Today, there are subscription services for toothbrushes, makeup, fashion, perfume, Japanese snacks, children’s toys, artisanal beef jerky, craft chocolate, dog toys, exotic spices and interactive murder mysteries. For enterprise or B2B businesses, this model is nothing new — though the products are a bit more eclectic. It’s essentially “life as a service,” a straightforward and effective concept: Simply subscribe, and parts of your life are delightfully taken care of without any extra effort on your part.
While this is a relatively new model for B2C companies, software as a service (SaaS) is a proven model that’s completely reimagined digital businesses in the 21st century. Companies can now provide data science as a service, customer service as a service or even marketing as a service, and my company essentially provides human capital management (HCM) or HR technology as a service. It’s exciting to see that this approach, and its inherent benefits, has evolved beyond B2B software into the wider world of business.
The rise of these “as a service” (aaS) offerings has overlapped with the elevation of “experience” as a key strategic consideration for business leaders. This isn’t a coincidence. They both represent changes in the way we think about our businesses, customers and employees. The shift from product to service is the shift from a transactional to a relationship-based customer experience.
Turning products into services is an effective way to evolve your customer experience. Take Quip or Dollar Shave Club (DSC). An overly simplistic description of their business might be that they sell toothbrushes or razors. Ostensibly, any maker or retailer of toothbrushes or razors could do this. But Quip and DSC have up-leveled this basic offering into a convenient, reliable service: Quip handles the oral hygiene portion of your life, and DSC your toiletry needs, so you can completely free up that mental space and never worry about forgetting again.
More business leaders need to start applying this service — and relationship-centric thinking — to their organizations. For perhaps the first time in the history of business, brands can (and should) begin by focusing on customer relationships, as opposed to products. As is the case for Quip and DSC, the products themselves can be mundane. The relationship is what matters. Box services like Stitch Fix market themselves as personal stylists. And do you remember Uber’s motto back in the day? “Everyone’s private driver.”
When it comes to marketing your solutions, as a business leader, there are three big questions to ask yourself:
What service (not product) can we offer the customer?
For a moment, forget the product, and consider the core reasons your company exists. What is the larger problem you’re solving? Think big. Perhaps you help people secure their financial stability (by offering a budgeting app). Or you enable companies to give back to their communities by facilitating charitable work or donations. This is a question you have probably answered already but you may not be focusing on in the day-to-day.
What do we want to be for the customer?
Think of how you want customers to describe your company and the services you provide. If you sell a financial software solution, you may want customers to say that you are their accountant. If you offer consulting services, you’ll want to be described as a partner, guide or even guru. At a higher level, consider the persona your brand seeks to cultivate — perhaps caretaker, defender or advisor. This has likely always been a part of your brand identity, but it becomes even more important as you work to build a lasting relationship offering your service to the customer.
How can our product grow into a service?
Regardless of your offering, there is likely a way to improve on this aspect. If you sell a widget, consider how often people use that widget and when they might want a replacement. Or take a look at the peripheral tools and accessories commonly used alongside that widget. Software companies can imagine where it makes sense to add functionalities or features that offer a more complete or enjoyable experience.
I’ll finish with an important reminder: Not everything in our lives needs to be offered “as a service,” and that’s OK. If it makes life more complicated or introduces more friction, it’s counterproductive. But for many companies adapting to the new digital reality of doing business, it’s time to rethink the services you can offer, not just the products.
More importantly, it’s time to rethink the relationship you have with your customers.