Mangled Message: Destructive Instructions

March2015BlogImageIt is almost a tired joke, isn’t it? The hopeful customer buys some furniture (or a toy, or machinery) with “some assembly required.” Said hopeful customer brings home (or has delivered to the residence) a box which contains the product, lots of packing material, and a set of instructions. And the intrigue begins.

I recently had my turn as the hopeful customer. We had a set of lounge chairs delivered from a high-end catalog retailer that will flank our pool. Lounge chairs are pretty simple; there aren’t many pieces to assemble. This should be easy.

The pieces, a package of hardware (bolts, washers, wheels) and a set of instructions were included in each box. But check out these instructions! There are no actual words, no sequence for doing things, and inadequate pictures. Note that even the quality of the printing was subpar; the print fades out toward the bottom so that one-third of the page is essentially unreadable. This sheet was no anomaly, either—there were four lounge chairs in the order, four boxes, four instruction pages all the same.

Marketers have to start getting this right. We’ve all experienced the huge growth in pure e-commerce (and the recent rise of endless-aisle strategies, in which retailers deploy kiosks to empower shoppers to buy things not in the store). The implication is that, increasingly, customers select, receive, assemble, and use products without other humans around to help.

Gartner recently showed that the biggest change in top management’s expectation of CMOs is to take full accountability for the customer experience. I have to believe that any concerned product marketer can avoid the Mangled Message of inadequate instructions with minimal effort—a customer panel, perhaps a little research with users.  

The customer experience from catalog sales is more than the catalog layout, website navigation, and ease of transaction. What do your customers want to do…and how are you helping them to do it?

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