Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Paradox of Choice: How We as Marketers Can Help People Choose Better

I came across
Barry Schwartz’s
book The Paradox of Choice
recently and decided to buy it. I made a good decision. The premise behind the book is that too much choice (as we have it in modern affluent societies) is really not that good and is actually counter-productive – it makes people make worse choices, if they make them at all.

It turns out that too much choice produces paralysis. And when we manage to make a choice, we end up being less satisfied with it. It is easy to image that we could have made a better choice even if we did make a good decision. I am sure most of us have experienced this regretful emotion not one but many times and in different situations. I remember when I first came to the US and went into a supermarket to buy some essentials. My expectation was that essentials should be easy to buy – after all, it is essentials we are talking about. Little did I know that I would face two isles of breads, infinite varieties of flour, flavors, and preparations. I just wanted bread that I liked – and I was beyond overwhelmed. After facing myriad of choices on an hour-by-hour basis for a few days, I was ready to head back home where choice, albeit more limited, was manageable.

I didn’t know that living in a world of unlimited choice and opportunity would turn out to be a challenge – that when choosing one thing, I would feel I was giving up something else. More importantly, that the presence of these various choices would make me less satisfied with my original picks.

Barry Schwartz says that evidently nobody in the world of marketing knows this – he implies that we are part of the problem. Well, most of us don’t. Most companies believe that launching just one more brand extension, one more flavor, or one more bundle, would capture us more market share. Everywhere you turn – from SaaS companies, to mutual funds, to medical services, to retailers, to supermarkets, to social networks – it is all about the next flavor we sure will be gobbling up. What we fail to realize as marketers is that offering so many options to our customers makes them not only more confused and unsatisfied, but makes people feel like they are a failure. If we only had one option to choose from, it is the company, not us, who’s to blame if the choice turns out bad. But with thousands of options out there, we are know that there must be at least one alternative that is perfect – and if we don’t pick it, it is us who are responsible for the failure.

There is a lesson to be learned from companies like Twitter and Apple – simplify the choices we face. Keep them to a minimum. Don’t inundate me with product flavors, options, or customization boxes. Tell me what’s good enough. Give me an easy guidepost for making decisions.

I yet agree with Barry Schwartz: the secret to life is low expectations.

You can listen to Barry’s TED review of his book


Wishing us all to be living in the moment,

Monday, June 1, 2009

Service vs. Price: Service Matters

Long time, no post – got distracted by lots of travel and the wedding of my of my best friends (if you cared to, you can see the party pics here

So to the point – came across a great article on CNN living - Customer service 'vigilantes' target executives
, thanks to the weekly OMMA newsletter. I have always been of the mind that you either offer customer service or you don’t – there is no in between. I recently tried to cancel my premium subscription on LinkedIn – it took me a while to figure out how to do it. I had to browse through multiple pages of unrelated content and then why I finally got to the instructions, they made little sense so I had to reread them a few times. There was no human I could speak to, no live chat option. And although I still use LinkedIn pretty religiously, I am no longer as impressed by them as I used to be.

I am even less impressed by – their cancellation policies are inconsistent from one booking to the next, and they do little to warn their customers of the potential losses. I had to learn the hard way – when I called their customer service line, I had an agent who kept reading from their web site a few lines of copy that clearly did not make any sense. The rep even asked me to recreate the booking so I could see that the coy was there. Very helpful indeed.

I had to sync my iPod with my new Mac a few months ago (was proudly switching from a PC). When I got to Apples customer care rep, he advised me that he could help me but it would cost me $25. The alternative was to search through Apple forums for my answer. In then turned out that he could help me for free, he just did not get why I was calling in the first place. What is wrong with that picture?

If we live in tough times, shouldn’t each customer and each interaction matter? Shouldn’t each brand experience we have be thought through? Do we really need to resort to finding top execs at companies so we can be listened to?

Companies and brand will have to get it that we do live in a new culture – a convergence culture. A culture where customers will not only have a voice, but will shape who makes it and who does not. Watch this video on Scott Kirsner’s blog
on Henry Jenkins’ take on convergence culture.