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Paula Thornton Explains Zipcar Success

PosterpaulaZipcar customer Paula Thornton is uniquely qualified to explain their success. She is a leading proponent of “experience design,” the creation of business models which are driven by disciplined focus on fulfilling the expectations of the customer, not the expectations of the employees, suppliers and competitors. Paula explains that the business premise of Zipcar is not ‘we rent cars,’ but ‘sometimes some people need to borrow a car,’ and the goal at Zipcar is to help people enjoy borrowing a car whenever they need to do so.

Paula says, “Zipcar has a truly organic business model that evolves in response to customers. Zipcar builds feedback loops and uses them heavily. Even little things are constantly being updated, making people more likely to share small concerns and suggestions. Since part of my job is making sure web sites are easy to use, I can see that several improvements have been made on the site since I’ve been there last—they’ve even added a discussion group. Their newsletter leverages these updates as “relationship collateral” so customers can see their input counts.”  Zipcar2_1

Zipcar stays close to its customers with marketing activities that bind the community together. Although they currently operate in only a few cities, you can sign up on the web site to be notified when they expand into your area. Parties, gifts and coupons from area merchants are an established part of the customer experience, eagerly sought out by customers in the monthly newsletter for each city. Their business model leverages the strong sense of community by demanding that people refill the gas tank and return the car clean, so costs are reduced for all. 

Paula recently went to work at Texas Instruments to help them improve their web site and extend their e-commerce business into new territory. She is glad to see demand for ‘experience designers’ grow as companies realize that all the different parts of the business either add to or detract from the customer experience. She believes that someone has to assume a strategic role within the company to anticipate how operational changes will affect the customer, as well as the ability of the employees to do their job in serving the customer. 

Want to keep up with the ‘experience design’ movement and see how it could benefit your company? Join the email discussion group Paula nurtures at Yahoo Groups: