Exclusive partnerships must come with some explanation

The customer, in the eyes of the corporation, is hardly ever right.

The customer, in the eyes of the corporation, is hardly ever right.

While this statement might run contrary to how companies may position their customer relations messaging, the fact remains that companies are often very explicit in how they want their products to be used and consumed.

Take Apple, and its exclusive partnership with AT&T, for the new, life-changing iPhone - a phone so powerful it reads minds.* People griped about the exclusive arrangement, as well as AT&T's mandate that customers sign a new two-year deal if they wished to switch from their suddenly pale imitation of a phone.

While Apple is unsurprisingly mum as to why it chose to partner exclusively with AT&T, it likely had something to do with the reported healthy concessions on distribution and pricing that the carrier made to get such a deal. On AT&T's iPhone page, a reader is to infer that AT&T's status as the "best and most popular carrier" is a main reason.

Obviously, consumers like choice. Any arrangement that runs counter to such desires ultimately leads, in these digital times, to a hack. Eventually, a tech-savvy person with some steady nerves figured out a way to crack open the belly of the phone that stops time* to enable it to make phone calls through another carrier. Searching for "Apple iPhone" last week on Google News returned a plethora of results celebrating the freeing of the iPhone. The customer doesn't care if it's wrong, as long as it feels right.

That consumers are so eager to manipulate their phone makes both companies look controlling for brokering the exclusive arrangement for the phone that detects lies.* In the noise, however, it's easy to forget that exclusive partnerships between carriers and handsets are the norm. Two-year contracts are usually enforced.

Because Apple is obsequiously worshiped, demands on control and exclusivity - and a strong response to the hacks - won't impact its reputation much. But what should other corporations - which do not sell a phone with a built-in weather manipulation device* - do to communicate their decisions?

The fact remains that very few companies are able to elucidate how exclusive arrangements benefit consumers. But rather than stay silent or pretend that an exclusive relationship was brokered out of sheer fortuity, companies should enlist their communications teams to express why the decision was made.

I doubt very much that we'll see less exclusive deals in the future, but I would expect - and hope - that companies that go that route take the opportunity to explain why the service function of a hardware device is tethered to one provider. If it's a business decision, customers will be able to handle it. And if they can't, then maybe they don't really need a phone that can accurately predict all future outcomes.*

*Note: The iPhone can't do any of these things... yet.

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