Knowledge and mystery in the customer experience

By Gary Gustafson

Have you ever consciously determined what your customer needs to know, and what you want them to discover for themselves as part of the experience you are offering them? The resolution of these two considerations appears to be the magic in nearly every successful business offering. In some cases the mundane is what people rely on, in others they want to plunge into the great unknown. A mix of the two is often the right answer for powersports product and service offerings. A failure to know which is which, or how to blend the two, is similar to a bad movie production. A comedy that is slow and unimaginative is panned and forgotten, as is a drama where the acting is farcically overwrought. If the movie doesn’t accomplish the goals set out for it, it fails period.

Some various terms for mystery in the consumer experience context include: surprise, disappointment, thrill and terror. Synonyms for knowledge as pertains to this discussion include: predictable (as in ‘predictable handling’), intuitive, frustrating and confusing.

A good surprise feels like Christmas, a bad surprise can be deadly. Pleasant surprises include great views, a discount price or coupon, more than enough power to pass cars on the highway and free product samples. Bad surprises are often things that the customer actually wants to know and include: Will my engine start? What gear am I in? Do I have enough gas to make it back to the trail head?

Great Industrial Design provides a visual resolution of this balance. High-performance customers want to push boundaries therefore the industrial design for these products, while sometimes tough to define, sends a clear challenge. The design throws down the gauntlet. It mesmerizes the customer with possibilities while also revealing name-brand high-end brakes behind the wheels or carbon fiber details in the bodywork. In the commercial vehicle space the interior and external industrial design shifts the focus to the utilitarian end of the spectrum. Commercial Vehicles are work tools first and foremost so things like the sleeping area, storage and maximum use of space are things the customer must understand and therefore must be clearly declared.

A great retail experience is packed with solid information, delivered smoothly, but also serves up surprises such as a discount, bonus gift, free sample or other added-value that is unexpected. A losing retail experience offers the “same old” and practically begs the customer to flee. While brick-and-mortar and e-tailers share some of the same knowns, it is the mysteries, the surprises, where there is still plenty of room for each to compete with the other. One of the beauties of e-commerce is the sheer volume of product data and pricing to explore. On the other hand a brick-and-mortar stores can offer test drives, hands-on training, group rides, accessory installation and many other discoveries that e-tailers can’t.

Product performance and operation is another opportunity to nail both the known and the mysterious. Over the years, battles have raged about manual transmissions vs. CVTs, push-button transmission shifting vs. a lever, higher or more rearward seating position vs. lower or more forward seating etc. CVTs with poor backshifting lag in performance, and motorcycles with unpredictable clutch operation can be equally frustrating because what should be known suddenly raises a question mark. Something as simple as having a control in an unfamiliar location, or not backlighting it, can be enough to confuse a customer who just wants to ride the vehicle without having to think too much about it. While entire books could be written to investigate product design, clearly the right answers evolve to suit customer preferences and those that have resolved it in product designs continue to win in the marketplace.

There is no single formula for resolving knowledge and mystery as factors in the customer experience. What matters is that you make it interesting and intuitive for them to know what they want to know, while also giving them tools to create the thrilling mysteries we all crave.

Gary Gustafson is a 25-year industry veteran and President of G-Force Consulting Inc, a firm that provides strategic sales and business development consulting as well as OEM account management services. Learn more at and

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