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Building a mobile service from scratch

To create its new wireless service, Xfinity Mobile listened to user feedback—and then dug deeper for breakthrough insights.

Building a mobile service from scratch
[From left to right] Chuck Salter, editor FastCo. Works; Rui Costa, VP of customer experience and product management, Xfinity Mobile; Drew Blackard, senior director of product marketing, Samsung

Product designers have a love-hate relationship with focus groups. When asked, a customer can easily tell you what they like, but they’re rarely able to express what they want.

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Intimate knowledge of customer behaviors and preferences is essential to design a first-rate user experience. When Comcast went about designing its Xfinity Mobile wireless service before last year’s launch, it had an advantage: Instead of overhauling a flawed product, its developers had the luxury of starting from scratch.

Recently, at a South by Southwest panel in Austin—the title was “Putting the Customer at the Center of the Mobile Experience”—Rui Costa, Xfinity Mobile’s vice president of product management and customer experience, joined Drew Blackard, Samsung’s senior director of product marketing, to peel back the curtain on how their companies are improving the mobile experience in 2018 and beyond.

Three key takeaways emerged that are instructive for any company in the process of innovating a product or service.

1. Eliminate The Earliest Pain Points

Costa and his Xfinity Mobile team started the process of reinventing mobile service at the point of activation. Research showed that consumers complained about how long it took to activate a new phone with other providers. Xfinity Mobile saw an opportunity that drove the design process for the service itself.

“We asked consumers how long it takes to actually activate a phone, and the answer was: It takes over an hour. You have to be in a store, and you have to bring a bunch of papers with you,” said Costa. “So we asked the question, ‘Okay, can we do that differently and make this process as pleasant as possible?’ ”

The answer? Definitely. Since Xfinity internet customers get up to five lines included with their service, and no access charges, they have just one decision to make when purchasing the mobile service—which data plan to choose. (A handy savings calculator helps them estimate based on their estimated usage.) As part of the streamlined process, the choices are designed to avoid confusion: Pay by the gig ($12 per gig a month), or get unlimited data for $45 per line a month.

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After unboxing their phone, customers simply visit a website to input their info and click Activate. Phone numbers are ported. Backed-up photos and contacts are beamed down. When the phone powers on for the first time, it’s ready to go. In fact, the entire setup process can be performed online, at a customer’s convenience—no store visit required.

“We completely redefined the way that the process works by enabling our customers digitally,” said Costa, “and with three steps that take less than three minutes to complete.”

Xfinity Mobile’s revamping of the activation is proof that, when done right, the elimination of a pain point is also the introduction of a differentiator.

2. Surprise And Delight

For anyone designing a product, the first order of business is creating a functional customer experience so smooth that nothing stands out. Once that’s done, though, designers can add their own flourishes.

“First and foremost, we had to meet customer expectations,” Costa said. “But the second fold of our strategy was to surprise and delight when relevant.”

For Xfinity Mobile, one area where the company decided to go above and beyond was in allowing customers to customize their data plan so they’re not paying for data they don’t use. If the kids are streaming video nonstop, then they can be on unlimited. Mom and Dad, who spend the bulk of their day on Wi-Fi and don’t need a lot of cellular data, can pay by the gig.

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Another feature that’s virtually unheard of in wireless is offering the ability to switch between data options at any time during the billing cycle. If a consumer is a heavy cellular user one month, he can open the app and switch the plan to unlimited for that month, and switch back again at the start of the next billing cycle.

“We designed the app so that it will notify you when to consider switching plans—when you’re using enough data to justify moving from pay-as-you-go to unlimited,” Costa said. “With just one click in the app, you can change your plan to unlimited. And most importantly, we erase all the usage you have done on the previous plan, so you only pay for the new one.”

3. Make The Experience Seamless

More and more, as technology advances, simplicity and transparency win customer loyalty. The imperative to eliminate hitches in UX is twice as important for smartphones and wireless devices.

Mobile users who are conscious of their data usage may limit how they use their devices unless they have ready access to Wi-Fi. So, they may not use their devices as much unless they’re at home, in the office, or at the connected coffee shop. Xfinity Mobile, however, provides complimentary access to the provider’s preexisting Wi-Fi network to alleviate data anxiety.

“We offer a network of millions of Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spots nationwide, and it seemed like a natural move to leverage that strength by combining it with the largest 4G LTE network,” Costa told the crowd at SXSW. “Working in partnership with OEMs like Samsung, the phones come out of the box working with our hot spots without ever having to introduce usernames and passwords.”

Samsung’s Blackard compared Xfinity Mobile’s hot-spot integration to what his company has done with SmartThings, a service that digitally integrates users’ smart devices. These may include home appliances, automobiles, and entertainment devices, to name a few.

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“They’re very similar situations, jumping between hot spots or between devices, because each usually starts and ends with an experience that you’re trying to sustain,” Blackard said. “If you’re at home on your TV, and you want to go on the road and watch the same video, you don’t want to have to look up the video and figure out where you left off. You want to just be able to open an app and start it.

“It’s not only about seamless connectivity, but seamless experiences. You want to have a consistent experience that’s really easy to navigate.”

By taking a hard look at customers’ biggest difficulties in wireless and analyzing where other wireless companies most often go wrong, Xfinity Mobile designed its service and experience from scratch to address the needs of today’s mobile users. And while it’s still early, the service is resonating with consumers.

WATCH: Tapping Customer-Centric Design To Redefine The Mobile Experience

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This story was created for and commissioned by Xfinity Mobile.

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FastCo Works is Fast Company's branded content studio. Advertisers commission us to consult on projects, as well as to create content and video on their behalf.

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