More than a decade back when Yahoo! and Hotmail provided webmail services it was a great innovation, but over time those services became stagnant without any major break through. These services provided only a paltry 4 MB of storage, but were reliable. Then Google came and changed the game. Besides providing storage in the GB range, Gmail also provided a threaded view of the mails which is not a Google innovation, but was something new in the webmail world.
There was one small innovation which Gmail did, something which the other providers did not think about. In Gmail, when you start typing the first few characters of the receiver’s name, it auto completes the name. This not so hard to implement feature saves a few keystrokes in typing the address, a few mouse clicks in finding it from the address book and spares a few neurons from having to remember the email addresses.
No one takes the concept of distinguishing themselves from the crowd more seriously than Apple. If you go to an Apple Store to buy something, you will find that they don’t have the traditional cash counters. Instead, the staff will take a hand held device, scan your items, and send the receipt to your email address. The staff can walk around with these devices and thus preventing any queues in the store. Sending the receipt to your email address keeps Al Gore, an Apple board member, happy too.
Costco did not get rid of the cash counters, but instead if the queues were getting too long, an employee would walk down the queue, scan your items and give you a bar coded receipt. At the counter you hand over the paper and pay thus speeding up the queue.
The small things that make a difference can be found by studying your competitors. If you are an NRI account holder in HDFC Bank, you need to dial an Indian number to get help. When you call that number you are often asked to come to the bank and when you go to the branch you are asked for your ration card. All that is for another post. If you have a Citibank account, they provide a 1-800 number which also takes you to India, but at least it is toll free.
In a field where there are many competing players, it is small things like these which distinguish the great ones from the ordinary.