Earlier this year, some Tesla models began to automatically recognize and respond to traffic lights and stop signs. For many brands, this type of enhancement would require a trip to the dealership for a hardware upgrade; for Tesla owners, it was simply a software update delivered over-the-air.
Consumers are growing accustomed to seeing their software-enabled things continuously evolve long after they buy them—everything from the apps on their phones and the operating systems on their computers to their computer-enabled cars and virtual reality headsets.
Enterprises are beginning to design updateable products with the ability to expand services and experiences in the future, making it possible to respond to changing customer demands and expectations at a moment’s notice. This sets the stage for feedback loops that support true partnerships, where customers can see the value and utility of products grow over time rather than fade.
However, as we inhabit this state of “forever beta,” our traditional perspectives on ownership are being challenged. Products that consumers think of as “theirs” are being redefined at the drop of a code release. The risk is that customers are having to constantly play catch-up, not knowing if the next system update is bringing exciting new capabilities, a critical security refresh, a new user interface to learn or a dramatic change to functionality. It’s not surprising that some customers are growing weary of what’s around the corner.
Call it the beta burden: the unintended consequences when products, and their contained experiences, are constantly in flux.
As products increasingly transition into platforms that deliver digital experiences, new challenges arise that, if left unaddressed, will alienate customers and erode their trust. The true value of a product is increasingly being driven by the experience, a facet of the product that manufacturers today retain strict control over.