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Why You Had A Happy Customer and Still Failed

I wanted to spend a minute on my blog telling a great, telling, instructive story about delivering great customer value.

For the purposes of this discussion, I want to keep all the names confidential, but here we go:

I was at SXSW a year ago and was talking to an incredibly well known creative director/site designer who works for an incredibly well known web design consultancy.  Let me put it this way: He is one of those guys that everyone knows and thinks is awesome and he works for one of those agencies everyone wishes they could hire.

The consultancy had recently completed a project for a web application that I used from time to time, so I am talking to this creative director at SXSW and I mention a few things about the interface that had left me ambivalent or confused.  His response: “Yeah, I totally agree.  Unfortunately, we had a really small budget and just didn’t have the time to do a better job.”

Unfortunately, I thought that was totally the wrong approach.  This project was kind of unique in that it is one of the more popular and better known web applications in the world.  While the company has a ridiculously popular product, it was still quite start-up-ish and not rolling in cash, so you could tell that the consultancy probably did the project because they wanted to be able to say, “We were the guys that they wanted to do this project!”  The company blogged about the awesome work that the consultancy did for them during and after completion, the consultancy blogged about how they did the work, etc.  The marketing was clearly a big part of the sale in convincing the consultancy to do the work despite the constrained budget and there was good marketing.  The marketing was so good that even I was aware of it.

Unfortunately, the project work was just OK.  My impression is the the company was all too aware of their budget limitations (maybe good project management by the consulting firm there!), so they were quite happy with what they got for what they spent, but for outside parties, it was quite evident that the work done was inadequate in a number of ways.

If Apple asked your company to redesign the iPod and then they would take out full page ads in every newspaper in the world giving you credit for the work you did, could you afford to do anything less than awesome?

Having the opportunity to redesign an interface that millions of people interact with is a unique opportunity for a design firm.  In many ways, the work you do there will become a proxy for your portfolio.  Being able to say, “I designed the iPod” instantly translates into an understanding of the kind of quality of work you do.

I think what the consultancy missed in this story is that when you accept that opportunity, you have to commit to being awesome.  You cannot afford to be anything less.  If you make a terrible iPhone interface and then Apple tells the world you made it, it doesn’t matter if they paid you $10 or $10 million.  You own it.  If they agreed to do the work even though the budget was limited, they have to do the best job they can.  They have to treat it like a million dollar project because external parties will only care about the outcome.  An application used by everyone is an amazing opportunity to make your mark in the world.

Are you identifying areas where you need to go above and beyond the call of duty to make your product (in this case, their portfolio of work) remarkable?

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