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…On Product Selection.

Posted by Steve on March 25, 2009

There’s an old saying everybody knows: “The customer is always right.”

Obviously, that saying isn’t true. Sometimes the customer’s a moron. Sometimes the customer’s a jackass. Either way, sometimes the customer’s just plain wrong.

However, there is one thing that the customer does always be. Namely, the customer does always be the one who knows what it wants. Unfortunately, as that inexplicably popular band sang, “you can’t always get what you want,” because sometimes what the customer wants just isn’t available. As another old saying went, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Now, sometimes the issue where the company won’t make the desired product available is trivial, as with Model T colors or the fact that Taco Bell only makes the best thing on their menu available in Atlanta and Minneapolis, but not where I live. It’s annoying and I make a point of complaining about it whenever I fill out a customer (dis)satisfaction form, but in the great scheme of things, including my life, it isn’t that big a deal.

With other things, though, it can be meaningful. Computer software, for instance, is (I think) an area where that’s particularly true. Microsoft’s the poster-child for this. Don’t need, want, or like the new features and functional changes in the new version of Office or Windows? Too damn bad, because we’re not going to support or sell the old version anymore: the new version is the only version. Firefox 3’s another example: you can put up with the way they’ve ruined the location bar’s functionality, or you can not use Firefox, since their piece of crap changes are unremovable from 3 and previous versions are no longer supported. Frankly, in my opinion, the computer software industry’s almost as bad as the textbook industry for putting out unnecessary new versions and new versions that are just plain worse than the old versions (at one point while I was in college, I was taking a class in a department where 4th edition of the textbook was required. Another class in the same department required 5th edition of the same book. The professor for my class proudly explained that 5th edition was 4th edition with the contents rearranged and assorted spelling errors added, and was only available as a $90 new book as opposed to the $30 used 4th edition. I believe the adjective he used to summarize his feelings about the 5th edition was “criminal”.). I think both industries would benefit from applying Barbri’s motto to their product development: do it once, do it right, never do it again. Putting out a Textbook 2nd edition or a Browser Version 2 usually means a fuck-up, either in the original or the new, not an improvement on a good thing (as when the 2009 model of a car gets better gas mileage than the 2008 model which got better gas mileage than the 2007 model).

But hey, it’s the company that decides what their product is. So when they decide it’s time for 5th Edition textbooks or Office 2007 or Firefox 3, the customer is always right might as well sit down and shut up. Apparently “your way, right away” is only at Burger King. A shame, really.

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