by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

I work in the web department for a large university, doing work for people who usually have no idea what I've done for them. As in the locksmith case, what matters is not how skilled I am or how much effort I've exerted, but how difficult the customer thinks my task is. Just this morning, I met with a customer whose new site I am building. I showed her some screenshots of a site that, altogether, took me only a few hours to build. But because she thought it took me much longer to do it, she was much more pleased with my work than she had any right to be.

Think about it. Aside from other locksmiths, how many people can watch a locksmith in action and know if he is doing a good job? People use cues to figure it out. For things like lock-picking and web design – services that most customers need infrequently or they'd figure it out themselves – people don't see it enough to know how it works, so they figure if it looks hard, it is hard.

So, in terms of customer satisfaction and demonstrating value, the key is to make things look harder than they actually are.