Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Great Expectations.

Sometime between the moment you buy your first paper fax machine and the time you upgrade to your 33.6 fax modem, you begin to realize just how weird technology can be. Not the technology itself, but the people who use it.

Wait a minute. Let me clarify that. It gets especially weird for the people who use the technology, but don't really understand it. People who think that just because you can transmit the data faster, you can actually produce the data faster. These are the same guys, incidentally, that think all you need to drive a car are a set of keys and some gas in the tank. Ask them what a distributor cap is and they'll tell you it's the promotional hat they give away at CompUSA grand openings.

Techno-expectations are a real problem for anyone using technology in their business matrix, but for those of us in the service industry, it's been a particularly vexing problem. And if you think you're immune to it, forget it, pal. The same people who get ticked off because their Big Mac arrives thirty seconds late are the same people clicking their mice and ordering from your website.

So how do you handle a twitchy, impatient public that's been sold on the immediacy of push button technology? Well, let's slow down the runaway train with a few basic realignments of the expectations -- both yours and your customers' -- which tend to skew our view of things.

First, YOU have to accept the notion that technology changes at a faster rate than human nature's ability to adapt it. Which means that the first set of expectations that have to change are YOURS. Let's say you sucked some unsuspecting consumer into a web-based transaction. DING! The VISA clears and the order is in! But just because it comes in at the speed of light, doesn't mean you can fulfill it that fast. And the proprietor who makes that mistake is bucking for big trouble, because he's forgotten that it still takes humans on the fulfillment end (no matter how automated your fulfillment system is) to screw things up.

One of our clients, for example, is convinced that because we designed a fully digital catalogue/fulfillment operation, he can go clip coupons in Aruba while "the machines do the work". Wrong. As long as there are humans anywhere near the transaction, there will always be screw ups. And over-promising your product based on quick technology is the surest way to build an impressive collection of consumer complaints. So be careful not to believe your own techno-claims. Sure, you can be efficient. And you can be fast. But be careful to promise speed and efficiency only where human involvement is NOT a factor.

The next thing you gotta do is realign your customers' expectations. This is a lot easier if you give them adequate warning up front, before they base any decisions on faulty expectations. A perfect example of this are clients that bring us bad art and tell us, "Hey, just throw it into Photoshop and change it. It only takes five minutes." To which I reply, "No, YOU throw it into Photoshop and YOU change it in five minutes and if you can do it, I'll hire you on the spot."

The key here is that most improperly-educated clients really buy into the overly simple, "one click does it all" marketing message and transfer those ill-founded expectations on to your business, which sets you up for a high degree of failure. You know it doesn't work that way. I know it doesn't work that way. But the guy who's ticked off that he has to pay you isn't as forgiving. So it's up to you to educate him. And if you're smart, you'll do it BEFORE he's had a chance to develop his own fictional expectations.

Now, not everyone handles techno-expectations in the same way. There are ethical ways and, well, sneaky ways to do this. And because I'm both a supremely ethical guy and a big fan of sneakiness, I've decided to present an example of each for your consideration:

Method #1 involves embracing the technology on YOUR side of the relationship, but not allowing the clients to see/feel/be threatened by it. After all, most clients really don't care about HOW you do what you do. All they want to know is (1) when can they get it and (2) can you give them a better price just this once.

Yeesh.

At Frankel & Anderson, we often do stuff in a day that takes other agencies weeks, but we're careful to constrain that claim to issues like production. So when it comes to printing brochures, producing radio or TV commercials, we take full advantage of the techno-push. Doing a digital photo shoot, for example, saved a client two full days of film lab work and another day of scanning. It also sliced the photography bill in half. That was a good thing. But creating the strategy and concept behind the photo shoot took longer. Less time than a traditional agency (because we're really, really good), and with better looking roughs than a traditional agency (because we produce everything on PowerPC's), but still taking enough time for genuine human beings to give the concepts due consideration.

Those were the expectations presented to the client BEFORE we undertook the assignment. And that's why the client was pleased with the outcome.

Method #2 is best illustrated by an estate planner in Houston who -- no kidding -- uses search and replace on very basic software to "write" estate plans for clients. The clients show up for the meeting, drop off a check and fill out a form. They are told that the plan will take about four to six weeks to prepare. The receptionist does the search and replace within an hour or two. It takes the attorney an hour or so to write in the specific riders and attachments, but the whole thing is finished in a few hours.

If the clients knew how quickly he produces the plans, do you think they'd pay $4500 for a plan? I think not. But they do. And I'm convinced the only reason they do is that they EXPECT to pay $4500 and EXPECT to wait at least four to six weeks.

Either way you choose, you can see that it has less to do with the technology than your customers' techno-expectations. Did I mention that this article only took five seconds to write?

Rob Frankel

 
 
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