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When Bad Features Feel Good

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

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Mar 24, 2006 12:18:00 PM

My policy has long been that when a certain market segment is full of inferior products, it can largely be blamed on customers. The other day I stumbled across this Malcolm Gladwell article on SUVs and safety that illustrates the point. This passage really caught my eye:
During the design of Chrysler's PT Cruiser, one of the things Rapaille learned was that car buyers felt unsafe when they thought that an outsider could easily see inside their vehicles. So Chrysler made the back window of the PT Cruiser smaller. Of course, making windows smaller—and thereby reducing visibility—makes driving more dangerous, not less so. But that's the puzzle of what has happened to the automobile world: feeling safe has become more important than actually being safe.
Gladwell would answer that puzzle a year later in his book Blink, which argued that people make many of their most important decisions in about two seconds. While many of these snap decisions turn out to be quite good, the PT Cruiser example clearly illustrates how "rapid cognition" as Gladwell calls it can lead to very bad judgments.

What does this have to do with applicant tracking, or recruiting in general?Successful vendors are successful because they build products that people buy. That's obvious, but what's more often ignored is that people often don't buy the "best" product objectively speaking. Sometimes, they actually buy based on what I call "anti-features," which are features that do the opposite of what they should--like smaller windows that make you feel safer.

The popular response is to blame the vendors, as if it's entirely Detroit's fault that people flock to dealerships to buy SUVs. To be fair, marketers invest amazing amounts of time and energy in "stimulating demand" for their product in ways that are a little shady. But no amount of legislation or professional "codes of ethics" will ever be as effective as a change in customer opinion, and that's why car dealers are now offering $5000 rebates on full-size SUVs that were selling at retail price a year ago.

This is why I see what we are doing here at HRMDirect as something larger than simply adding another choice to the already crowded ATS market. As a software vendor, the easiest thing to do is to say "yes" and give the customer precisely what they ask for. While our focus is on building a great product, we're also working to change the way people think about buying applicant tracking systems. Of course this benefits us but in the long run the recruiters who choose us see that our approach benefits them as well. Judging by the way most recruiters talk about their ATS, it's pretty clear the traditional model isn't delivering. One recruiter I spoke to recently who was demoing a number of systems said "you would be amazed" at how anti-productive many of our competitors' products really are.

Smaller, simpler, and different: that's our message. It's a message that's still revolutionary in a software market where RFPs are still mostly written as feature wish-lists. As a buyer, it's in your own best interest to think beyond the blink when you choose a system. Be aware that first impressions can sometimes be deeply flawed.