Beware Reasonableness

reasonablessness

Here is a customer experience story for you. Today, I had given my car for servicing at my regular service station. As usual, there was a delay when I went to pick it up at the scheduled time. The car was still being washed. Post the wait & settling the bill, I finally got the car. I was keen to get home & avoid the evening traffic snarls. To my surprise though, I saw that the car was still dirty at many places.

On further inspection, I discovered it had not been washed at all. Not only was I charged for it, but I was also made to wait long for the wash. Obviously, I was furious and frustrated. I made a complaint to the managers. And I was on my way out after agreeing for a wash the next time there.

That’s it? Nothing more? Why didn’t I make a bigger issue of it? Why settle so quickly?

Beware the soul sucking force of reasonableness.
– Chip & Dan Heath

Inspite of the service station being clearly at fault, the reason I did not make a mountain of the issue was probably what had happened at the service station earlier in the day. Several acts that defied business reasonableness.

  • Early in the morning when I was dropping the car off, I had met the service manager. He wished me as soon as he saw me & ensured someone was attending to me at the earliest.
  • During both my visits on this occasion, I was offered drinking water (such a relief in Indian summers) & hot beverages.
  • Even more important, the person serving the water & beverages was genuinely smiling at customers. He seemed keen to serve & not just going through the motions.
  • And there was more than one person smiling at visiting customers, trying to make them feel comfortable & ensuring they were attended to quickly.
  • Even when the issue was discovered, there was no attempt to avoid the issue or blaming on lame excuses. All three levels of managers (service advisor, service team manager & the service station in-charge) –  acknowledged the issue, took responsibility for the same and apologised.

Decisions to the do the above acts could’ve all faced the challenge of corporate reasonableness. It is reasonable to save money by not giving free packaged water or beverages? Smiling, making customer feel comfortable & well attended to – this is a car service station, not a hotel for god’s sake!

The reasonableness defying acts were them building up their equity by take the initiative to give, give & give (the job jab jab in Gary Vaynerchuck’s terms). They cashed in their equity (the right hook) when they asked me to excuse them for their obvious mistake.

Criticism In Corporate Culture

Today, I came across two seperate reputed opinions about corporate culture. Unfortunately, both are negative.

The first one from a Bridgewater Associates (considered the most successful hedge fund in the world) manager:

In general hierarchical structures, you don’t tell people what you actually think.

You’re always managing other people’s perceptions of you and what they think of you, and trying to butter people up above, trying to make sure they don’t think anything is going wrong, that you have all the answers.

Radical transparency is designed to solve for a deadly sin of work life: office politics. In too many places, what happens in the meeting doesn’t matter nearly as much as secret alliances and conversations after the meeting.

And the second one (paraphrased) from Malcom Gladwell:

When I think back about my time in a large organization, the thing that was most frustrating to me was the extent to which people over time in organizations, put the needs & desires of the people on the inside ahead of the needs & desires of the people they are serving.

Sometimes people get so immersed in their envronment, that the people you are supposed to be serving sort of falls away. And you just think about what would make your life better.

One way to avoid this is to keep reminding yourself & the people around you the point of your organization & who you are serving.

Principles_by_Ray_Dalio

Incidentally, both of these were heard in the TED original podcast WorkLife with Adam Grant. The episode How to Love Criticism delves into how Ray Dalio addresses these in Bridgewater Associates with a corporate culture based on radical transparency & constantly getting better (kaizen).

Highlights of Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post

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(Photo courtesy CNNMoney)

The news world is abuzz with news & conversations about the Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post. Here are a few points in the announcements that caught my attention:

  • Bezos’ first communication to The Post’’s employees elaborated clearly where the priority lies – the customer.
    • The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners.
    • We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment. Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there.
  • How often do we get to hear about an individual’s decency as a deciding factor in world of mergers & acquisitions? In the case of Jeff Bezos, it seems quite often.
    • From Donald Graham’s statement: “Jeff Bezos’ proven technology and business genius, his long-term approach and his personal decency make him a uniquely good new owner for The Post.
  • As seen in earlier cases earlier (like when Zappos was acquired by Amazon), values finds multiple mentions in Bezos’ communication.
    • When a single family owns a company for many decades, and when that family acts for all those decades in good faith, in a principled manner, in good times and in rough times, as stewards of important values – when that family has done such a good job – it is only natural to worry about change.
    • The values of The Post do not need changing.

It will indeed be interesting to see how Bezos will try & innovate The Post out of its financial misery. What kind of innovations will we get to see in the world of news publishing? After the medium, is it now the turn of the content to play a role in Bezos’ & Amazon’s vision?

Customers *Must* Be Part of the Co-Creation Process

The Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed 226 executives at global enterprises to find out how smart companies innovate as part of a Oracle sponsored study about cultivating business-led innovation.

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One of the key findings of the study has been that “companies furthest along the innovation path utilize customer data and customer participation in their product and service improvements. Fifty-four percent of respondents in this group actively collect customer feedback and analyze customer data for clues to innovate effectively, but in different ways.”

As Oracle SVP Bob Evans blogs: “Customers *Must* Be Part of the Co-Creation Process. As companies of all sizes and across all industries realize that the co-creation of value and of experiences with customers can be a profound way to boost customer loyalty, they also must recognize that relevant innovation in a customer-free vacuum is impossible. Mid-size and smaller companies ($500 million or less) connect directly with customers in interviews about product design and testing, while companies with revenue above $1 billion or more likely to use social technology and sentiment analysis to uncover customer-focused innovations.”

You can find the details of this study & the report at the Oracle feature page or The Economist Intelligence Unit site.