A few days ago, on a BA flight heading to Heathrow (one of those fancy ones, where they let you browse newspapers for free), I spotted an article which caught the attention of my taste buds. The Daily Mail dedicated two pages to the ‘outrageous’ flavour changes which have occurred in Cadbury’s signature chocolate box.
The Milk Tray chocolates have been a traditional and much loved treat among the Brits since 1915. I have never tried them, as we continentals (Today’s author is from Romania – Ed) subscribe to the Belgian school of thought, but the general consensus among other travellers was that these chocolates are an institution in themselves. The complaints raised in the article were aimed at the new size, the variety and the level of innovation found in the revamped products.
At the time, I thought the article was an exclusive one and in keeping with the newspaper’s general tone – it was the Daily Mail after all. Yet after arriving on British soil I realised that many other publications discussed the issue and social media channels were filled with fervent complaints from fellow chocoholics.
The lesson here for engineering and technology companies is simple. Innovation is the dynamo behind your company’s growth, but product changes should always be carefully considered. Make sure that whenever you choose to improve your offering, the improvement is needed by the customer and reflects their needs.
Your faithful customers returning to buy a particular service or widget are doing so because it works for them - it is what they need to do the job. The number of manufacturers using 30 year old machines in need of obsolete components is consumer fidelity in the extreme, but it’s still a good example.
People tend to get used to a certain product and when it changes (even if the manufacturer believes it to be an improvement) reactions can be negative. And if chocolates have raised a fierce debate in the press and social media, then it’s easy to extrapolate that to the engineering sector where things tend to move more slowly.
Another important point to be taken into account is that manufacturers should sell what the customer really wants, and not some ‘upgraded’ version, which may not be necessary. If regular Milk Tray buyers didn’t complain about the chocolates so far, why change the recipe?
Similarly, if you’ve been selling blue widgets for the past decade and feel that you should update them, just ask your customer base first. Their feedback may spare you the cost of revamping the entire line and also the cost of some bad PR in the form of complaints.
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