Why little features matter

January 15th, 2010 § 0 comments

Last night I ordered some takeaway, and after paying and being handed the dishes, I asked for “the chilli in the chilli oil”. I’ve learnt to be specific, because I’ve been handed just a little tub of chilli oil in the past, when what I really want are the flakes. (Them be yummy) I watched as the restaurateur proceeded to fill the little tub with chilli oil, so I said “Could I have more of the chilli flakes please?”

He proceeded to tell me that he couldn’t give me more because everyone likes it and wants it, and they never have enough and so he had to ration the portions. I looked at the big tub of chilli oil+flakes they had and said, “That’s not enough? Maybe you should get more!”
He gave me this blank look and went on ranting about how everyone asks for the chilli flakes and the chilli oil is just as spicy etc. I said “Yes, but the flakes are really yummy, and go with your dishes well. It’s why I come here!” So he grudgingly popped in half a teaspoon more. It was a friendly exchange overall, I smiled and thanked him and he sent me off with warm wishes. No issues.

But as I walked out of the restaurant, a thought popped into my head. “Might not come here again. It’s always such a hassle with the chilli flakes.” Followed the very next moment by: “Hang on…. stop eating here because of the condiment??”

I considered the situation for a bit. There are at least half a dozen similar restaurants on the block, most with similar food at comparative prices. Actually, that restaurant is a slightly pricier one. Their food is good, but the main reason I pick it over the others is for the chilli flakes. I can’t seem to get em anywhere else, and their dishes just aren’t the same without it. Judging by what the restaurateur said, others share my tastes. Why not just up the stock of chilli flakes?

I looked at it from the restaurant’s point of view. Their main product is their menu. As in their main dishes. Hunger is the need they fulfil and that is what they get paid for. The chilli flakes, those are just a feature. Like good service, clean plates, a phone-in order system. Secondary to the menu. There’s no obvious reason they should stock up on chilli flakes, especially when they have to give it away for free.

Turn it around to my (the customer’s) view. I am hungry, but I have a dozen options. I chose this restaurant because I’ve been there before and have been craving to return to its tastes. And the chilli flakes are essential to the experience for me. I’m willing to pay slightly more for that experience. My need isn’t just hunger. It is satiating the tongue. I considered never returning to the restaurant because that feature was getting hard to access. Would I pay for the chilli flakes? Nope. Do I want it? You bet!

And just like that, I get a lightbulb moment about my role as a product/community person. When I was only a community manager, it was easy to take feature requests. Every suggestion I saw was a great idea, a ‘why-didn’t-I-think-of-that’ exclamation, a ‘now-that-you-mention-it-I-really-really-want-it-too’. I wasn’t responsible for product decisions then, and I never understood just how hard it is to make the decision about which requests should be put in, and which had to be left out. (In fact, there might be testimony to the fact that I fought hard for every request a member made. :P)

Now that I’m that person, it is one of the things I struggle with most. I’ve caught myself groaning at new feature requests! (dek hangs her head in shame at this) One of the things I’m most wary of is feature creep, and by association feature requests. If not given due consideration, feature requests can lead to a never-ending road map, feature creep, which then leads to a loss of focus (and I learnt focus from the best – Dr Focus himself!), which then leads to a bloated product…. Before you know it, you’re designing a ‘lite’ version of the behemoth.

But it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
So modified rule – Focus on the core. But always be on the look out for the chilli flakes.

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