• February 1, 2007
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Lazy Sheepdogs, Annoying Sheep

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It's hard to please consumers--I know this from both sides of the transaction. As a consumer I know that I'm rarely truly happy with anything for long, and as a producer of genius commentary on CRM, I know how difficult it is to predict what the audience wants to read. Usually I don't even try, and rely on my ability to amuse myself to fill this page. This doesn't mean you aren't important to me, it just means I'm professionally better off worrying about you later. I'm not the only person or corporate entity that thinks this way: When's the last time one of them gave you what you really wanted? Take something like Web sites, for example. They can be confusing messes, and tell me, how does anybody find what they need? People have been cruising the Web for more than 10 years, and Web design is still extremely hit-or-miss. "Keep it simple," some say. "Load it with content," others say. The Web experience runs the gamut from flashy graphics and embedded video to bare-bones link delivery, and almost none of it is any good. Webmasters are constantly overthinking the problem; to paraphrase Keyshawn Johnson, just deliver me the damn content. Shopping in actual stores isn't much better. On the one hand, there's the desire to make the experience comfortable and quick for the shopper, but on the other there's the need to showcase certain products and keep bodies in the store until they buy something. Often, the layout of a shop is more dependent on ease of stocking than on making it easy for you to grab your Pop-Tarts and get out. It's not entirely the fault of the provider. It costs money to operate a business, so cutting back on service quality in favor of volume, advertising, or outright confusion is tempting to the people who write the checks. It's easy to go overboard, though; again, the Web is the home of some egregious violations of aesthetics. Banner ads, skyscrapers, pop-ups, pop-unders, flashing ads, ads in Flash, streaming video that you can't stop--it's like a midway on some sites, and I don't mean just the disreputable ones I browse when I think nobody's looking. I'd advise us all to vote with our feet (or the mouse), but that doesn't really work. Every business is doing more or less the same thing--they call it best practices, ironically enough. And when consumers ask for changes, those changes are either misapplied or turn out to not be an improvement anyway. Tone down the flashiness and we say it's dull. Add content or options and we call it cluttered, confusing, or slow. It's fun on some passive-aggressive, sadistic level, but my experience as a consumer tells me that 90 percent of everything is crap, and I probably don't even know what I want. If you're anything like me--and you know you are--searching for a truly fulfilling commercial experience isn't worth the effort, because deep down you know the project is doomed to failure. Isn't that a comforting thought? Contact Senior Editor Marshall Lager at mlager@destinationCRM.com.
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