Why Nokia Must Nail The Customer Experience

Nokia HQ - Photo Courtesy Flickr User rooreynolds

Nokia HQ – Photo Courtesy Flickr User rooreynolds

Nokia, the Finnish mobile giant, has arguably the most well-equipped mobile handsets in the industry. The N95 made waves two years go by offering an outstanding feature set including on-board GPS, a 5 megapixel camera, great video recording capabilities, dual action slider, and Wi-Fi connectivity. What has followed are other handsets both in the Nseries consumer line and the Eseries business line that also feature awesome hardware portfolio for on-the-go techies and business-types.

The Market Demands Good Customer Experience

In the mobile press I follow, Nokia is known for having fully featured handsets with a lackluster customer experience. It is known amongst Nokia users that advanced options and capabilities are hidden in a maze of menus. Additionally, common actions take 7-8 clicks to conduct.

iPhone fanatics revel in the Apple phone’s ease of use and take the iPhone’s lack of features in exchange for a fluid and easy-to-use experience with the device. With the 5800 XpressMusic and upcoming N97, Nokia has acknowledged that a touch interface is a good first step. However, a lesson Nokia needs to learn about the iPhone is: a touch interface is only part of the iPhone’s success, a sexy and superb user experience is the larger part of the equation. The same goes with Research in Motion and their Blackberry Storm.

The iPhone has changed the game in the mobile industry by making it so the average consumer demands more from the mobile. We now expect our mobile phones to be easy to use as well as fully functional.

Recent Examples

In the recent months, we have seen more examples of now Nokia has failed regarding consumer experience. For example, just a few months ago, the Finnish company refreshed their product line by offering the new “Flagship” N96. The update to the ubiquitous N95, the N96 added a few new features including DVB-H video, an added 16GB of memory, and a 2.8 screen on the piano black body.

However, the N96 is a pain to use because of its ridiculously poor firmware. In my experience, the N96 resets itself constantly, is slow when hopping on wireless networks, and hangs while composing messages. It was such a bad experience, I shelved the device. Friend Jonathan Greene also noted his frustration. The N96 software was so bad, it seemed as if Nokia released the monster superphone with test firmware. Off the record, my contacts inside Nokia have commented about the poor firmware and are embarrassed by it.

More recently, Nokia released Nokia Maps 3.0 and the corresponding Maps on Ovi service. Early accounts show that installing the Maps application is painful at best.

While we’re excited about new products and services, we as customers DEMAND that the experience be graceful and fluid. When Nokia charges $700 – $800 for a handset (in the case of the N96), customers have a right to demand a positive customer experience.

Drawing Parallels

For a similar situation, look at the desktop market.

Microsoft has always had a rock solid market share with deep roots amongst their customers. In recent years, they have failed in regards to customer experience. Windows computers are plagued with problems including driver issues, stability problems, and security issues. For the longest time, it seemed Redmond was oblivious to the plight of the average frustrated Windows user. Popularity in Apple products, as a result, has surged. Apple computers serve the same basic functions as a Windows computer, but with a much more enjoyable and effortless user experience.

What Can Be Done

So, is all hope lost? Has the boat left the dock? HECK NO!! The first thing Nokia can do is conduct adequate research and testing with user experience in mind. If the N96 firmware wasn’t ready to ship…why ship the device?! It should be known that the complaints against the N96 were not from a loud minority, rather were widespread across multiple audiences. The sad part is that many of the issues and complaints about the N96 were repeats of issues made known when the N95 was launched years earlier.

The N97 is coming out sometime in the first half of 2009. With the new device, Nokia has a huge opportunity to make a splash in the mobile handset market. My advice: Test, Test, Test. Engage with testers outside your traditional channels. If need be, Nokia has a blogger relations program set up – use this knowledgeable group to test the device in an in-depth manner. If the N97 release needs to be pushed back in the name of quality, then by all means – delay it! Customer experience demands it.

The US market is one where customer experience is even more important than in Nokia’s strongholds of Europe and Asia. Consumers here are finicky and not as likely to read manuals. Where the iPhone market share is strong, so is consumer demand of a positive experience with products we consume and buy. If Nokia wants to gain traction in North America, installation, use, and ongoing support of software and mobile services will be of most importance.

On the bright side, Nokia is a company who is chock full of imaginative engineers, designers, and marketers. I’m confident the Espoo can pull this feat off.

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