Recently, I have had occasion to speak with three different Cafe Blinds designers who were trying to impress me with their abilities vis-à-vis designing and building web sites. The first one went on at great length impressing me with his ‘philosophy’ of web design: how a web site had to be both a work of art, and a place where people could be educated. His emphasis on a site as a ‘work-of-art’ likely stems from his own background as an artist and photographer. He was each of those…before being drawn to web design, an area where it appears he could actually make a living. The second one, self-employed in web design for five years, gave me an in-depth evaluation of an existing site and how it needed to be ‘revised’ to look much better. His concept was to build the infrastructure of the site, which he referred to as the ‘skeleton’, then he would proceed to put all the muscles on and build the ‘look’ of the site.
His entire approach began and ended with what he felt the site should ‘look’ like (to him, of course). Finally, the third person I interviewed, with a degree in computer science, understandably tried to influence me with all the graphics, flashy software he knew how to operate; all the super-duper special effects he could put on a site to gain attention (he didn’t specify whose attention that was).
Now let me segue to a quiet, lazy afternoon with a couple of hours to kill in an unfamiliar small town. I had an appointment two hours out, but had arrived in the town early. I decided to have some lunch, and spend those two hours doing some paperwork; maybe even some planning-thinking in the large dining room of this well known quick service restaurant. Let me tell you up front, that it was NOT a McDonalds, Wendy’s, A&W, or Burger King. I was waiting for my order when I had no choice but to notice this high pitched noise emanating from a bank of frozen food self-service upright freezers, where the operator stored frozen delights for sale. It was obvious to me that one or more of the refrigeration compressors was on its last legs; the machines were making an irritating noise that, once you were aware of it – and how could you not be? – It was impossible to block out. It was so loud in fact; the playing of the old style 50s juke box just a dozen feet from my table was not able to drown out this most exasperating sound.
I noticed a person who had the look of “owner” written all over him; I introduced myself and asked him if he knew he had a blown compressor. “What?” he said. “Oh yeah, that went on the fritz a few months ago.” I said: “how come you haven’t gotten it fixed? It’s really very irritating for your customers.” “Oh yeah?” he said. “I hadn’t really noticed it again until you just mentioned it….I’m here every day so I guess I’m used to it. ‘Doesn’t seem bad to me.”
I looked him square in the eye and said: “Look at the number of customers you have in your dining room right now, during your peak lunch hour period. Do you think this might be a reflection of many people in your small town know about this irritation and have told others that it is no longer pleasant to eat here?” He stared at me blankly and said: “Do you have any idea of how much it will cost me to fix those compressors?” I said: “yes, I do. I used to be in the business too. Do you know how much this is and will continue to cost you in lost business in a small, highly competitive market…if you DON’T fix them?”What’s missing in each of these scenarios? You guessed it: the customer’s viewpoint, opinion, input, feeling, needs or wants.
Each of these web designers is caught up in his own area of expertise or his need to earn awards of some kind. (If you would like to see a short video with more detail of what I couldn’t put in print about this experience, click on the live link in the bio box area below). The owner of this fast food outlet is missing the boat because he doesn’t want to spend the money. The customer be damned. It’s his business that’s being damned, not the customer. The customer will quietly vote with his feet. Years ago, the founder of Leo Burnett, the famous Chicago ad agency, said:” We want the consumer to say, “That’s a hell of a product,” instead of, “That’s a hell of an ad.”” Even back then, marketing was about the customer first, the marketer last. It’s a lesson we can never afford to forget.