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Dealing With Goldilocks December 19, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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Recently, my wife’s car wouldn’t start.  Drawing on my deep technical acumen, I jump-started the car and took it to a local repair shop.  They agreed with my diagnosis of a bad battery, but to be sure, they wanted to test my battery with their special equipment.  This would ensure that the battery was the culprit, keeping me from wasting my money when the problem might lie elsewhere.  They would even provide me with the diagnostic printout showing the exact problem.

I hate getting car repairs, and this kind of customer service was pleasantly unexpected.  After a little while, the technician returned with the promised printout.  Along with the date and time, the printout provided this complete technical analysis of my battery:

REPLACE BATTERY

Wow! With this kind of detailed analysis, it was clear that my $130 would be well-spent.

Where were the voltages and amps?  Where was the graphical display of the cells in the battery, with one or two in red?  Where was some sort of chart, showing how quickly the battery would charge and then die?  Where was the link to the online version of the report that I could view years from now? How about a special code I could text to a server, or a Twitter stream for my car?

Clearly, my expectations of the diagnostic report were very different from what the vendor provided.  And in the mechanic’s defense, many customers need only see that printed confirmation to verify their battery suspicions.  Volts and amps don’t mean much to most people.

Every customer is Goldilocks: they don’t it want it too hot, or too cold.  They want it just right.  As technology designers, we struggle constantly to anticipate “just right” and deliver it quickly and reliably.  But we rarely get it right, because every user has a different definition of “just right.”

What to do?  Personalization may be the answer, but can be cumbersome and very expensive to implement.  Presenting progressively detailed data can help, allowing users to dig in deeper as their interests dictate.  Even offering a few versions of a report or interface (beginner, experienced, and expert) can mitigate a lot of user complaints.

Although it is difficult, we cannot give up on finding the sweet spot for our users.  Because if we do, we may find that one day our boss shows up with a diagnostic report of their own:

REPLACE CIO

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