The Paralyzing Freedom of Having It Your Way

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“Hold the pickles. Hold the lettuce. Special orders don’t upset us. All we ask is that you will let us serve it your way!” Remember that advertising jingle from Burger King?

The next “c” word in my series is “choice.” Our clients definitely want it, so we compile an unlimited array of options, from the building and design expertise we offer to the colors and finishes on the products we sell. We want to be all things to all people, and our message to the client is, “Have it your way.”

But with so many choices, clients are often confused, and in their confusion, they’re afraid to make a choice because it might be wrong. Psychologists call this consumer behavior “choice overload.”

Research on consumer behavior suggests that choice is demotivating. When clients encounter lots of choices, they often have fun choosing but are ultimately less satisfied with the selections they make. Conversely, clients who choose from fewer options are often happier with their ultimate decisions.

Abundant options make clients unhappy because they’re unsure of the resulting decisions and are frequently unable to distinguish good decisions from bad. This is particularly true when decisions have big consequences, like specifying the wrong HVAC system for a museum renovation or purchasing expensive custom-made products that can’t be returned.

Now consider the double whammy of choice overload and the economic uncertainty we find ourselves in now. Is it any wonder why our clients go dark on us? How many clients have pushed you to get them information in a hurry, only to stop returning your phone calls after they have received it? They are paralyzed by the multiplicity of choices and, in a bad economy, are afraid they’ll make the wrong decision.

Does having lots of choices give clients freedom and flexibility, or does it confuse and stifle them? People are so busy doing more with less they don’t have time to sort through the countless choices we present. Or worse, because they have no real intention to spend money now, they waste time while enjoying the process of choosing.

Ask anyone in the traditional building business now, “Are you busy?” They often answer, “Yes!” Then ask, “Are you selling anything?” “Not much,” they often reply. Are we trying to do too much? Are we trying to be all things to all people, dazzling clients with a dizzy, and demotivating, array of choices and options?

The more freedom they have to choose, the more our clients rely on institutions and other people, especially experts like you. What if we were able to make decision-making easier by limiting the choices we present but presenting what we have more expertly? What if we made it simple to choose? Who knows? Maybe clients would choose to spend more.