Sunday, September 9, 2012

Peculiar Priorities

I was just surfing Google for ideas on how to exceed expectations on the job. I was instantly rewarded with numerous hits that centered around exceeding your boss’ expectations. What’s peculiar about this is that what I had in mind was exceeding my customers’ expectations.

This reminded me that this is how our culture thinks. It’s not about the customer, it’s about the boss.

Similarly, this is how corporate America operates. It isn’t about what’s good for the customer, or what the customer wants. It’s about what’s good for the shareholders. Someone in the field may have a wonderful idea on how to give the customer better value, but this will never see fruition unless the idea makes the bottom line more profitable for the shareholders.

Don’t get me wrong, the shareholders' interests should be protected, as long as it’s in the long-term best interest of the business. Unfortunately, long-term to American business is the end of the month, or perhaps the quarter.

There is far too much concern for the shareholders’ profit. How can I say this? The shareholders are who makes it possible to continue the business. I disagree. The shareholders simply invested into the business. It’s basically a gamble. You invest in businesses you believe will do well, but if it doesn’t do well, then you, as a gambling shareholder, should accept the consequences of a bad gamble. You should not have your interests protected at all costs.

The fact of the matter is that it’s not the investors who make your business possible, it’s the customers. If the shareholders take a temporary hit to their profits (because a business invested in ways to make the business better, for example), this will be rectified if the change was truly for the benefit of the customer.

To whatever degree is realistic, the customer should drive the business. What I see happening, almost universally, is that the business is driving the customer. This is not new. It goes all the way back to Henry Ford and his famous quote, “You can get any color you want, as long as it’s black.”

In Ford’s case, he was trying to most effectively exploit the new idea of the assembly line. It made sense. As time went on, new colors were added to the available choices. What’s happening now is exactly the opposite: our choices as consumers are diminishing - for the same reason - ease of manufacture. But with new technology expanding so rapidly, our choices should also be expanding.

For example, it used to be that you could order a pair of eyeglasses and change the temple length because different length temples were available; or the same thing with color. While there are some exceptions, by and large, that’s not the case any longer. If you try on a frame, and you love the frame, but the temple length is too long or too short, you have to pick a different frame. That just doesn’t seem right to me.

Rather than the customer being able to order a different length (or a different color, or whatever), which would be an example of the customer driving sales, we see the business deciding what’s available and the customer necessarily adjusting their desires and expectations to meet the availability (the business driving the customer).

Another example would be cable television. Back in the day you had a choice of subscribing to cable or not. If you wanted, you could still use your antenna and get whatever channels were local. I’m not so sure you can do that today.

Also, I always thought that commercials on television were to help the networks pay their costs to bring you the programming, and also make a profit. So, why am I paying a cable company (an exorbitant service fee) to bring me the programming, but I still have to watch commercials?

What it boils down to in my view is that the people who deliver the goods and services simply don’t care about their customers - or at least don’t care enough. What’s comical is that the bigwigs in the Ivory Tower who make the rules for those in the field always make it sound like the customer is the most important thing. This is merely a way to guilt their subordinates into implementing their cockeyed new schemes, because when you look at what they really do, it simply doesn’t ring true.

What a peculiar set of priorities we have.

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