From homogeneity to heterogeneity through loss of control


I was reading Jon Gordon’s blog yesterday:

We had a good laugh but Cary’s customer service was no laughing matter. I go there all the time and have bought hundreds of meals because I know when I go there I’ll get what I want. It’s no wonder that Aqua Grill has been open for 20 years while every week it seems another restaurant in my area has opened and closed.

Success is simple. Give customers what they want and they’ll come back. You don’t have to give away the house. In fact Aqua Grill and Pappasito’s cost a little more than their nearby competition but they are busier and more successful.

If it is so simple, why is it so hard? Why is it so hard to give people what they want? One word. Control.

Control is a way to deal with heterogeneity. To produce homogeneity. If I only give one type of dish, I can make more of it, faster. It is based on yesterday’s world of thinking – where productivity was king and we standardized everything in order to produce more.

Those days are gone.

We are slowly but surely moving away from a world of productivity and mass production, to a world of creativity and customization. And trying to use the same mechanisms of control that were used to stifle heterogeneity in a world where heterogeneity needs to thrive, is crazy.

But we still do. Maybe it is our human nature. Maybe it is just bad habits or our resistance to change. It does not matter. The rules, regulations and other forms of control, all these things that deny people their autonomy and freedom in the work place have an expiry date. We don’t that date yet, but they do.

Read this example Gary Hamel’s post in the Management Lab about unshackling employees where he explains how by letting local employees set the opening times of their bank branches (at night, during the weekend or whenever), a bank created not only engaged employees, but more business. Here is a little excerpt (read the whole thing, it’s worth it):

Blair summarizes the changes at BNZ with a telling anecdote. “I was walking by one of our stores on a Sunday morning with my kids, and my son said, “Dad, the doors on the bank are open.” And I thought, crap, someone forget to close the doors. But then I looked in, and saw that the entire store was open. No one is forced to roster on Sunday, but team members had come in from other branches in order to swap their hours. One mom was there working on Sunday because she wanted to take Wednesday off. And it hit me: no one at head office even knows when the stores are open.” Adds Chris, “The freedom to open when you want may not be the biggest thing we’ve done, but it’s the most symbolic in terms of telling our people, ‘we trust you, and we’re serious about empowering you.’”

It is the same process. Same hours for all branches. A mechanism of control that is supposed to create homogeneity that is supposed to lead to productivity. However what the bank realized is that by losing control and succumbing to the heterogeneity they enable creativity that leads to the customization that customers wanted.


Understanding the customer

A few days ago, Guy Kawasaki of “How to Change the World” blog, interviewed, Dave Wanetick, the managing director of IncreMental Advantage. The headline of the interview was “The Art of the Customer Surveys“. In a nutshell, Wanetick claims that most costumer surveys are actually useless because physiological and practical reasons influence the outcome of the surveys and make them obsolete. Actually Wanetick argues that the most efficient survey should consist of one question:

According to Dave, some of the most revealing customer surveys can be quite simple. Dave cites Fred Reichheld’s idea that one can distill customer satisfaction surveys down to one question:

“Would you recommend our service to your friends and colleagues?”

This is a powerful question because it gauges whether or not customers like your product enough to put their own reputations on the line with their friends and colleagues.

I must admit that a lot of what I read in the interview made sense to me. It is true, some people don’t like filling out surveys. There is ample importance to the framing effect in surveys. Hassling customers might irritate them. But do all these facts lead to the conclusion the there surveys are ineffective and should not be used?

Every novice business man knows that adapting the product or service to the client is very important. Some writers like Peter Drucker and Craig Stull, Phil Myers, David Meerman Scott, talk about the importance of understanding the “non-clients” and thier needs. So how are business supposed to do that without surveys? I was not convinced that you can understand everything you need about the client (or non-client) by just one question.

I know that I get a lot of surveys. Some I disregard. But some I fill out. When I do, I try to be as honest as possible. If I fill that the survey might be of relevance to me, I really try to give them my honest opinion. Maybe they will improve because of me – would that be great for me? I know that one time I filled a survey for one of the MBA Schools and actually won an I-Pod for doing it. I answered that survey honestly and it made me happy to be rewarded for it.

How many surveys did you fill out? Did you take it seriously? I guess that most of you will answer that they did. I think most people will.

So, what is the conclusion? I think surveys are a tools. When using a survey, you should know its limitations. You should know that it might help you reach a decision and that it isn’t a tool that makes the decision for you. You should be aware of the technique’s problems and be true with yourself by using it so it will produce accurate results and not the results you want it to produce. You should honor your customers, especially the ones that comply and fill it out.

Most of the tools we use to evaluate process of humans are flawed in some way. Tests like SAT or GMAT, are not always accurate. When I try to evaluate an instructor giving a class, my evaluation will be a little different from my colleague’s evaluation, even if we took the same training. It does not mean we have to stop using it or that the evaluation does not hold insights. It just means we should not fall in love with the tool and use it wisely.