[Note: This originally appeared on Dave Gardner’s Fast Company Expert Blog]
Does the headline of this article represent an attitude that customers are drawn to? It sounds like a customer strategy taken right from the Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi” playbook!
Do customers prefer choice and the ability to influence every last detail in their decisions about certain products and services? I say “yes”—they prefer choice. Unilateralism on the part of product and server providers is not the pathway to marketplace success; it creates undesirable friction in the relationship.
The more sophisticated the buyer and the more configurable the product or service, the more giving the customer access to what they want comes into play. Here are a few examples factors that influence choice in a product or service:
– Longevity/useful life of a product or service
More and more products are disposable (and, I should point out, recyclable). A decision about buying a tooth brush does not have the same gravity that an electric toothbrush does. [Which brand and model did my dentist want me to buy?] An electric toothbrush doesn’t have the same purchasing gravity as a new television or a major appliance or a cell phone service contract. A home or car has a long, useful life and is one or the bigger decisions a customer makes so it certainly represents the highest level of purchasing gravity. There is, of course, more choice at the high end.
– Product uniqueness
I can acquire a dress shirt from Lands End in an easy, convenient way—I order online or by phone and a product shows up according to my shipping instructions. Quick, easy, convenient, reliable, and predictable. Or, I can go to a retailer and purchase from the selection they have on hand.
Or, I could order a highly-customized dress shirt from a company like Blank Label (www.blank-label.com) that I’m virtually assured will be unique and help me stand out in a crowd. I can order online and, in a few weeks, receive a shirt made just for me. Blank Label offers highly-customized shirts for people who want something unique and differentiated from “off-the-rack” shirts and can wait a bit to receive a highly-customized product. Sure, you’ll pay more and wait longer to get what you’ve ordered, but, the tangible and intangible value is much, much higher. And, a company like Blank Label doesn’t have to discount—customers are getting products produced to their exacting requirements—discounting never comes into play.
– Uniqueness in services like travel
Let’s say I am planning a trip. Will I book over the Internet, use a travel agent or some combination of both? Which air carrier will I choose; first class, coach, frequent flyer miles or no; non-stop or not; 5-star, 3-star, or 1-star hotel; departure time, arrival time; meals included or not; recreation included or not, car rental, transportation to the airport and the return. So many choices!
The longer the trip’s duration or distance, the more complications and choice one faces. A quick trip from Silicon Valley to LA for a day is much easier that a week traveling from Silicon Valley to New York City. When I recently traveled from Silicon Valley to Boston, I decided to drive the extra miles and time to fly out of San Francisco so I could take a non-stop flight creating peace of mind by not worrying about a missed connection midway through my trip.
A World of Constant Evolution
The world is constantly changing and competition is abundant, even in situations where companies have enjoyed virtual monopolistic status.
For example, Airbus (while hardly an overnight success) didn’t achieve roughly 50% market share by producing a product that airlines didn’t want. Airbus produces aircraft that employ a more common user interface and “fly-by-wire” technology that simplifies crew training and makes it easier to move pilots from one aircraft type to another. Airbus went from a position of “nobody” to “somebody” in the world of commercial aircraft and clearly has become a key player in the commercial airline marketplace at Boeing’s expense.
Companies offering products and services need to look for and resolve any points of friction between customer needs and wants and what the company is currently offering to increase their market share and build loyal customers who are raving fans.