A bitter taste and a different view

Dog bytes man

Many years ago, when I was a big cheese in the high-tech arena (don’t worry – I much prefer being a small cheese, answerable to nobody) we had a saying: eat your own dogfood. It’s not as disgusting as it sounds, and it made perfect sense. The dogfood was what we pushed out there: software. And the dogs, if you’ll forgive the canine comparison, were the users. So the message was clear: if it’s good enough for them (users, not dogs, you understand) it’s good enough for us. And that went for all software, from dodgy betas right down to the occasional roller-coaster experience of alpha code. If you expect people to use it externally, to run their businesses on it and trust their data to it, you have to get chomping. And chomp we did. It was wonderfully liberating. Just like the Queen Mother in the East End in World War 2, you could look users in the eye and tell them you too had experienced the terrors of crashes, dodgy performance and features that were more bug, less feature. But it doesn’t stop at software. Service is just as edible – in a metaphorical sense. Every so often, I’d phone the call centre, disguise my voice and ask a difficult or sensitive question, just to see how the staff handled it. I’d ask product-related questions to see how accurate their answers were. And occasionally, when I was feeling really mischievous, I’d phone up as Mr Angry and demand to be put through to that accursed product marketing manager (me). Now that was an eye-opener. Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes can be distinctly uncomfortable, as you feel the pinch of bad service and the squeezed toe of off-message comments. Getting the run-around can be even more tiring, but imagine how much worse it is for your genuine clients, who can’t snap out of the role play and reveal their identity. Seeing how you treat your customers is a sobering experience. But it’s one that we should all try now and then to see just what a dog’s life is really like.

Double vision

Speaking of which, last week I had my eyes tested again. I’m still not quite used to the idea of wearing glasses, two years after finally having to admit that I couldn’t read the small print. Or any print, come to that. I’ve avoided the dentist for more years than I’m willing to admit (post-traumatic brace syndrome) but I decided I  really couldn’t put off the optician. Not that I’ve noticed a deterioration in the last two years, but they did say that’s the standard testing interval. And they scared me with stories of people leaving it for four or five years, then really struggling to adjust to their new glasses. So I gave in. Besides, there was a gentle reminder from not one, but two opticians that it was that time again. (See how effective and easy following up is? And the knee-jerk reaction to a simple, computer-generated letter?) I’ll spare you the endless details of the bottom lines (small print), balloons and red/green boxes, but instead focus in true blogger style on the 5 marketing lessons I learned from having my eyes tested:
  1. Free should be free (the eye test, that is) not ‘free if you subsequently buy a pair of glasses from us’. It’s really important when you’re making a promise that you don’t raise the reader’s hopes, only to dash them on the rocks of reality.
  2. Too much choice is no choice, especially when it looks designed to baffle. I was presented with so many options, I just stared and went blank. One pair for £69, with a free coating worth £30. Or a two-for-one offer, but you pay for the coatings. Or a budget pair for £25, and again you pay for the coating. There was one choice the nice lady didn’t give me: do nothing, have a think about it, and come back later (or maybe never). Which is the one I went for.
  3. Wear your own glasses – which is another way of saying the dogfood thing. When the optician finished my eye test, she obviously hit a real or virtual bank-robber-button-under-the-desk gizmo, which brought the saleswoman to the door to segue into the selling process. It felt creepy and manipulative, but they’re so used to it they’ve probably stopped wondering what it feels like to see things through their clients’ eyes. If you see what I mean.
  4. Walk away from a sale, and clock up those brownie points. When I got home, I reviewed the numbers, and the difference between my original prescription and this one was minuscule. I found out online (where else?) that I could easily wait another year before changing my glasses. If they’d told me that, they’d have been my new best friends, and top of my Christmas card list. But they didn’t, and I felt just a little bit used.
In the end, of course, I was the one who walked away from the sale. Or at least from that sale. And when I do change my glasses, I’ll order them online. I found a great site with huge choice, fast delivery and excellent how-to videos. And free coatings. No, not ‘free’ – just free. They also pass the only test that really counts for me: the focus on my bottom line. Speaking of which, you’re right – my five lessons are actually four. Well spotted. Perhaps I can’t last another year.