Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Market Capitalization and Customer Satisfaction

Recent front page news pieces in many dailies, online media, (and almost everywhere) claim that a tech company’s market capitalization has overtaken the long standing leader on this metric. It’s being written about by many business publications, tech journals, writers, edits, and discussed by everyone as an important event. Now, even as the displaced leader CEO retorted, “We are still the most profitable”, customers like me cringed. Analysts are now creating theories around the dark horse’s upsurge, about a company which was written off by the same analysts—not too long back, if memory serves me right.

Over the last couple of decades, I watched the new leader with interest—wondering why they never had mainstream commercial success, despite having products which almost everyone loved. In the meanwhile, the displaced moved from strength to strength creating a monopolistic era. Everyone hated this practice, but continued to embrace its products as if there was no choice. Choices came and withered away like the autumn flower; a few showed promise, but could not sustain themselves in a hyper competitive world where big brother came down guns blazing on any who dared a challenge. All along, our new leader continued to innovate, gaining a small but steadily growing breed of followers—never big enough to raise an alarm, but shunned by IT organizations as too esoteric.

The erstwhile leader spawned many factions seeking alternatives, never really succeeding enough to threaten. Fan following and hate groups alike embrace every news, release, solution and acquisition. Corporate customers experimented, but left with no real choice, continue to grin and bear it. Governments’ attempt to leash the giant bore puny results, as the alternative movement around open source has remained just that—an alternative that few are interested in.

Did customers love this ‘choice’ of one, and the price it came at? A survey will probably show the number of naysayers touching highs on product quality, price, support, or any other parameter that you may want to explore. The challenger scores on all these parameters, but surprisingly continues to receive no traction.

With guaranteed revenues from the ever growing corporate market and almost 90% market share, the fruits of such labor remained the envy of everyone in the technology world. At least, that was the case till a couple of weeks back, when surprise, the giant was belittled. Did the CIOs suddenly realize the value of embracing the alternative and shun the “standard”? Have analysts become wiser, or did the company create a game changing product (or service) that swept the world off its feet?

We all know the answer; the new leader was created by the end consumer, not the corporate world. With the exception of a few industries that discovered its efficiencies, enterprise shops avoided these technology solutions, or allowed it at the fringes with multiple caveats, despite the pains of managing existing solutions.

With increasing consumerization of the end computing device, the future will displace the old and boring, though deemed standard and secure devices of today. Our personal choices indicate that there is a very small place for the past leader. The new hero of today has consumers raging upon every new innovation that has come from its stable.

Over the next few years, I believe that this rapidly growing mindshare will put pressure on IT organizations and the CIO to be inclusive of this trend rather than fight it. The only spanner in the works could be situations where the new found success becomes an anchor round the neck—one which drags down the innovation pipeline or consumer connect that has become the hallmark for the industry. After all, market capitalization has limited (or nill) correlation to customer satisfaction.

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