions remained almost identical, with each iteration offering faster performance, longer battery life and better photos. Then the phones got bigger, until 2015, then smaller again, and then bigger again. Of course, each new version was faster, crisper, and longer-lasting.

And, sure, if you compared the 2007 version of the iPhone to today's, you’d see a difference, but the two wouldn’t be completely unique. Knowing nothing of Apple, in fact, you could still probably guess that both phones had been made by the same company.

The craziest part? Apple is one of the most successful companies in the world, with $265.6 billion in sales in 2018 and 132,000 employees. Which begs the question: Has Apple figured something out that their smaller competitors haven’t?

After all, it's not the only company making billions of dollars on product micro-changes; Sony and Microsoft’s PlayStation (86 million PS4s shipped) and XBoX have been doing something similar. So too has every other smartphone, tablet and computer on the market.

But, why? And how could you make your customers happy using the same degree of product micro-changes?

Keep change as simple as possible.

Truth is, people are easy to please …

Switching to a different product takes a lot of work. When consumers decide to jump ship, they have to find, vet and sign up with a new company that will fill the gap. For that reason, so long as customers know you care about them, and you provide what you said you would, they're not likely going to go over to the competition.

Related: How to Work With Customers to Guide Your Product Development

Of course, it’s no secret that the top reason why consumers switch providers is a poor customer experience -- 72 percent, in fact, according to an Accenture study. The question, then, is what makes a good customer experience and what makes a bad customer one?

To answer that question, consider THE PIG, a hotel service and mobile-booking app that sought to increase the conversion rate of its app by improving the customer experience. After analyzing the current path to purchase, the people behind THE PIG realized something: Users were leaving right in the middle of their booking, indicating a difficult and unfriendly finalization process.

So the company overhauled its app with a single mission: to create a better user experience. In the end, THE PIG made the customer journey to booking more personal, easier to navigate and far cleaner.

The result? The app saw 250 percent growth over a two-year period right after it made the aforementioned changes. The company has also received a “319 percent ROI on managed PPC activities, a 965 percent ROI on non-branded organic search terms and a 1,943 percent ROI on email marketing activities," according to the U.K.'s Econsultancy.

Buyers crave positive brand experiences.

So, what makes a good customer experience? Is it great marketing, amazing customer service or lots of discounts? Jeff Bezos has answered that question, stating: “The best customer service is if the customer doesn’t need to call you, doesn’t need to talk to you. It just works.”

Clearly, a proven trick to build a successful, long-term brand is to start with a remarkable product and make small iterations annually, proving to your customers that you care about them and that you’re constantly working to perfect a product that’s already great at what it does.

And while customer experience is vital to a business’s long-term success, we observers must not confuse massive product changes or large market shifts with good customer experience.

“Big product changes or outright market shifts run the risk of rubbing your existing customers the wrong way,” Jessica Kistermann, friend and co-founder of Crime London, an online fashion outlet, explained to me during a recent call.

“Small, detail-driven product changes to an already phenomenal product do the opposite: They tell your customer base that you’re thinking about them, that you care about them and that you’re doing the best you can. That’s a powerful message in a world full of startups with hard-to-understand advertising messages.”

Use product micro-changes to keep customers happy.

The power of customer care and product micro-changes has a number of different applications for your business. Kistermann's company, Crime London, advertises different products to different markets, ensuring that only its most market-relevant styles reach each consumer.

Should you follow suit, though?

In an email, Sigurd Vedal, a serial entrepreneur, coach, and mentor, wrote, “Loyal brand consumers generally think they want new changes to the products they consume, but reality shows that they do not like many changes, because it disrupts their familiarity with the product.

"Every time Facebook changes their UX, they get complaints. So, they make small-scale changes that keep their customers happy, but don’t disrupt the user experience. Truth is, customer happiness is in the details.”

What’s the key takeaway from all of this? Create a consistent cadence for coming out with new versions of your products or services, your website and even the content you create.

Related: How Rapid 'Testing and Learning' During Product Development Saves Time and Money

Not only will those small, consistent micro-changes cost you less money than more significant shifts will; but they’ll build a strong relationship with your customers -- one not easily broken.
Lucas Miller

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Lucas Miller is the founder and CEO of Echelon Copy LLC, a media relations agency based in Provo, Utah that helps brands improve visibility, enhance reputation and generate leads through authentic storytelling.