Custom Products: Insights From My Experience
If I were to offer you something custom designed, what images come to mind? If you’re like me, you probably have images of a beautiful product to your exact specifications, top notch customer experience and likely expensive. I know I did. The thing is, custom is challenging. You expect to pay a premium, but you also expect to be treated like a VIP and get exactly what you want. You are no longer prioritizing price or even time in the 3 points of the project management triangle. You are focused on one thing—quality.
You want the exact right product. It’s why you go to a professional.
I recently got married and as tends to happen, I wanted to get some awesome customized items for my wedding. For this I went all out. It was an awesome (yet expensive) endeavour. I thought I would share a few of my experiences and thoughts through this process.
- I got a suit custom made so it would fit perfectly. I also learned a bit about suit design in the process.
- My custom suit also obviously needed a custom shirt.
- I also got a custom ring. I’m not much of a jewelry person, so I wanted something that I would want to wear and would be unique to me.
Why did I decide I want custom? Well I wanted something proper. It needed to be awesome. I also have very little experience in this area, so I thought that I needed some help. The margin for error on these purchases was really thin.
Here’s my experience
I’ll admit that I used an online tailor. I had seen their work from a friend who had purchased one of their suits for his wedding and I figured that they had multiple show rooms in Toronto, which was only a couple of hours away from me, so if it was seriously wrong, I could go into the store. I was measured for my suit by my fiancé using very helpful video’s regarding how to take all the appropriate measurements, when the suit came in incorrect, I had to go into the storefront which was 200KM away from my address. They remeasured and remade pieces of the suit. They did so with little hassle, and I only had to drive a total of 8 hours (2, 4-hour round trips). In the end, the suit was perfect. This could largely be attributed to user error, as we didn’t have the experience to properly fit my suit.
Leave a margin for error and proper documentation of requirements matter. You may think that you’ve thought of everything and that you have explained your vision perfectly, only to realize part way through that things aren’t exactly how you had envisioned. I’m not sure much else could have been done here regarding my suit, but at CoreSolutions, we have a very detailed requirements gathering process and present real working mock-ups which need to be approved before we ever start writing the code for your system.
Having been somewhat burned by the hassle of online shopping, I decided to go to a well-known suit chain to get suits for my groomsmen and also to get a custom suit shirt. This time I had them do the measurement. This had the added benefit that since my groomsmen didn’t live in the same city, they would have a couple of options to get their suits. The customer experience here was lacking. I went to multiple chains, and I found that the customer experience wasn’t great at any of the locations. When I ordered my shirt, I loved the fact that I got to pick the material, the cuff style, and it would fit me perfectly. I’m one of those “wear’s a medium shirt with a fat neck” body types. This usually limits me to buying a shirt that fits but I can’t do up the top buttons or buying a larger shirt, which is lose on the body, so I can do the top button. Again, I ended up with challenges when my shirt came in and didn’t fit so, I had to go back and get additional alterations made. When I returned to gather my garment, it hadn’t been pressed/ironed, which just added to the already stressful time. One of my groomsmen couldn’t get his suit altered properly before the wedding (but it didn’t look bad) In addition to this, I wanted to buy the bowtie that I wore in my wedding, but they wouldn’t sell it to me. I could only rent it. It was not possible to buy it. Talk about frustrating. The customer experience never improved, to the point that I will never return to this establishment. On the plus side, because it was a custom shirt, they fixed it for me with no additional charge.
Even the pro’s miss the mark occasionally, though ensuring that we have well documented requirements will help guide you through the process. In this case, what I thought I was getting and what I actually got were misaligned. Additionally, if the customer experience isn’t great when you start working with a company, how much better do you think it will get as you move through the process. Especially as challenges arise. These reasons are why we complete an extensive requirements definition at the beginning of every development project and make sure that our customers are involved during every step of the project. This means that there are no surprises as we move through the project. One of the outcomes of this process is that we develop a lot of trust with our clients as we move through the project.
While I was getting my suit measurements done in Toronto, I went to a couple of jewelers to see if they had better options than the ones in my city. I ultimately found a ring I liked, but didn’t like the fit (comfort vs standard). I was told that they could custom make the ring for me with that fit and send the ring to one of their locations near my address. I also got them to change the types of gold in the ring. This meant that the order would have to go to Australia to be created. When I got the ring, it was missing the fit I was looking for, so I was told that it needed to be recreated. The note was clearly on the file, but whoever created the ring must have missed it. The timeline was very tight at this point, so they told me that my wedding ring may not come in before the wedding, but I could keep the non-correct one as a stand in until the real one came in. The day before my wedding my new ring arrived. When I picked it up, the ring was totally different. It had the right fit and proper gold, but it was an entirely different ring. It had a different size, different dimensions, and looked to be worth much more. This one I was “stuck” with. There was no more time to make it work. Again, they gave me the option of which one I wanted (I chose the bigger one because I liked the feel better, not just because it was worth more money) and they were super nice through this process but in the end, I didn’t get what I wanted. It was close, but not perfect.
Try to leave ample time for the unexpected, especially for critical projects. Even when a company does everything right, challenges may still arise. I'm sure you have all played the game of Telephone as a child, where you would whisper a phrase to one person and by the time it gets to the last person, it's nothing like it originally started. The larger the company and the more people that your project has to go through increases this likely hood. We're fortunate at CoreSolutions to have a small but dedicated team. You actually have the ability to speak with the person directly working on your system design or development which helps mitigate the "telephone factor".
So am I at fault in this? Except for the first suit measurement, I struggle to see how I could have done much differently. This brings me back to custom. We build custom software. Something infinitely more complex with many more variables than a suit, ring, or shirt. Because of this, we must be in constant contact with our clients and make sure that what we are building is truly the representation of what they expect. There were never any check-ins with me to how the process was going while I was waiting for any of my custom items. I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered very much, as unless I had seen it on myself, I wouldn’t have known the difference anyway. The biggest take-away’s for me here are that:
- Always leave extra time for the unexpected
- Don’t expect the experience to change once you’ve seen an organization’s true colours.
- The less levels of communication you have to go through, the more likely you are to get it right, the first time.
- Custom is a collaboration. With effective communication, your experience and result should be spectacular. Without, it's often frustrating.