Consumers Are Getting Smarter. Are You?

  |  September 4, 2003   |  Comments

Fight usability battles in the words of your customers.

I was on a flight one morning from Berlin to London via British Airways. I like British Airways. Before everyone says, "Here goes Jack complaining about the airlines again," let me assure you that isn't what this column is about.

I was in an exit row in business class, and the plane was almost completely full. I wasn't even supposed to be on that plane, but since I had slept through my scheduled 6 a.m. flight, I was thankful just to get a seat.

There I was, in a middle seat in an exit row with someone on my left and someone on my right. We all sat down at about the same time. We all realized how uncomfortable the seat was at the same time. We all pushed the button to recline our seats at the same time.

And we all realized, at the same time, this plane didn't allow exit row seats to recline. I was waiting for pandemonium to break out. Instead, the woman to my right started a discussion about consumer experience and the difference between features designed by a consumer advocate and those designed by an engineer.

For once in my life, I stayed silent and just listened to the conversation. Do I have a lot to add to a conversation about user experience? I sure hope so! But I was more interested in hearing the two people in my row discuss the problem and why they think it exists. I'm not sure what the woman on my right does for a living, but the man on my left is an electrical engineer. He had a lot to say about balancing design with usability, which he deals with in his job.

People who use your products, visit your stores, shop with you online, and read your advertisements are increasingly able to look through the marketing bull your company puts out and wishes were true. Consumers are getting savvier to the ways decisions are made in companies. When a user expectation is not met, consumers are no longer just taking it in stride and hoping you'll do better next time.

Instead, they analyze why you failed to meet their expectations and make assumptions about the conversations and political struggles that went on in your conference rooms. They figure out how you are failing as an organization and look for companies that have made the right decisions.

Wouldn't you prefer they just enjoy your products and services?

My message this week is this: Clean up your house. Work through as many political issues as you can in the next month or two. Cut through some political crap miring progress and user-focused design decisions by getting real testimonials from disgruntled users. Your CEO can't possibly ignore what his customers are actually saying, even if the CTO claims it isn't a big problem.

No, the world isn't that simple. But if you fight the political battle in the words of your customers, especially those in your biggest demographic segments, then the battle becomes less about what you think is right, and more about what your customers think is right. No one in your company should have a political beef with your customers. You, I'm not so sure about!

Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

Until next time...

Jack

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Aaronson

Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at Shop.org and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.

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