Unspoken Assumptions in Action

boozedPoor Melissa. A dastardly somebody broke into my dear co-worker's car and stole her video iPod!! *passes out tissues* This is a woman who lives the fully-integrated iPod life Apple imagines for its customers - podcasts, audiobooks, movies, TV shows, music. She was devastated. And she knew, without question, she had to replace her iPod immediately.

So she started her search for a replacement iPod the way many folks do: online through a search engine. How hard could it be for Apple to answer one important question and help her get back quickly into her pod-groove?

Harder than you might think ... because the scenario Melissa stumbled upon was laced with Apple's unspoken assumptions about what Melissa should need to know.

Melissa explained to me,

My quick solution was to hop onto Google, search for 'video ipod' and make my purchase. I was specifically interested in finding out one critical piece of information before making my purchase this time. My old video iPod was lacking substantially in battery life when it came to watching video. It would die after only 1 ½ hours of playing a video, and I wanted to find out if this feature had been improved and how much battery life I could expect with a new video iPod.

video ipod

I clicked on the paid advertisement at the top - Official iPod Store- because it's the Canadian store, and I live in Canada. The ad didn't include my 'video' keyword, but I assumed I would find what I was looking for simply because I was going right to the source.

Unspoken Assumption: A customer interested in the general store paid ad link is looking for an 80GB video iPod. Yes, the ad copy does mention Apple is "introducing" the 80GB iPod, so you might reasonably expect to see a section of the landing page devoted to that. But only the top left corner of the landing page gives a nod to any other iPod option at this point in the scenario.

video ipod

You'll notice the landing page provides lots of information about the amazing features of the 80GB video ipod. But Melissa wasn't looking for 50 gigs more storage; she was happy with her former 30 gigs of storage. She just wanted to know if the battery life on the 30GB version was improved.

Heartened to read the 80GB model allowed for 6 ½ hours of video viewing time, she clicked on the "Compare Specs" tab in the active window to see how the 30GB model stacked up for video-playing battery life.

video ipod

"Compare Specs" doesn't just compare video iPods; you get all the current iPod products in a one-size-fits-all chart. You can discover how long the batteries last if you only play music, but there's no battery life spec for video play time. An odd omission for a video product.

Unspoken Assumption: A generic comparison chart will serve all specific needs.

Unspoken Assumption: Customers only want to know battery life for playing music. Well, no, that can't be the real unspoken assumption, because Apple was very happy to let folks interested in 80 gigs know they'd get 6 ½ hours of video playback time off the battery. So maybe this is a case of non-disclosure and avoidance because battery life for the 30GB model still sucks.

Still answerless, Melissa clicked the very buy-it-now-looking button under the 30GB model to see if she'd get expanded product detail through that click.

video ipod

She got the option to engrave the back of her iPod.

Unspoken Assumption: The customer knows that "Select" means "Buy It Now" or "Add to Cart."

Unspoken Assumption: If the customer has got this far, she isn't looking for more product information.

Unspoken Assumption: We need to impede the conversion flow by making the free engraving option its own conversion step that requires its own separate window.

Melissa, ripe for the converting before she ever typed in her search query, was not happy. How hard should it have been to find the answer to a critical question that many, many potential video iPod purchasers care about?

Bless her heart, she gave her online session one more chance, hoping the shopping cart to which she'd just "selected" her 30GB video iPod would display specific product information.

video ipod

Nope! Apple was now ready to up-sell her accessories. No battery-life-extending products, though, which might have helped get Melissa, via the back door, to her answer or at the very least, made her aware of alternate options should she truly prefer the 30GB model despite poor battery life.

Unspoken Assumption: All the customers buying questions have been answered once she has added a product to her shopping cart.

Apple's online arm didn't make the conversion. There were too many unspoken assumptions in the conversion process that didn't allow Apple to identify their customers' very simple needs (after all, we are just talking here about one product feature, not a whole buying preference scenario!).

It was difficult for Melissa to find Apple's contact info, but she finally located a phone number. Her customer service representative was able to answer her question in under 2 seconds.

How can you learn by example?

Apple could have zapped each of these unspoken assumptions rather easily.

  • Research the questions customers are asking. Melissa's CSR could have told Apple's online marketers that video battery life for the 30GB model was something the site did not answer.

  • Don't rely on one page presentation to satisfy the buying questions of all customers across your range of products or services.

  • Make it easy for customers, early in and throughout their sessions, to get detailed information specific to each of the products or services you offer.

  • Carefully consider what the appropriate "next step" is for each customer's buying scenario.

  • If you have information you're less than happy about revealing, reveal it anyway in the most favorable light you can. It's no secret that battery life for the 30GB video iPod is crummy. If Apple hasn't dealt with that issue and doesn't intend to, then at least addressing it (and perhaps offering solutions through accessories) is a far better strategy for building confidence than ignoring the problem.

Are you ready to start questioning some of your unspoken assumptions?

Volume 145: 01/01/07

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