It’s a thin line

It’s a thin line between love and hate. This is a great quote to underscore the inherent challenge of delivering excellence or managing to very high quality standards. Recall this great song by Annie Lennox in case you need a soundtrack in your head while reading this.  It’s easy to point out what’s wrong with something, but a much bigger challenge to make it better.

Walking the Tightrope, source: unknown

It’s like walking a tight rope… if you believe high quality is essential to achieving your goal.  On the one hand, you can take the demanding boss or snooty patron approach and simply demand better/more.  This might get you an immediate response, but often elicits such a negative reaction from the people around you that you lose their authentic trust, loyalty, and commitment.

One the other hand, if you tip towards forgiveness and understanding, you actually get less in the moment and hope that next time things will be better.  This might engender fonder feelings from those around you, but fails to set a higher bar, push the envelope, surprise and delight.  It is simply fine (given the circumstances).  Unfortunately, over time, “simply fine” leads to mediocrity.  Eeew.

It’s a difficult competing commitment: be a kind generous human being (like Jesus Christ) or be an innovative bearer of high standards (like Steve Jobs).  Can’t you be both? Sure, and to do so, vision, vigilance, and veracity come to mind.  Introducing the V-3 method of leading for quality!  It helps you walk the line of pushing for mo’ betta, while accepting the inevitable influence of variables, unexpected interruptions, and, well reality taking things back to the lowest common denominator.

  1. Vision: paint a compelling picture of what could be, so others are inspired to act.  In fact, paint is insufficient, you must craft it in Technicolor, no THX.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.  Powerful imagery has proven impact on individual motivation by “priming” people with impressions about what is possible and how it will make a difference.  More importantly, a great vision helps clarify a choice and “allows” others to achieve versus forcing them to respond to a command.  A clear and compelling vision attracts people who desire the same things as you, making achievement at very high levels of quality more sustainable.
  2. Vigilance: don’t let there be exceptions and don’t let there be distractions from the highest priority aspects of your quality mission.  Allowing exceptions and distractions lets people off the hook before they achieve mastery, and may negatively effect their desire to try next time. See more on this concept in Why Chinese Mothers are Superior by Amy Chua.
  3. Veracity: use facts and present them in ways that inspire continued efforts to try harder.  Providing feedback on progress is essential in support of persistance and high achievement.  But the facts must be relevant and presented in appropriate scales.  One study on goal achievement compared weight loss on a wide scale of 25 pounds versus a narrow scale of 5 pounds and found that participants needing to lose 4 pounds were more likely to slack off in the wide scale (because 4 is small compared to 25 while it’s huge compared to 5).

It’s a thin line between engagement and overwhelm.  One last tip:  if you tell someone something is “not good enough” the next action on your part is to pitch in and help make the situation better.  This is a doubly-good thing because mimicry is a powerful social motivator and it’s energizing to have fresh legs in the face of a difficult challenge!

The costs of a bad reputation

When you say you are going to do something and then do it, you build trust, and trust is a value creation platform.  When you say you are going to do something and then don’t, it can get expensive.  Usually in soft, hard to track missed opportunities.  The immediate costs are often quite low… sometimes you even feel a small gain.  But with a slightly larger lens of time, not having people trust you can cost a lot.  So it pays to say what you’ll do, and do what you say.

I experienced this at a store this week.  I got a card for $80 off at Lens Crafters from work… seemed like a good deal and worth giving Lens Crafters a try although I would not normally go there.  Check out the card below, it seems like a pretty open deal.  It even mentions “designer eyewear.”

Bait and Switch?

Bait and Switch?

Upon arrival at the store, I learned that Oakley products were excluded.  Oh, and not Maui Jim either.  I came to order a set of prescription lenses for my Oakley frames, so I pressed the issue after reading the card again.  There’s no mention of any kind of exclusions, although I can see that it says “complete pair”.  So I ask if I have to get new frames to qualify.  “No, Oakley doesn’t let us give discounts on their products.”  I ask her to read the card and show me where Oakley is excluded.  She can’t find that anywhere.  I press further, and she gives me a corporate business card and suggests I call there.  I find out this is not a toll-free “help” number, but the main line to the corporate headquarters.  I get to a Service Representative and he asks if I’ve spoken to the General Manager of the store.  He sends him an email and I get a call back.  He says, “Sorry, Oakley is excluded.”  I let him know I think this is a “bait and switch” and I don’t want to do business with a company that isn’t good for their word.  We conclude the deal and I am done with Lens Crafters… probably for life.

Let’s estimate what the costs might be:

1. I buy new glasses every 2 years x 40 years= 20 $300 pairs they won’t get ($6000).

2. I tell all my friends that this is not a good store.  Let’s be conservative and I affect one person for one visit  at $300.  Or, say I affect 5 people for life = $30,000.  Hard to say what will really happen here.

3.  I go to YELP and give them a bad rating.  Could be hundreds of people who check that before shopping.  Lets just say 100 x $300= $30,000.

This is fuzzy math, I realize, but it’s easy to imagine that instead of an advocate they’ve created an enemy.  They put the card together, sent it out, and then refused to honor it.  They could have said $10 discount on any frame, with some exclusions.  But they didn’t.  I’d call that poor execution in this promotion.

The cost of poor execution and then refusing to honor it is much higher than simply honoring it.  Sure, if they honor it, they risk me telling my friends to go get their Oakley lenses for $80 off.  But that’s a very small number of people, and the card has an expiration date of September 2009, so the exposure is limited.

United Breaks Guitars

United Breaks GuitarsNow this is how to leverage the web!  Check out a new song by Dave Carroll called United Breaks Guitars.  And for more on the story behind the song visit Dave Caroll Music.  We’ve all had frustrating experiences with poor service and it’s really amazing that such a scene can actually occur.  I myself had a small tiff with a stewardess… I mean flight attendant… on United recently.  She wanted my 2 year-old son to leave the seatback phone in the holder and I thought the relative value of the inflight phone service (nearing zero) and the distinct advantage of having a 2 year-old entertained while the flight boards (priceless) were a good trade off.  My wife was worried I’d get us kicked off the plane for an FAA safety violation (see Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents) but I backed down.

It is quite fun to poke at these people for being so mean, difficult, or otherwise ornery.  But the real issue isn’t the person involved, these incidents are symptoms of a much larger core issue.  Bad service comes from companies that don’t take care of people.  United isn’t about “destination management” they are about airplane management, so they emphasize mechanical and safety issues, not human ones.  Sure, they say they are there for “your safety” but really they are there to control things. When Southwest Airlines hit the scene with an emphasis on people and the customer experience, they immediately became the most profitable airline around.

Another example is the battle between Microsoft and Apple.  While Microsoft has a clear advantage in revenue and profitability (so far), it is clear that customers prefer the Apple experience.  When a single business can dominate an industry so fully like Microsoft or United, they can get away with poor service because customers can’t vote with their wallets.  But as soon as that advantage is removed, the crash and burn is inevitable (and fast)… as in Kmart versus Walmart.

I think this is so obvious I can’t imagine why other businesses don’t pull it off.  But just in case it’s not that clear to everyone, here’s a few reasons it works:

1. People make buying decisions, so treating people well leads to more favorable buying decisions.

2. The loyalty effect is an important driver of sustained profitability.

3. If you want your customers to be treated well, you MUST treat your employees well.  See the Service Profit Chain for more on how this works.

Got any more points to add?