Same Old, Same Old... And I Love It

Every year my family and I take time off at our timeshare in Umhlanga. It’s always at the same time, the weather is usually the same, the resort and facilities are the same, the restaurants and menus are the same, and most of the hotel guests and entertainment staff are the same. The activities rarely change, year after year, and even the quiz questions are vaguely familiar – from last year and the year before. (I now know that Toppolino is the Italian name for Mickey Mouse, and that MG stands for Morris Garages. I’m sure that it will one day be very important for me to remember these facts.)

But like most people, under normal circumstances I tend to get bored quite quickly, and boredom leads to irritation. So what is it that makes me love going back to the same old resort in Umhlanga again and again, and enjoy it all? Surely we should be getting a bit bored after all these years? The question troubled me for a while until I figured out that the answer was actually very easy: our annual timeshare holiday is predictable – and that’s what makes it so relaxing.

In a life which is so filled with change and running around, I know that in weeks 34 and 35 I will find an old and familiar friend, and that gives me great comfort. Of course, it helps to know that if we do get a bit bored or if we have a couple of days of bad weather, there are plenty of other things to do in Umhlanga and Durban – not that we often do that.

But as I thought about it, I realised that so many of the places where I spend my money repeatedly are just like that holiday – predictable. Most of us don’t mind a new lick of paint, or some refurbishment to tired premises or tired packaging. As the old saying goes, “a change is as good as a holiday.” But sometimes businesses seem to go to extraordinary lengths to muddle up our lives.

You could argue that human beings don’t like change anyway, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is that so many businesses aren’t aware of or at least acknowledging this. A long time ago I read an article in a business magazine with the CEO of Nestle. He was asked about whether it was now time for Nestle to reconsider and modernise some of the products that they produced. His answer was “Why?” Why is it necessary to change things just for the sake of change? If consumers over the past 100 years like a particular brand, their job was to keep producing that same brand.

Banks, cell phone companies, airlines, manufacturers, and many retailers seem to always be changing the rules and conditions. My bank now charges to give change, and has branches which aren’t actually branches – but “service centres.” (This means that you cannot actually draw nor deposit real money there.) Cell phone and internet service provider contracts are confusing, changing every season it seems. And the same goes for the manner in which airlines determine their fares.

Of course, most of the changes aren’t for our benefit as customers. Even manufacturers of FMCG products have failed. For example, I know that the lemon and chocolate fillings in most biscuits have become thinner, and more bland in taste, and I yearn for those days when you could actually taste the filling. (By the way, when I phoned the Customer Care Line to complain, the young lady implied that my taste buds have changed because I have grown older! I would probably have slapped her if she said that to my face!)

Another example that frustrates me is how many blades I need to shave. A few decades ago, one seemed to be enough. And then suddenly there were two, and then three, and four and five. When is this madness going to end?

The plethora of choices facing consumers, (when it comes to simple purchases such as a toothbrush,) just creates havoc in my simple brain. In an effort to somehow be unique and different from their rivals companies futilely launch new products and packages hoping that this will change their market share. It rarely does. Or perhaps a new manager wants to stamp his authority and do it his way, so decides to shake things up by making unnecessary changes. Or maybe there are financial pressures to spend less and companies start cutting corners.

I don’t know what the causes are, and I don’t care. But I can tell you that when a business decides to make my life simpler at a physical, intellectual, and/or an emotional level, and when they try to save me some precious time in my life, they will have my eternal support.

The question for your business is whether your customers also seek the same familiarity and routine to keep them coming back. It is certainly true that the lives of your customers have become far more complicated than ever before. The stresses they face are worse, and I bet that their shopping experiences are unfamiliar and new most of the time.

And maybe, just maybe, you have to do the same old stuff in the same old way a little bit more often again.

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