“I can’t do this, no idea what this even means,” I confessed.
“Just read the instructions!” she said.
I was staring at the sheet of paper with 24 small wooden pegs in hand.
“Instructions!? There are no instructions! Only pictures. No words. I can’t read pictures,” I fired back.
It was already a long day. We drove hours to our new condo, and we’re ready to move in. The only task left was to put together furniture.
“Why do people even buy this stuff?” I said.
IKEA has been around for over half a century. There are over 300 stores in almost 50 countries.
Why are they so successful?
Clayton Christensen, author and Harvard Business professor, argues IKEA focuses on the job of the customer. The job is to furnish your place tomorrow because the next day you have to show up at work.
That’s certainly one reasons why they’re successful. We bought a kitchen table, coffee table, and two chairs. It was put together in less than a day. With lots of curse words.
Kevin Maney might have a different take on why IKEA is successful. Maney wrote a book on the trade-offs people make when buying products.
His framework centers around two things. Fidelity and convenience. Fidelity being the total experience of something and convenience being how easy it is to get or do that experience.
For example, a high fidelity experience would seeing your favorite band live in concert.
It’s probably going to cost you a good chunk of change to go to the concert. You’ve got to park, maybe take off work the next day or the day off to get there. It’s not really convenient at all. But it’s something you’ll likely remember for a long time, if not forever.
A convenient experience is Netflix.
You don’t have to go anywhere. You pay a cheap monthly fee, and can watch anything on any device. You can watch in bed if you want, and waste all kind of hours. Tons of content is available, and it’s not hard at all to get.
So how does this relate to IKEA?
At the surface, IKEA might not seem convenient at all. The closest IKEA to me is about 15 minutes. I live in uptown Charlotte, so extremely close to a big city. For a lot of others, IKEA is likely at least a 30 minute drive if not more.
But when you get to an IKEA store, the convenience hits you right in the face. The entire store is built to get you to buy a ton of crap and get the hell out. If you’re hungry, they even have a restaurant. I’ve heard the Swedish meatballs aren’t that bad.
The cost of IKEA furniture is reasonable. You’re going to save a lot more money than if you go to a high-end furniture store and have to worry about delivery and a salesman.
Most everything is in-stock. You don’t buy and have to schedule for a pick-up often, or at all.
You can pick up everything you need at this giant store, and go home. One trip.
When you get home, putting this stuff together is a pain in the ass. It takes some effort and time to do. But it can be done the same day, and your whole place is furnished.
IKEA is convenient.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot when working with customers every day at Highrise.
I ask myself, do we want to our support to be a high fidelity experience or a convenient one?
We’re a small team. We don’t have a phone number you can call. We don’t offer demos or in-person demos. We don’t have live chat.
It’s all email. If you have a question, send us an email, and we reply back as fast as we can.
This doesn’t jive with everyone. And I don’t expect it should.
One customer asked, “Why don’t you offer live chat? You should survey your customers.”
On the surface, live chat seems like a great channel to support folks. A convenient way to help customers while they’re in your product or service, or using your software.
We have 1 dedicated person working on support. At most, we’d have 2 people in the inbox at once. Maybe 3 in rare instances.
Live chat is about immediacy. If we don’t reply to a customer’s live chat within 15 seconds, it’s a complete waste.
We have thousands of customers. If 6 out of thousands write into live chat at the same time, that experience is going to be shitty for all of us. Not good for customers or our team.
Others ask, “Why don’t you have a phone number?”
The same is true for phone support. With only 1 dedicated person, it’s hard to do. If more than 1 phone call comes in a time, customers have to wait. Or get put on hold. That stinks.
You could outsource it? If we outsource phone support, we’re depriving our team and our customers from learning about why they’re even use our product. Pointless.
If we say we’re call customers back, with a team of only 1 or 2, we’re never going to be able to contact customers in a timely manner. Phone support is tough to scale at a small size. It doesn’t mean we’ll never call customers. We can’t do it well right now though.
This is why we only offer email support. It scales for our team, and we’ve built tools within our own product to do it better and faster.
We’re good at it too. It’s one of our strengths.
On average, we can reply to people within minutes or the hour during normal business hours.
Documentation is our team’s best friend. And the customer’s too. If a customer can find an answer without contacting us at all, that saves everyone time.
We want our support to be convenient. If you have a question, you can help yourself. If not, send us an email, and we’ll reply back in 10 or 15 minutes.
Our support could aim for a high fidelity experience. We could try live chat, add a phone number, travel to visit customers in person and give demos. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
All those fidelity things, we wouldn’t be any good at.
Figure out what you should do and do it. Finally, decide what you should not do.
Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive
We believe in investing in our strengths. Not our weaknesses.
Good support gets you back to your work as fast as possible.
I still can’t read those damn pictures. Give me words.
I do wish there was words in IKEA’s instruction booklets of how to put the furniture together.
But know I now why there aren’t any. Take a look at their list of products. So. Many. Products. Thousands of them.
And that’s a lot of words. It wouldn’t be convenient to write and translate tons of words for over 12,000 different products.
It’s a trade-off. A compromise. IKEA focuses on what it does well. Its convenience.
That’s why I bought their stuff.