Sunday, March 21, 2010

Semantics and Customer Experience

Semantics are often a very important part of how customers view a company's product or service. Sometimes, the label is meaningful because it indicates something real about the product. Calling a health insurance evaluation committee a "death panel" is important because it suggests that these individuals can be making life or death decisions about your access to care.

But more often, the semantics don't change anything tangible, but still have a huge impact on the customer experience nonetheless. One example is something I have been aggravated about for quite some time. Business Week magazine has a habit of publishing "double issues" once in a while. These issues aren't any longer or more substantial in content than the regular issues. They do give BW an excuse to take a week off following these publications, so I am sure it is a money saving exercise. I feel cheated because I am losing an issue without getting anything in return (so I guess this one is tangible to some extent). If they would just be honest and say that they are going broke because of a weak advertising market and have to do this to cut costs, then fine. I would still feel like I am losing an issue, but at least it would be honest. I think I am more annoyed by the dishonesty than I am by the loss of the issue.

An example that I think is purely about the semantics and has no real tangible loss is the terminology for alcoholic drinks that are served in martini glasses, but have no relation with the classic martini. I am talking about Appletinis, Chocotinis, Razztinis, etc. The original martini is a sophisticated and pure drink. It is supposed to be ordered because you like the taste of the alcohol going down. There is a reason it was the drink of choice of the Sean Connery James Bond. Can you imagine him ordering a Chocotini? Perish the thought!!!! I have nothing against people ordering a drink with Godiva liquor, vodka, and chocolate shavings around the side. In fact, they taste pretty good. But it ruins my experience of ordering a real martini when it shares the name with this concoction. Now, the word martini more often refers to a drink ordered by barely legal girls trying to get drunk in a dance club without tasting any alcohol. These are all the opposites of the experience I am trying to have. At home, I can think whatever I want and what other people call other drinks is irrelevant. But if I order a martini in a bar and the bartender gives me a list of these foofy fruitinis (term I got from an NPR commentary this morning), it ruins it for me. Instead, I just order a gin, served neat. Different glass, but better experience.

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