Life is full of things that we sort of don't pay much attention to until something goes clunk
Utilities are the originals. The gas and electricity we use in our homes, for example, is largely unappreciated except in two instances. One, when we pay the bill and may feel some annoyance at the cost. It's rare that we say,
"Wow, for only a few hundred dollars, something ephermeral like gas that was formed millions of years ago and lives a mile underground was brought up from the ground, purified, transported thousands of miles, and has now been safely burned in my furnace to keep me warm all winter. Not a bad deal."
The other time we notice a utility is when it isn't working of course, and again, feel mainly negative emotions. Power failures would be the obvious example, but I also marvel at the land-line telephone. The uptime on the phone system is so amazing, that it's remarkable when it is NOT working. A symptom of a larger problem almost always -- a cut cable at the least, worst case perhaps a war-of-the-worlds Martian invasion scenario.
Interestingly, the problems utilities solve for us are big ones, right near the foundation of that familiar Maslow triangle. Being cold. Being in the dark. We are highly motivated to solve these problems, and communities will invest a lot in solving them. But once solved, we quickly habituate to all that warmth and light. We only experience their power in their absence -- irritation quickly building to rage and even fear as we face the elements as defenceless as a squirrel.
Other categories of services tend to behave this way too.
Bank machines do little to charm or endear themselves -- they generate emotion largely when they are out of order or being recharged with cash.
Support services in the business world tend to be that way. When everything is working, that's what we paid for, after all. It's when something goes wrong that we get all "what are you people thinking over there???"
Cloud computing / SaaS is surely in that category now -- a service that we get either for free (but still expect to work pretty much six sigma), or we pay a relatively small cost monthly, in which case our expectations are even higher.
I have to say that there are a few services in the cloud category that have made my life so much simpler I do actually appreciate them a lot -- Dropbox for example. But how long will it be before I am so dependent on it that any lapse of service causes major frustration?
You'll never be loved as a lifestyle brand
If you are in the position of marketing such services, you are working in a rather challenging emotional landscape. Your boss may be telling you they want to be as loved as Apple or Coach, but your reality looks more like the graphic above.
A bizarre flip side of these services is how we feel treated as consumers. We often feel like these providers barely notice us unless we try to leave. Or unless they are trying to gain our business. When we are just dutifully paying our bills, they appear to be as indifferent to us as we are to them.
For example, the phone company and cable company are all excited with offers for you if you'll move from a competitor. But once you are there, that's it. No more freebies for you! Same thing with your credit card company, who was all hot for your business until you moved, and you can no longer get in on all those great advertised offers.
With utilities, customers often feel unappreciated, even taken for granted. The same emotional play is working on both sides. If customers start leaving in droves, it's like the power went down at HQ -- suddenly everyone is paying attention.
I'm reading Daniel Kahneman's wonderful book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. I'm hoping I'll learn some fresh insights into this scenario. If I do, I'll let you know.
Meanwhile, I'll try not to take you, my reader, for granted.