Monday, April 17, 2006

Making things easy for the customer

I learned an obvious, yet valuable lesson this weekend about the effects of convenience and simplicity in making a sale.

I travel to Pittsburgh every other month or so. I travel to New York at least 2-3 times a year, and I go through the Harbor Tunnel in Baltimore a ton. And every one of those trips I pass through multiple tolls (6 separate toll booths totaling $19 the 200 miles to Manhattan, and 7 totaling $21 on the way home), and see that EZ-Pass lane allowing traffic to flow smoothy. But every time I'm stuck in the cash line digging for dollars in my car seat. Five or six years ago there was just one lane, then two... now every lane takes EZ-Pass, and there are only 1 or 2 cash lanes. So I kept meaning to get an EZ-Pass, but each time there was an obstacle that kept me from doing it.

First i'd think of it on the road, but completely forgot once I was home and didn't need to pay tolls. Then if I did remember to look on the web, it was usually right before a trip, and I would encounter a PDF file that I had to fill out, mail in, wait 6 weeks and receive an EZ-Pass. That sure wouldn't help me this trip...oh well I'll fill it out later. Then they started allowing online signups... but same deal, plus I saw you had to pay a $3 maintinance fee every year. Sure don't need to do that with cash....oh well. But Finally this weekend, as I was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike ($8 toll from Pittsburgh!) I stopped at a rest station. After playing the handwashing game with those faucets that only stay on for 2 seconds (punch, wash, repeat), I was killing time and noticed an EZ-Pass machine. "Get out of here!" I thought to myself. You can get an EZ Pass from this vending machine? Sure enough, it had a keyboard and let you enter all the info, slide a credit card and out would pop an EZ-Pass. I didn't even think twice. Who cares about the cost? I can have one now and use it on the way home! They could have charged me a $5 convenience fee and I still probably would have bought it.

Lesson Learned? No matter how useful or how much people want your product, if it's not easy, REALLY easy for them to get it, only the really hard core people will go through your hoops to get it. If you require someone to give a page of info just to download a demo, you've probably lost a ton of people. This is how AOL got so many subscribers. While other ISP's required you to "call them" or "buy their kit in the stores", AOL just shipped 50 to every home. It became the default because it was so easy to buy. Keep it simple!


At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Jesse Smith said...

Hi Phil, I read in an earlier entry that you've developed ChimSoft in .NET. I know a lot of developers (on the JoS forum for instance) feel that .NET is a no-go for the small ISV because of the run-time size and other issues.

Do you find that this interferes at all with the idea of making it easy for the customer? Since you distribute on CD, I guess it's not an issue, but I notice you don't have an download demo or trial version available.

I'm interested in how this has worked out for you (6 months along the line now) because I think niche business management solutions are a great opportunity for a small startup, but the .NET runtime does seem to present some potential difficulties to offset the substantial productivity benefits it also offers.

At 5:40 PM, Blogger Phil said...

Hi Jesse,

.NET isn't really a big deal, and in terms of the time it saves me in development, any negatives are worth it.

We've found that most people (80% or so) already have the 1.1 Framework installed, and like you said since we are mainly CD distribution its even less of an issue. It does prevent us from playing with the latest tools, like .NET 2.0, but with automatic updates and such these days, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people will have that in a year or two.


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