To Maximize or to Satisfice? That is the Question

My evening MBA classmates know I work for AT&T and I’m often asked what type of smartphone I think they should purchase. For my own sanity and in the interest of preserving these friendships, I rarely offer specific recommendations—like get the iPhone or go for the Android. Instead I ask a few questions:

  • What is your current handset?
  • What do you like or not like about it?
  • What do you want out of a new handset?

These sound like typical scripted retail salesperson questions and they are. But such “selling scripts” evolved from wanting to ensure that people get a device they’ll be happy with.

But there’s a bigger question about decision-making in there somewhere. Devices aside, some people are looking to maximize their experience. “Maximizers” will want the absolute latest and greatest mobile CPU or imaging sensor or perhaps just the status of owning the hot new device. Some maximizers are enticed by the number and quality of applications available.

But there is another segment of shoppers that falls into what I’ll call the “satisficing” camp. According to one of my MBA professors, when making decisions, satisficers tend to select the first option that meets a given need. In the context of leading a company, going with the first solution without considering other options can lead to disaster, but satisficing over smartphones? You could do worse. When presented with several smartphone devices, if the first one does the job, a satisficer is good to go. According to his or her way of thinking, why bother trying out other devices when the first one fits the bill?

So in answer to my classmates’ question about what mobile handset to buy, I ask them to consider what kind of person—more specifically, what kind of decision-maker—they are. People who satisfice about smartphones might maximize when it comes to buying a car, so it’s also important to recognize that their “maximizing versus satisficing” answer may change over time and from product to product.

What type of shopper are you?
How do you design your products to meet the shopping needs of both kinds of shoppers?
David Egger IRU Mobility Programs Lead Marketing Manager AT&T About David