I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve experienced exceptional inflight Wi-Fi. Assuming I take an average of 45 flights a year, that’s pretty depressing. Flying is productivity primetime for me; no phone calls, no impromptu meetings, just me, my inbox, and a list of tasks to tackle. With in-flight Wi-Fi, I get to experience uninterrupted focus, or at least, that’s what I’m suppose to experience. What I actually experience is three hours of spotty service and slow download times. At a rate of $9.99/hour, you’d think I’d be able to send an email without losing my mind. Instead, I find myself silently cursing the airline every time I try to load a new webpage, pleading with the stewardess for even the slightest service improvement.
Which is ridiculous, of course. Flight attendants can’t do anything about the Wi-Fi on an airplane; the service is offered through an independent provider. The airline has no control over the service quality (or, in most cases, the lack thereof).
And yet, error message after error message, it’s the airline that I blame for for my frustration. The airline could be doing everything else right—friendly, attentive staff, prompt service, you name it—but if the Internet access is unreliable, you’ve lost me as a customer.
Such is the power of third party brand partnerships. Pick poorly, and your company will be the one that suffers.
Their Fault, Your Problem
Don’t get me wrong; I can sympathize with the airlines. Every business relies on partner companies to perform tasks and operations that it simply couldn’t—or, due to the financial and administrative costs, shouldn’t—do on its own. To say that it would be difficult for an airline to develop its own in-flight Internet service would be to seriously understate the complexities of that technology; better to bring a third party provider onboard and enjoy the shared revenue. Sure, an airline could probably cater meals on its own flights, but why deal with the hassle when it’s more profitable to outsource in-flight meals to a catering company?
These partnerships make a lot of sense on paper. What businesses might fail to consider, though, is how these relationships can impact their corporate image. When your organization works with another company, there’s an implicit endorsement of that company, and the experience they provide to your customers—whether positive or negative—reflects back on you. When the in-flight Wi-Fi consistently drops, I’m choosing another airline. When the in-flight meal sucks, I’m… well, I probably wasn’t going to eat it anyways, but it becomes a part of my overall perception of the brand.
Integrating a Better Experience
The risk of a partner company doing serious brand damage is just as real in the technology sector, but tech companies have found new ways to mitigate the risk. For background, our company operates an outbound payments platform designed to help on-demand and marketplace companies distribute earnings to their supply-side users all around the world. Businesses in other industries might be happy just to have a functional payout solution. Not in tech. If we want to be competitive, every facet of our payments technology needs to be integrable with their platforms. Of course, the same is expected of other companies serving this industry—if you’re not integrable, you’re out.
There’s a good reason for these platforms to place such a high value on third party platform integration: it allows them to maintain total control of their brand experience. Rather than pushing users to third party websites to perform certain actions, these platforms are pulling that third party technology into their own ecosystem. When everything works the way it’s supposed to, integrated third party functionality enables platforms to provide their users with a coherent and comprehensive experience inside a single environment.
Outsourcing vs. Integrating
An example. Let’s imagine a popular ride-sharing platform—we’ll call it CarDemand. Rather than building out its own outbound payment capabilities, CarDemand has decided to outsource driver payments to several different payout providers; one for direct deposit and checks, another for prepaid debit cards, etc. CarDemand drivers use a mobile app to request their earnings in a particular payout method, but CarDemand just passes that information onto one of its third party providers. That’s it—hands off.
But what about when something goes wrong? Maybe some drivers haven’t received their payments, or their prepaid debit cards have frozen them out. Some of those drivers are going to be calling CarDemand for support (CarDemand is who they’re expecting payment from, after all), but CarDemand doesn’t have any visibility into the payout process. Others are going to contact the payout provider and navigate through a support system that CarDemand has no control over. The process devolves into an incoherent mess and it reflects badly on the platform. Brand damage done.
In that scenario, CarDemand is simply offloading its payout process onto another company. But there’s a better approach. By integrating with a third party payout platform, CarDemand could essentially bring payment technology into its platform, giving the company the same level of control and transparency that it would have if it had built the payout technology itself. CarDemand can collect real-time payment data, monitor user activity, and track payments from one end to the other. Through tight integration with other platforms, CarDemand can ensure that users never have to leave their digital environment, ultimately giving CarDemand far more control of the brand experience.
Handle with Care
There’s no avoiding it: we all need to partner with other companies to address the limitations in our own capabilities. Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t minimize the likelihood of a partner damaging our brand; we absolutely can. We’ve just got to get a little more thoughtful and a lot more inquisitive.
Whether your business is choosing an in-flight Internet provider, or a caterer, or a payout platform, you’ve got to look deeper than what that partnership means for your bottom line. There are the common sense questions to ask: Does this company fill a gap in my business or platform? How does the company handle itself when things go wrong? Deeper than that, even. Put yourself in the shoes of the user and consider how that third party factors into your overall brand experience.
Your brand is your most precious asset. It’s fragile. Be mindful of whose hands you put it in.
By Brent Warrington, CEO at Hyperwallet.