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“A Customer Should Be Accidentally Happier Because of Your Product”

It’s a mantra Apple never realized they had.  It’s also practiced by many of the most successful product companies in history.  Sadly few companies today believe in this notion and the number is steadily approaching zero.  Off the top of my head, Apple is the only company lately to have convinced people to buy a product with certain expectations only to surprise them with something better.  They’ve certainly had their failures and letdowns that I could surely rant about for hours (or weeks), but the experience you have from the instant you open the packaging to the point of being fully immersed in the product is nothing short of programmed excellence.  This should be the goal of every company, to reward their customers with an experience that is better than expected.

Too many products today are haunted by features that don’t work and advertising that overpraises what does.  Consider buying a brand new and very expensive smartphone which is running an old version of the OS, contains bloated software from the carrier, some features won’t work due to imaginary restrictions and it doesn’t even get the advertised data speeds.  In my case, I voided my warranty by flashing a custom rom onto the phone to solve ALL of those issues.  But I shouldn’t have to fix a product I just bought so I can get what I paid for.

If 1% of the experience is bad for 80% of people, your product should fail

I’ve had to return countless things to stores over the years because some part was not working as it was supposed to.  It’s a small wonder that some products have ever made it to manufacturing when significant flaws are remarkably obvious to anybody at first glance.  I’ve had to return blenders, mice, lamps, laptops…I even returned DVDs to Wal-Mart that were warped or melted inside the case.  I get that there can be flaws in manufacturing, but this is unacceptable.

When there are false promises or corners were cut, ask how many of the most vocal customers are going to notice and multiply that backlash. We’re in an age of consumers who are far more informed and knowledgeable than ever before thanks to blogs and forums.  People are researching their purchasing decisions and asking their knowledgeable friends for recommendations like never before.

The butterfly effect is prevalent in the purchasing decisions of the mainstream populace.

Consider that alienating just 0.01% of the market today will lead to losing about 5% of the market over the next year, which dominoes into another 20% or more the next year.  The butterfly effect is prevalent in the purchasing decisions of the mainstream populace.  When 10 of the geekiest customers purchase a phone, they will effect 20-30 people a month later, who will then collectively effect 200-300 in another month.  Imagine engineering this effect to your favor by impressing just those 10 in the beginning and watch the thousands of new customers line up for your next big release.

Obviously there are aspects that can’t be fixed like cramped quarters on an airplane, but if one airline gave up about $1 per passenger to offer everybody free wireless internet for the duration of their flight.  Instead of charging $15 to the %0.25 of the passengers who normally buy it, that airline would max out their flights and have to add new flights for the next six months while every other airline scrambles to match them.

Imagine if HTC, Samsung, Motorola or any other smartphone manufacturer released updates to all of their android phones within 2-3 weeks of a new version.  The first company delivering on this will have massive customer loyalty.  If you doubt that theory, consider the response to ‘Nexus’ phones which do get updates right away, people respond to them the way they do to the iPhone.  The reality is, most of these efforts would suffer a cost unto the manufacturers of around ONE HUNDREDTH OF 1% (0.0001) of their profits, but it is likely that it would net at least another 10%-20% in customers because current and potential customers will be more vocal about the quality experience.  It’s a leap of faith, but it’s a small leap that any company would be foolish to ignore.  Deliver an experience that is superior and allow customers to notice how much better they have it.

As consumers, we must demand better.  When products don’t work as advertised or are hugely flawed, return them!  Make sure to write an email to the companies or at least go on forums or write a blog to complain about the things that aren’t ok.  Pay attention to the flaws and be useful when describing them so the engineers and developers have more than “it didn’t work right”.

As producers, we must do better too.  First, listen to customers to solve the problems and test what you’ve done for ways that both regular and irregular people will use it.  If 1% of the experience is bad for 80% of people, your product should fail.  One of the most important questions I ask when writing code is, “What can I do to make the user think my software does magic?”  We don’t need to add options and extra features if it doesn’t make the product any better.  Our products don’t need to solve every problem, but they must do what they are supposed to and solve the problems in the best way possible.

What can I do to make the user think my software does magic?

“A customer should be accidentally happier because of your product.”  I thought of that quote about a week ago and wrote it down immediately.  It says so much about so little.  After all that I’ve written, I suspect it goes to show that a great product is no accident…but if there is an intangible feeling that everything else has been made better in ways that weren’t intended, then somebody did something very right.