When launching a new service, initial user experience is critical. This seems obvious and yet it’s missed by startups and major players like Microsoft and Vodafone. I’ve come on this three times in few hours: 3G video calling from Vodafone UK, a new Mac and a mobile social networking service that’s still in stealth mode.
First was an interaction with several folks in our UK office. I’m in a meeting in London and, during a break, we were playing with Mobile TV services. By far the most compelling service was Hong Kong CSL’s 3G Mobile TV service. It’s actually interactive — one second channel changes! — because it’s based on 3G video calling. It’s only available to CSL subscribers who are in Hong Kong and able to dial the CSL short code ‘888,’ but one of our folks had a private backdoor phone number that gives access from anywhere in the world — sorry, if I gave you that number, I’d have to kill you. :-)
The glitch arose when I was experimenting with 3G-UMTS handsets, one from France, one from Hong Kong and two from the UK. The first (Vodafone UK) handset I borrowed didn’t work. After a few experiments it became clear the handset wasn’t correctly configured for any kind of video calling! The answer was “Oh yes, I signed up for video calling, but it never worked.” Then I asked the person currently setting up demos for next month’s 3GSM conference. She had just purchased several demo handsets, being careful to test them in a Vodafone store because her personal handset has never worked! Based on this sample of two, it appears Vodafone UK has problems configuring handsets for 3G video calling. But the key point is, when the service didn’t work immediately, their customers gave up, and they never tried again (until forced by circumstances, i.e. an upcoming trade show).
That was at 10:30am. At lunch, I sat across from a newly minted Mac enthusiast — a savvy executive with engineering and finance degrees. After years of using Windows, he’d purchased a 24" iMac for use at home. His whole rave was about how easy it was to plug in the Mac and immediately start using. it As IT geek for family and friends using Windows, I know how people struggle to get a new Windows machine up and running. For problems with really essential applications (needed for work or to communicate with friends), they ask for help. Anything else, if it doesn’t work the first time, they don’t pursue it.
Finally, I’m involved in an email dialog with a startup that has a really interesting mobile service. At this time, service sign-up is via a website — OK for a US-only launch, but a problem when they move to other parts of the world. My focus is on how they can instrument their web interface to track user behavior. When they go to beta, they need near real time audits — the ability to quickly recognize problems and tweak the user interface to increase initial adoption rates.
Four hours, three incidents, one clear idea — focus on the initial user experience. You only get one shot at capturing new customers, don’t blow it.
1-18: editted to repair HK CSL's 3G Mobile TV URL, which appears to have changed in the past 24 hours!