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Solving customer problems versus being cool


I went to a ThoughtWorks live event in May 2013 ‘Thriving in a fragmented future', where CEO of pizza giant Dominos – Don Meij, shared some pearls of wisdom from the Dominos mobile app successes, crediting solving customer problems rather than copying other successful retailers as key to increasing uptake.

You can see this by checking out the Domino’s web site and mobile apps to experience how straightforward it is to order your pizza this way. Their original app triumphed over major competitor Pizza Hut in 2009. The Dominos app had less features, but it could be downloaded from anywhere. In contrast, Pizza Hut had a large and complex app that required the user be connected to Wi-Fi to download, its uptake was severally limited as a result. The Dominos app became the number 1 free app on iTunes within 5 days of launch. 

It made me think about how often our organisation’s websites get carried away with the creation of fancy features before they address their customer’s basic needs and issues.

A recent example I personally experienced was when I arranged for a Christmas lights tour with our kids. It’s an annual event for our family that we fit in the days between school term ending and Christmas. Post dinner and baths our three kids, beside themselves with the thrill of a late night, get into warm clothes, grab their torches and pile into the car to visit houses where the residents go berserk in decorating their house frontages. Sometimes whole streets get involved with bizarre festive themed montages; Santas on roofs grazing reindeer on lawns, and a conglomeration of festive illuminations are common.

As is most often the case in my family, the amount of planning we have done in preparation is exactly none. The last two years we had the advantage of using a simple ‘list view’ website which uncovered a treasure trove of frontages in a single street not too far away, since then this location has always been the finale of the lights tour. We park nearby and walk along this crazy street after touring random houses that we find via the website on the way. However this year, to my dismay, the website had been updated. Instead of the simple and useful list of addresses categorised by region, it had been ‘updated’ with a postcode search, which returned a clickable map designed for desktop screens, and very difficult to use on a small screen device. Expanding the map in order to find the streets didn’t work, it kept snapping the view back to something that wasn’t readable on a smart phone. How frustrating! We had to navigate our trip according to memory of where the lights had been last year, resulting in us wasting time visiting  streets baron of lights, and  houses that weren’t on display this year. Not to mention, missing others that we couldn’t pin point on the annoying map.



At that point I was reminded of another insight from Don Meij. He shared that if they have an idea that is 'cool' but the customer benefit is not clear, they won't invest in building it.

The new Christmas lights website was definitely fancier than the years of 2012 and 2011, they had a map for a start, and icons that were Christmas trees for every house and area with Christmas lights. It described in detail what you could find at each address, but only if you managed to click on them. It failed for us as it didn’t work for a trip on the move with a smart phone, which seems like a completely obvious use case of the site to me.

Perhaps on first read you would say the failure was not designing or testing for mobile use, or not building a ‘cool’ mobile app. I disagree, I think they could have minimised their efforts and stuck to the existing searchable list of addresses – which worked on all screen sizes, or even preserved the list view as well as add the map view, and offered a choice from both.

It’s been obvious in previous years that this website is not a big money maker for the creator, and therefore my expectations were already low when using it, but it managed to fail my low customer expectations. Not updating the site’s features at all would have been a more successful experience for us. In fact, the best thing I’ve gained from their new website is this great example of Don’s insight i.e. why concentrating effort on solving present customer problems is more fundamental, and successful than doing cool work on new features.


So how can organisations ensure they are building software for clear customer benefits when the appeal of doing ‘cool stuff’ is so strong in an age where innovation is king? I will blog about one approach to this next, in ‘Personas: make itpersonal’.

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