Flexibility – More of an ingredient than an entree

By: Jon Gage

When we were kids, classmates who were “double jointed” appeared to possess something rivaling super powers. I can recall marveling at hyper-extended fingers or legs twisting into seemingly-impossible configurations.

On every occasion I would think, “I wish I was that flexible”.

That desire hasn’t diminished with age, although now it’s “flexible options” and “flexible reporting” rather than a painful attempt at the splits. Everywhere we look, businesses are marketing how flexible they are:

  • “Access the service from anywhere in the world”
  • “Choose from 45 built-in reports”
  • “Sign up for our paperless workflow”
  • “Built to suit your busy schedule”
  • “Integrates directly with these ten social media platforms”

If the offering is consumer-facing and that audience includes (dare I say it) Millenials, just count how many times the word, “mobile” is used instead to suggest flexibility. We can all agree that a diversified offering is a good thing, but that needs to be tempered with careful exposure.  While it’s a noble goal to provide your customers with 150 options it may be self-defeating. In 2000 Columbia University released a well-known study about this very topic. Researchers set up a booth of jam samples in a grocery store, and throughout the day would rotate between offering 6 choices vs 24 options. Of those that stopped by the booth, 60% were drawn to the large offering while 40% approached the smaller samples. What’s interesting however, and the key take-away from the study is this:

Of the customers who visited the large booth, 3% proceeded to buy the jam. Of the customers who visited the booth with only 6 samples, 30% walked away with a jam purchase.

What this tells us is that while flexibility is important (a robust inventory of jams), what is paramount is ensuring that the offering is both concise and relevant to satisfy your customer’s requirements (making sure that the 6 jams are well selected). Instead of giving your clients and business partners a choice of 30 reports, 5 cut-off times and 9 ways to access their data it may be worth your time to step back and consider what they really need. Who will be using the service? Why are they using the service? What will they do with the information? Will they get lost in a sea of choices? In short, your customers look to your expertise when it comes to choosing the “jam”.

Just make sure they’re all delicious.

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