Customers Don’t Want Choice, They Just Want to Participate

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Choice is a pretty sacred thing in Western free market capitalism. You might say it is one of our economic "gods." Our hope is that if we pay up to the god of choice, he will rewards us with customer loyalty. But the god of choice is a false god, and he has deceived you. The real power is in participation.

Stop Giving Me Options, Just Give Me What I Want!

The modern economy, in it’s wealth and abundance of choices, has contributed to growing crisis of "decision fatigue." No, I didn’t make that word up; it’s a real thing with science, studies, and all that smart stuff. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, I recommend taking a look at this lovely collection of TED talks on the subject: http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/519264798/decisions-decisions-decisions

While businesses see choices as tools to help provide customers what they need, reality is that choices often become obstacles to customers. Every time we have to make a choice, it wears our the little gray cells in our heads. After a while we just start making bad choices, or give up all together:

“I’ll have a latte please.”
“Small, medium, or large?”
“Medium.”
“Skim milk, or whole?”
“Whole.”
“Would you like an extra shot of espresso today?”
“No...”
“Would you like to add a pastry with today’s order?”
“That’s it, I’m buying a Keurig.”

I’ll Take the Usual

Ask any waiter or bartender, most customers don’t want "choice" - they just want what they want. The "choice" is a reality to YOU, the business, but to the customer, there is just the one thing they are looking for. If you have what the customer wants, they are happy, if you don’t, no amount of "choice" covers the disappointment.

The goal of presenting customers with "options" does not inherently provide them with value. The goal is to make it easy for customers to find the one thing they are looking for, not to dazzle them with the wide variety of things they don’t want in the first place.

We Don’t Want Choice, We Want to Participate

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I, like many adventurous eaters, will often skip the menu at a new restaurant and just ask the waiter for a recommendation. A great waiter will ask me "what do you like?" and then extrapolate that to something they feel will complement my tastes. I did not make a "choice" here, but I did get to participate.

The key to a great customer experience is not to bombard them with choices, it is to delight them with an interactive experience. We customers are fine answering questions about ourselves and what we want, but we don’t like sorting and sifting through rows of variety to find what we want. We want to participate in the selection of good and services, but we ultimately want a tailored solution.

But What About Shopping?

"Hey! This can’t be right, people LOVE shopping!" Oh? Do they? It’s true that there are many people who love perusing a mall, but I don’t know anyone who "loves" grocery shopping. If we could show up to a grocery store with our list already pulled and filling a cart ready for checkout, we would be thrilled.

The only time we really *want* to shop is when we want to explore. We explore to discover what’s out there, we "shop" when we are already looking for something. This is why so many people think the future of retail is as showrooms for online businesses. Going to a busy Apple Store is fun when you want to try out the new iPad, but it TORTURE if you are just wanting to buy a new adapter.

Meet Your Customers Half-Way

Jimmy Johns has over a dozen sandwiches, and endless options, but they grow their customer loyalty with the "freaky fast" saved favorite order button on the app. Starbucks has an ungodly amount of options for coffee, but we all have our "go-tos" so our heads don’t explode in the morning. And the answer to "What kind of pizza do you want?" is almost never "I dunno, let me see the menu..."

The goal of any great customer-focused business is to get the information you need from a customer to know what they need. In this way, customer are happy to participate. As technology grows in it’s ability to understand the individual user, businesses that keep throwing "choices" at customers are going to lose.