Mountainous Molehills

Mar 09, 2018


I’ve always enjoyed driving my truck. It feels sturdy, I’m sitting up high, and it has a nice ride. But ever since I had kids, I found myself driving it less and less. We only have one set of car seats and those are in our SUV—the designated kid car. If I wanted to drive the truck, I’d have to lug the bulky car seats out of the SUV and install them in the truck each time—something I loathed. So for the most part, my truck just sat in my driveway.

Recently, my twins made the transition to booster seats, which are much cheaper and easier to install. We bought a pair for the truck and I’ve been driving it regularly for the past few months. But something was off. Driving the truck with the kids was seriously stressing me out. I actually became apprehensive driving them in it—especially in bad weather—and I wasn’t sure why.

Then one sunny day, I happened to notice my windshield wiper blades were falling apart. The rubber strip had started to peel off and they looked pretty ragged. I headed over to the auto parts store, bought a pair of mid-grade wiper blades for $40, and installed them when I got home. I thought nothing of it.

And then it rained. I had my kids in my truck and the same uneasiness set in. I flipped on the wipers and with one swoosh, a crystal-clear view was restored. It was magical. No awkward screeching sounds, no smeared grime, no distorted water lines. Just pure, unadulterated windshield. It was glorious. I felt the stress and apprehension wash away with the rain. These new wiper blades ruled!

It was at that moment that I realized that my old, crappy windshield wiper blades were the sole reason I was having a bad experience in my truck. I felt like I was a guy driving around without his glasses. I was constantly squinting, shifting my head around the blurriness—a total stress fest. Something as simple and inexpensive as windshield wiper blades was causing me to legitimately not like driving my truck, which I used to totally love. I find it remarkable that something that makes up less than 1% of the value of the truck could have such an impact on my experience.

This is not a unique situation. Something very, very tiny can have a disproportionately huge impact on a customer’s experience. Here’s another perfect example—my most comfortable, best-fitting sweater has the most uncomfortable, scratchy tag. I literally had to take it off, pry out each individual seam with an X-acto knife, and triumphantly spike the tag in the trash in the middle of writing this post. This is not hyperbole—this literally just happened.

But it’s not just me. I asked a few colleagues to tell me about a favorite brand and if there are seemingly minor flaws that have negatively affected their experience. Lauren will actively avoid going into her favorite department store because they have overly “helpful” sales associates that stalk her and constantly offer unsolicited assistance as she shops. She said, “Honesty, I can’t go in there anymore. I have to shop with them online.” Jess loves his smartphone (and the brand), but can’t stand the voice assistant. “The phone is great, but the AI voice assistant annoys me to the point where I don’t even want to use it,” he told me. Liam just wants to slink into anonymity and relax when flying his favorite airline, but since he has an elite status, the protocol is for the flight attendants to continuously reference him as Mr. Hanham. “They always pronounce my name wrong and I just want to order my tea and get on with my day,” he laments. These little slights might not make or break a sale, or even a repeat purchase down the line. At least, not at first. But over time these nagging issues can fester, turning a brand advocate into a passive customer—or even worse—a full-blown detractor.

The moral of the story is that you should, in fact, consider sweating the small stuff. What seems like a molehill to you, could very well be a mountain to your customers. And often times, it takes the unique perspective of a customer to even identify these issues in the first place. After all, as the title of chapter 11 of our book, Geek Nerd Suit so bluntly states: “You Are Not Your Customer.” Have you ever stopped to figure out what the “crappy windshield wiper blades” are for your business? Maybe it’s time you should.