Customers want more features in the products they buy, right? Wrong.

What they want is a simple and better user experience and not a product packed with features, half of which they may never use, said Professor Stefan Thomke, William Barclay Harding Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, in an interview with BusinessLine here. He was here for an Executive Education programme of the Harvard Business School.

Product development teamsoften believe that adding features creates value for customers and subtracting them destroys it.

This attitude, Thomke said, explains why products are so complicated — remote controls seem impossible to use, computers take a long time to set up, cars have so many switches and knobs that they resemble airplane cockpits, cell phones abound where you struggle to figure out the dialling screen, and even the humble toaster now comes with a manual and LCD displays.

Companies need to make the user experience better and for that a deep understanding of what customers really do is required.

Criticising companies for taking the easy way out by adding features, Thomke said this is done more often than not in the hope that customers will overlook other shortcomings.

Enterprises often decide they are done with a particular product when they can no longer add features to the product, he pointed out, adding that it is the wrong way of going about it.

Instead, he said, you are really done when you are no longer able to take out things (features) from a product. Thomke recalled a personal example. Shopping for a desktop computer, he was a bit wary of picking up a recent model that came without a CD drive.

Then, assuaged by the offer of a separate CD drive connected by a cable, he bought it. The CD drive has remained in his drawer for six months, untouched. Companies must have the courage to leave things out, he said.

Product reviewers will rip you apart when doing a feature-to-feature comparison.

The iPad example

You have to be able to ride that, he cautioned, while recalling again that the ubiquitous iPad did not get many generous reviews at its launch. Everyone then wondered why customers would use an oversized phone. They did not look at how people were going to use it. Thomke’s message is keep the user experience simple, even if the product itself is complex. In that case, hide the complexity for the customer, he added.