For Whom Are You in Business?

A customer recently signed up for one of our subscription services. When he became aware of our legacy solution – a product that is nearing sunset and no longer receives enhancements – he insisted on using the outdated system. His reasoning was simple: he liked the way it looked more than he liked the aesthetics of the new product.

The customer dismissed the many arguments for the new solution, which included added features and functionality, better user experience, stronger device compatibility and more options. Never mind that it would never receive updates or enhancements. His argument for visual appeal, of course, is subjective, so it’s difficult to assert which UI looks better. Nevertheless, we explained that the new minimalist user interface design is more fashionable than the rich graphics experiences of decades passed.

No matter, the customer insisted on keeping the legacy solution or decline the service entirely. Since other customers still run on the older platform we obliged him, but this experience led me to ponder… for whom is this person in business?

Before presenting his ultimatum, did he take time to consider how his decision would impact his customers and by extension his own business success? By denying his customers an inarguably better experience, is it possible that he will sacrifice customer loyalty? His decision to use a product based entirely on cosmetic appearance when underlying functionality represents so much more, calls into question the most fundamental business principal – please the customer.

To be clear, we’re not talking about artistic integrity or personal expression. A business has a purpose, and if the customer isn’t a primary focus, the consequences could be dire.

As an application designer for decades, I have come to appreciate many observations about human behavior. Foremost, we don’t like to be wrong. Developers, perhaps, suffer from this syndrome more than anyone. We spend considerable time engineering solutions that we believe are flawless, only to fail the maiden hallway test. We argue to the point of exhaustion before we tuck our tails and accept the stinging truth – we were wrong.

Over the years, I’ve watched my own team mature and even embrace these failures as steps toward success. No longer do we waste precious time fighting for causes that are solely supported by our egos. Our experiences have delivered us to this summit of awakening because we now understand that building a stellar product, is better than being right. We learned to emphasize long-term success over instant gratification. As a team, we became unified in the mission to build the best product for the customer, not selfishly for ourselves.

Admittedly, there is some frustration for us placing a customer on an older platform as we try to decommission it. At the same time, we are flattered that a technology built a decade ago still appeals to new customers. Nevertheless, the discussion here is deciding why and for whom a business exists. If the intent is to disguise an avocation as an occupation, a proprietor can act with reckless abandon, however a business must place customers first, or more than likely it will fail.

Years ago, at SoftTouch, we experienced some hard lessons about product refresh. We learned from questionable decisions and adopted a clear policy as a result: We are in business to make our customers happy. Of course, we would never compromise our ethics or professional integrity in the name of a dollar. We are proud of our craftwork, but with the understanding that it’s going to be used by someone else and we need to focus on their needs, not our preferences.