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Pandora’s Box

pandora's_box

“Give them what they want.”

Type that phrase into any search engine. Up will pop listings for any number of marketing gurus and sales pundits who’ll tell you that’s the key to success.

Then there’s the opposition voice, represented most famously by Steve Jobs. As Julian Baggini of The Guardian noted in a post at the time of Jobs’ death, the Apple founder believed success was built on the idea that you can’t give customers what they want because they don’t know what they want.

It’s a debate that sparks some lively conversation here in the halls of SSCS. We advocate for the customer and are committed to developing technology to assist them in meeting their goals—the most prominent being increased operational efficiencies and profitability. Because of our relationship-based approach to doing business, we hear from customers often enough that we get a pretty clear picture of what they want.

But even though we’d like to incorporate every good idea we hear, sometimes it’s not practical, for a number of reasons. It’s more challenging than it first seems, because many of these issues are nuanced and not at all obvious.

For example, ask any user if they want more control, say, over the values they wish to plot on a report, and they’ll say, “Heck, yeah!” But opening up user-defined control and customization is sometimes like opening a Pandora’s Box, as an overwhelming number of options fly out for the customer’s use, providing confusion instead of business insight. The finest of lines separate being in control from being out of control. When designing solutions, it’s up to our team to differentiate between the two.

In a case like this, we’d probably put on our Steve Jobs black t-shirt and jeans, and kindly suggest a solution that implements a bit of operational discipline and sacrifices a little power in the name of usability. We don’t take these judgments lightly, as the last thing we want to do is bowl over the ideas of our customers with those of our own. You’d see that right away if you spent a few days at our Salinas headquarters, where Sales, Development, and Support often hash out the pros and cons of potential new enhancements.

So…give the customer what they want? Well, sure, but just make sure it’s a business solution that helps them, and not a Pandora’s Box.

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