March 5, 2010
In early Feburary, I requested a cab for a 4:00 a.m. pickup from my home to get to the airport. The fare is usually between $36 – $40 (I take the route frequently). I admit that on that morning, I did not notice whether the meter was zeroed before we departed that early morning.
At arrival at the airport, the meter read $52. I unsuccessfully disputed the fare with the cab driver (Chris). When I told him that I wasn’t prepared with appropriate change (I usually paid $40), and that I would need $8 in return (from $60), he told me he only had $3 to provide change. At this point, the driver held my bag (hostage) while I needed to catch a plane, so I accepted the $3 for a total fare of $57 just to be on my way. I explained to Chris that I would be complaining when I returned and I requested that he prepare a detailed receipt including cab #, driver name, and total fare.
I called the cab company several days later (when I had returned), explained what happened and requested a refund. The dispatcher assured me that the manager (Frank) would call me back that day. Days passed, and I called again and explained that I wanted a refund. The dispatcher assured me that the manager (Frank) would call me that day. More and more days passed.
I called my local cab licensing/enforcement agency (an arm of the local police) and explained what happened and how I had tried to resolve the problem. The first thing I was told is that the cab company did not have a driver named Chris, because he was not on their approved (background-checked, finger-printed, allowed to pick up fares) list. I assured her that indeed his name was Chris and that I had paid him $57 for my local trip to the airport.
When the police called the cab company, they successfully achieved a $22 refund and an apology on my behalf. However, it came at a cost — the police opened an investigation because the cab company had allowed an unapproved driver to pick up fares! So even though the cab company had already fired Chris, all of a sudden they are now in the center of a certification investigation. They could have made so many different choices along the way….Karma!
What I don’t understand is why anyone (or any business) freely chooses to be dishonest, deceitful, or exploitative, because it creates only a short-term gain — it is not sustainable over the long-term. Even though it might be “easy” to get away with deceit occasionally in a culture of complacency, it’s a game of Russian roulette. Eventually a strong emotional response to dishonesty (coupled with the energy to pursue remediation) will emerge.
For me, it was initially about my loyalty to a long-term taxi service to let them know about their problem and offer them a chance to remedy my experience. Later, it was about warning others.
People have long memories for both exploitation and generosity. In our crowdsourced world, with services like Yelp! amplifying both, misdeeds/deeds are more durable. Why risk enduring unflattering amplification? My Long View Advice:
- Be honorable; do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.
- Skip the shortcut, especially if safety or credibility is involved.
- Make your choices as if they will be your destiny, they will.
- Eschew complacency and participate in feedback, create opportunity to correct honest mistakes, amplify generosity when deserved, and warn others if necessary.
I have been a long believer that everyone makes his or her own karma. If you live honestly, with integrity, and are generous, you will be reap value and amplify positivity over the long view. Conversely, if you live dishonestly, deceitfully, are exploitative, it will catch up with you.
What kind of karma are you creating and amplifying?
P.S. The destiny poster (at right) is courtesy of my son’s middle school, it hangs on the wall.
P.P.S. I received my $22 check today.
August 25, 2009
I am grateful that there are not too many instances of nonsense in the day-to-day interactions that I have with merchants and providers. However, when I run into bona fide examples of nonsense, I tend to be incredulous – just how does it happen?!
My favorite chain drugstore was purchased by another chain drugstore about a year ago. Since then, my favorite store has been undergoing renovation. Although I have been disappointed as they eliminated my favorite cleansing pads and adhesive bandages, and as they narrowed the aisles and increased the shelf height, I have been accepting of their progress, until recently. Last week, I went to the drugstore at lunchtime to pick-up a prescription and found the pharmacy closed!
Another patron watched me discover that the pharmacy was closed and stopped me as a departed to ask me how I felt about the reduced hours. Obviously, I was not pleased with the change. She told me that she had just asked to speak to the manager because she wanted to complain about the reduction in service hours. She was especially distraught because lunchtime was the only time she could get to the pharmacy. I decided to wait with her and corroborate her concern. When the manager finally arrived, we both expressed our displeasure at the reduction of hours under new ownership. The manager explained that there had been no reduction in pharmacy hours – the same staff schedules were being maintained. Really?!
So I pushed her explanation, how is it that I could previously access the pharmacy during lunchtime, but not this week with the same hours? She explained that the corporate policy of the new drugstore differed from the old drugstore such that pharmacists must take a lunch break mandated by law. When the other patron and I asserted that the old drugstore covered the lunch hour satisfactorily and that the laws had not changed, she replied that the old drugstore used a waiver to satisfy the requirement. Okay, we said, get a waiver or add staff to cover the lunch hour differently OR accept and acknowledge that there is a real reduction in customer service hours. The manager then began reiterating the party line, “there has been no reduction in pharmacy hours…”
Maybe from the employee staffing perspective there is no reduction in pharmacy hours, but that is irrelevant to the customer. What matters from the customer perspective are the available pharmacy hours. Although I would still be unhappy if she had acknowledged that they had reduced pharmacy hours, at least I wouldn’t be insulted. It is difficult to believe that she thinks customers will accept the nonsense explanation that there was no reduction in customer service hours. This is not a positive development in my long-term relationship with this drugstore.
It is apparent that the drugstore manager does not subscribe to the long view advice from my prior blog posts: Keeping Core: understand your customer’s perspective or Rocking Customer Service: fix what isn’t right without excuse and be grateful for the opportunity. However, in this situation, what really ruined the long term customer relationship (trust and loyalty) is the doublespeak defense against complaint. As such, I offer additional long view advice:
- Think critically – Does what you say make sense from differing perspectives? Are the arguments internally consistent?
- Banish nonsense – Do not claim something that is not. Correct problems, apologize for interim inconvenience, and avoid clever debate.
Are you banishing nonsense and thinking critically?
July 15, 2009
Jamba Juice is a frozen fruit smoothie franchise that has consistent taste, predictable service (both timing and quality), hip marketing, and friendly staff. As a process engineer, I have always marveled at the “process line” that Jamba Juice employs. It is simple, efficient, and allows for excellence in quality in pace and accuracy (so long as the vast majority of products being sold are smoothies).
Jamba Juice uses a register station, a prep station, a blending station, a finishing station, and a washing station. The “line” works because each smoothie gets a paper ticket with the smoothie identity (product) and the purchaser identity. The paper ticket sticks to the blender carafe when moist, so information flows along the line with each carafe. As the tickets flow, carafes are prepped and pushed down the line, creating an excellent First-In-First-Out (FIFO) process line. The “line” is usually well staffed to ensure flow through the series of stations and the register station can be used regulate flow. If needed, they can reduce the flow momentarily by ceasing to take orders when they get too backed up. It is easy to see your order progress in the line-up, making the wait very predictable.
I also like Jamba Juice because they are “hip.” They use colorful advertising, clean humor, and they have a “secret smoothie menu” that appeals to teens (my kids like the “Pink Star”).
When I went for a smoothie today (it was hot outside), I found that Jamba Juice had added many new food products to their menu. I watched sadly as the once simple process gave way to complexity and FIFO flow was no longer working. The woman in front of me in line received only one of her two smoothies. Even though she muttered about the error (such that I knew), she was not assertive in requesting a correction from the staff. On the other hand, when I observed that one of my smoothies had NOT been prepared at the prep station, I spoke up immediately, because it was clear to me that the new way the paper tickets and carafes flowed led to errors and a loss of system capacity.
Indeed the squeaky wheel (me) got the grease (my order was fixed ASAP). I left advising the woman ahead of me to speak up, even though I knew that more expediting would continue to cost process capacity. They had became caught in an eternal expedite situation – as each person found an error in their order, “flow” work ceased and “expedite” work filled the capacity of the staff. The line backed up more and more because complexity unintentionally increased the rate of error and no mechanism was added to compensate.
I lament the loss of the niche excellence that Jamba Juice once commanded. I am saddened because they have lost their core to the unintended consequence of what probably seemed like an “improvement” (revenue?). Maybe only this location was duly affected with the addition of food to the menu and maybe they can create a corrective action, but I am not confident.
Jamba Juice failed to see the long view value of their core competence from a customer’s perspective: consistent fruit smoothie preparation (tasty!), FIFO process (predictable timing), and high order quality (order accuracy). It is the experience that has value. The unintended consequence of their change compromised this core value. As my friend Greg (a marketing guy) points out, “Ask your customers why they buy your product and why they buy your product from you and not one of your competitors. You will no doubt be amazed at the answer.” In summary, understand your core and the potential for unintended consequences from your customer’s perspective.
Do you know what your customers think your core competency is?
June 12, 2009
Specifically, we discussed the challenges of coping with isolated HR (Human Resources) actions that benefit a single individual/group, yet create long-term unintended consequences for other staff. One example was a scenario where HR advocated offering a higher starting salary to recruit a new employee without adjusting other staff salaries for like positions. The problem is that even if current staff salaries are economically fair (from an entirely objective perspective), the salary differential will be perceived as unfair when (not if) the details become known. This is because humans are tightly bound to relativistic thinking. Watch this great YouTube video by Dan Ariely from his work, Predictably Irrational, Ch.1, to demonstrate the point.
How people feel about their situation is highly dependent on comparison to others. Thus, in order to achieve good staff morale, it is important to consider how to minimize negative comparisons now *and* in the future.
The question that my friend and I discussed is the WHY would anyone advocate for such a scenario? I think that the biggest issue is that organizational policy-makers may not believe that negatives resulting from relativistic thinking are real. Concerns are dismissed by otherwise thoughtful and well-educated policy-makers because they want to believe that we should not behave that way *and* because they don’t “feel” it themselves. They are more likely to be insulated from accumulating these negatives, because their own (more senior) staff better model ideal behavior. Thus, their mental models, based upon their current experience, allow them to apply idealized logic to the expected behavior of more junior staff when assessing positives/negatives.
Intentions are good, vis-à-vis accruing an immediate (short view) positive for the single/group (improve employment competitiveness by recruiting new employee at higher salary). However, as noted by Jeffery Pfeffer in his book What Were They Thinking? Unconventional Wisdom about Management, pg.117, “…executives [can be] hopelessly out of touch and unable to empathize with or even understand the situation faced by front-line staff…,” underscoring the reality that long view negatives can be dismissed. The situation is more acute if policy-makers believe that that actions/policies will inculcate ideal behavior – it won’t! Humans are wired relativistically.
It is much better to avoid the conflicts than to have to deal with the unintended negative consequences. Thus, what is needed is for policy-makers to understand the effects that they are not currently considering. My advice:
- Teach Concepts: show the video clip to demonstrate the global concepts – Ariely has done excellent work to unequivocally demonstrate that relative thinking is universal and unavoidable,
- Explain Specifics: describe the specific logical effects of the proposal under scrutiny, and
- Gain Acceptance: get agreement that relativistic thinking causes significant negatives before you begin to discuss a direction for solution.
Are you taking time to teach concepts, explain specifics, and gain acceptance to those who do not “feel” them directly?
June 4, 2009
The long view advice when faced with pettiness is to take the high road. No durable happiness is ever derived from succumbing to pettiness in others. Revenge is fleeting and often filled with long-term negative consequences. It is okay to channel the bumper sticker that reads, “Mean People Suck” to sum up our emotions and feelings from being taken advantage, but keeping negativity appropriately directed (safely venting only!) is the best course. I share this wisdom as I face down my own challenge with a backyard fence:
The shared fence between my neighbor’s home and my home is in severe disrepair. It has been that way for about ten (10) years. Five years ago, when a significant portion fell, our neighbor did not want to replace the fence and because we planned to redo our backyard in a few years time, waiting seemed like an acceptable option. We agreed to an unaesthetic functional repair. A few years later, when we redid our backyard and approached our neighbor to replace the fence, it became clear to us that he was an obstructionist. Unfortunately, what before seemed reasonable became precedent. With the fence failing again and the homeowner’s association notifying us that it needs to be replaced/repaired (to maintain the aesthetics of the neighborhood), we still cannot get our neighbor to agree to replace the fence!
Recently, my husband and I decided that life is too short to not enjoy our backyard more and have decided that we will shoulder 90% of the cost of the fence replacement (the neighbor would pay 10%, which is equivalent to half the cost of another unaesthetic repair). Shockingly, our neighbor is still obstructing by demanding terms of the contractor, timing, and more, before giving approval for the work to proceed. Aaarrgghhh…..
- The high road, the high road, the high road, the high road….my mantra to get me through those emergent thoughts of effigy burning.
- What else works is laughter to ease the frustration. Jim, my fence guy (who has quoted this job many times over 10 years, but never been given the go ahead to do the work), regales me with tales of much worse neighbors. He makes me laugh and it never seems so bad after I talk to Jim.
- Lastly, perhaps there is prayer? Yesterday, I attended a special occasion prayer service and learned that the psalm for Wednesday is a prayer for spiritual retribution: “…Judge of the earth, give the arrogant their deserts…destroy them with their own evil…”
Although I continue to take the high road, I concurrently pine for more Wednesdays!
Do you take the high road or pine for more Wednesdays?