I've been flying US Airways since I was eight years old. The other day I called to make a reservation, and the operator asked me a familiar question: "Do you prefer an aisle or a window seat?"
While this was a seemingly routine question, it really annoyed me. In all the years I've been utilizing their service, no one ever thought to store this data somewhere? Shouldn't they be saying something more like, "Thank you Mr. DiPietro, I assume you'd like a window seat?" After all, I've requested a window seat every time I've flown, and yet still, no one at the company has had the foresight to suggest storing personal preferences.
This, among many other reasons, is why US Airways will never be a home run stock.
Great companies use great technology
In his book Rules for Revolutionaries, former Apple exec Guy Kawasaki describes many of the necessary attributes of ground-breaking companies. One of the most important qualities is the ability to "think digital, act analog." Thinking digital means that companies must use technology to look at data and mine information to better serve customers. Acting analog is being able to use that information with a personal touch. The execs at US Airways could learn a thing or two from this chapter.
Unfortunately, thousands of companies suffer from this same problem. Some don't even try, others try and fail miserably.
CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS ) is a company that at least tries. They have a rewards program that offers discounts and tracks purchases. Last week when I went in and bought $4 worth of Easter cards, the clerk found it necessary to ask for my zip code and birthday. When I asked her why, she replied that it was for "marketing" purposes. Please -- this is not personal, nor does it make me want to provide my information.
The same thing happened when I called Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) to ask why my savings account was improperly being charged with a $5 service fee. Lots of impersonal questions from the operator -- questions I knew were not going to necessarily serve me any better as a customer. These companies may not fail -- at least they're attempting to gather data -- but they're not exactly acting analog.
Ever wonder how the once-powerful Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS ) went from being a $45 stock to a $20 stock that's struggling to stay relevant? Sure, they've made some bad operational decisions -- but in the end, they never heeded Kawasaki's advice. Late to adapt their website and use it as a real platform to aggregate customer preferences, people found better options for buying books. Over the last five years, the company's earnings have grown by less than 1% -- not really a stellar record.
The home run stock you're looking for
Fortunately, there are still plenty of companies that know how to think digital and act analog at the same time. These are the types of companies that the analysts at Motley Fool Rule Breakers look for -- those that employ digital expertise to enhance user experience. Here are three companies that have virtually perfected this quality:
- Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) : Not only did Netflix realize that customers would benefit from at-home DVD delivery, but they knew how to use important information. After I watch a streaming movie from my Netflix queue, the company asks me to rate the movie. I don't mind doing it because then I get better movie recommendations -- this is a mutually beneficial transaction.
- Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) : This online retail giant has been collecting customer information from the get-go, and I can't even keep track of the number of great recommendations it has given me. Every time I log on to the website, it has book suggestions for me -- and I guarantee you I've spent more money because of their accurate profiling. Again -- I don't mind it, because in the long run, it's served me quite well.
- Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) : Not surprisingly, Apple also tops this list. Besides recommending CDs to purchase when I log on to iTunes, Apple found a brilliant way to engage other businesses' technology to benefit themselves, but also their end users -- through apps. For example, over the weekend, my wife and I wanted to eat somewhere new, so she pulled up the UrbanSpoon app on her iPhone, and within two minutes we had a great restaurant suggestion half a mile from where we were standing.
All three of these companies know how to use technology behind the scenes -- it's not in-your-face, obnoxious marketing -- and more importantly, they know how to give you better options that will ultimately enhance your experience.
It's no surprise that Netflix, Amazon.com, and Apple have all been home run stocks from the moment they were offered to the public. Respectively, their stocks have surged by 863%, 8,011%, and 6,572 %. These are home run stocks that still have room to run -- because of their size, it's not likely they'll see quadruple-digit gains again -- but you can bet that the corporate execs at these companies are continually trying to improve your experience.
David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool and advisor for Rule Breakers, is constantly finding companies that fit this bill. Rule Breakers recently unveiled a new company that embodies the digital/analog characteristics to the tee. LivePerson (Nasdaq: LPSN ) helps clients like Microsoft and Verizon keep individual customers by collecting data on their web-surfing trends. Last year, its revenues increased by 17%, and adjusted earnings more than doubled. The best part about this company is that it's small -- only a $400 million market cap -- so it still has plenty of room to run before it gets discovered.
If you're looking for the next home run stock, you can read all about LivePerson as well as other companies that understand how to profit from "thinking digital, acting analog" for free. We're currently offering a 30-day trial run for Rule Breakers, where you get to see all of David's past and present recommendations. Click here for more information.
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Fool contributor Jordan DiPietro owns no shares of the companies mentioned above. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Apple, Amazon.com, and Netflix are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. LivePerson is a Rule Breakers pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.