Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Intelligent Investor

I recently read Benjamin Graham's book, The Intelligent Investor, which is widely regarded as a foundational work on the topic of investment strategy - as much for my own edification as for knowledge of the financial services industry. I'm rather sorry to not have read it sooner: many of the principles of investment that are taught on the basis of "because I say so" can be traced back to this work, where the author provides ample evidence to support them.

In addition to providing solid advice for securities analysis and portfolio management, Graham calls into question the practices, and the very ethics, of the financial services industry: which has for so long been guilty of unscrupulous practices and unsound methods that it's a wonder there's a shred of dignity left in the profession. Though that's likely posturing, as advocating any practice requires denigrating those who do otherwise, it's also likely well justified.

But to salvage something of value from the general negativity of his opinion, it's that the demand for a financial services firm that truly does a service to its clients is still very much unfulfilled for the majority of investors. Those who have amassed portfolios of $1 million or more are highly desirable, and by most accounts well served, by wealth management firms - but for the rest of us, it seems we're left to the hands of firms that will gladly charge a commission for trades on which they provide no guidance at all, and the advice of those who claim to know the secret of making fortunes in the stock market, in spite of their own demonstrated inability to do so for themselves.

Ultimately, this situation practically guarantees that very few investors will ever amass much wealth - and those few that manage to do so on their own will be very much in the position of the Little Red Hen, who having toiled on her own to plow the field, plant the harvest, pull the weeds, and so on suddenly finds herself beset by "friends" who are ready to pitch in when all her efforts have produced something they wish to help consume.

I had a finance professor who once demonstrated how an individual who earns minimum wage can, over the course of their lifetime, amass enough wealth to retire a millionaire (given a modest raise each year and a reasonable rate of return) - yet know of few people who make considerably more that are on a path to the same destination, so the need is there, but the supply is lacking.

Perhaps I'd feel heartened if I saw one finance site that placed a flag beside the ticker symbols whose stocks were grossly overpriced, or tossed up an "are you sure about that" message when an investor buys a questionable security, rather than merely collecting a commission on a purchasing decision that's almost certain to have disastrous results.

But this would also be a sign of a long-term perspective, the absence of which I have often commented on topics related to customer service and business management in general. It's something I remain devoted to, but something I feel little hope of ever witnessing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mobile Sales Support

Jotting down some thoughts on a discussion about the use of mobile as a resource to be used by live salespeople ... my sense is it's not terribly good for that purpose, and can even be counterproductive.

The idea is a that a company can shorten sales training by providing each salesman with access to information about merchandise on a mobile device, so that he can access it while interacting with customers rather than having to commit it to organic memory. On the surface, this seems entirely rational and plausible, but I see a few problems:

Primarily, if being able to reference product information on a device was sufficient, there would be no reason to have a live salesperson. Instead, the firm could simply give the customer direct access to the same information resource (at a kiosk, or a mobile device of their own) and let them browse it for themselves - they don't need a salesman to run the search for them and read what he sees on a screen.

This is the common practice for electronic commerce, and its greatest weakness: it places on the customer the burden of finding product information for himself, which presumes that the customer has sufficient knowledge of the product line to conduct a search that will lead him to the right product. For a customer who is already familiar with the inventory, and has a relatively good idea of what he needs, an online catalog is entirely sufficient. It's especially good for routine reordering of products with which the customer is already familiar.

The value of a salesman, however, is in making recommendations of products that a customer is not already aware of. This may occur when the customer is buying a given item for the first time, and it may be valuable to up-sell the customer on reordering by suggesting they try a better product "this time." In that way, it may even help to retain the business of a customer who wasn't satisfied with the item they purchased previously. But this seems like a digression.

The novice salesman is faced with the same problem as the utterly clueless customer - he has no knowledge of the product line. He is further handicapped because he also does not have knowledge of the customer's needs - which puts him in the unenviable position of identify a good match between two unfamiliar bodies of information (product inventory and needs).

Giving such a person a mobile device loaded with product information merely makes him a wetware proxy to a search engine, which contributes little value and instead makes the process all the more difficult. Especially given that American culture values self-reliance and independence, his position is one of an unnecessary person that is making it more difficult for the customer to get what he wants.

The value of a salesman is his familiarity with products, and the ability to identify a selection that best meets the needs of the customer. The discussion leading up to the sale is one of discovery - the salesman knows his products, but must learn his customer's needs. In this way, it is matching a known factor to an unknown factor - which requires much less effort and has a higher probability of success than situations in which both are unknown.

But more to the point, matching known to unknown requires something to be "known" - in this case, the product line, which must be committed to human memory for it to be known at all (data accessible on a device is just information, not knowledge).

With a product inventory in memory, the salesman will be able to make a product recommendation quickly, revise it when the customer provides additional details, explain the reason for his recommendation, and remain constantly engaged in the conversation with the customer.

By contrast, a salesman who lacks product knowledge must gather information, then take his attention away from the customer to search for products, then repeat the search if the customer provides more information, and would have little ability to explain the reason a given product was recommended.

The situation would be damaging, if not devastating, to the customer experience. The customer would have only intermittent communication, and would have to wait periodically while the salesman interacted with his mobile device - which brings both the frustration of "down time" in the process, and the psychological effect of being repeatedly ignored. He would also have the sense that the salesman was not very competent, having to rely on his device to provide information and being unable to offer any rationale for recommending an item aside of stating that the system returned it it as a match.

All in all, I don't see such a mobile application as being much different than having a salesman carry around a binder of product information and constantly refer to it during a sales encounter - this has been possible for years, but I'm not aware of any instance in which it is a common practice.

And in that sense, there may be some utility in using a mobile device to contain product data - but in the same way that a binder of product information: as a training aid for salesmen to help them learn the product line, and perhaps as a reference the salesman could use if he was unable to answer a question. I think that a customer would tolerate a salesman who could answer most of their questions from his own memory, but would periodically need to check a reference to be sure of his facts.

But in terms of the suggested practice - to cut short sales training and make salesmen entirely reliant on product information stored (or accessed) on a mobile device - it seems fairly clear that this is unlikely to be a successful practice.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Reductio Ad Absurdum

I read a passage about using the question "why" recursively in order to determine the reasons that a customer actually buys a product. In a way, it makes good sense, but like many things, it can be taken too far.

This notion arises from the current situation of marketing - or more aptly, the attempt of marketers to gauge the nature of the current situation. It's seen as an evolution from marketing based on product features, to marketing based on functional benefits, to marketing based on psychological benefits, to marketing based on emotion. The technique is interesting but ultimately disintegrates into absurdity.
  • Why would I want to buy a hammer? Because it's good for driving nails.
  • Why would I want to drive a nail? Because you need to hang a picture.
  • Why would I want to hang a picture? Because you want to decorate your home.
  • Why would I want to decorate my home? Because you want your houseguests to be impressed.
  • Why would I want my houseguests to be impressed? Because they will think you are important.
  • Why would I want people to think I am important? Because it makes you feel good about yourself.
  • Why would I want to feel good about myself? Because you just do, that's all.
I can accept the first three steps. You could certainly sell me a hammer to drive a nail to hang a picture. You might also mention a handful of other reasons I might need to drive a nail, and I will be convinced that the hammer is a multipurpose tool that enables me to accomplish many different little goals, and well worth the price you're asking for one. But beyond that, the inferences are a bit stretched and it degrades into one of those Philosophy-101 syllogisms that use simple statements to arrive at a completely illogical conclusion.

My sense is that oblique advertising, the kind where you see a commercial like a montage from a Fellini film that leaves you with a "what the hell was that?" reaction, is likely based on such leaps of logic. And while it's true that there's a certain level of psychological benefit from owning a product, aside of its practical application, I don't have the sense it's the most productive way to go about selling things.

But back to the point: the chain of "why" ultimately results in a tautology, and the insistence that the customer wants something "just because." The problem is that this method of needs analysis encourages us to go so far into the theoretical that we lose sight of the actual, and to believe that we have not reached the "true" benefit of a product until we get to an answer that we are unable to explain, in spite of the fact that it is absurd or nonsensical. That is to say, using this technique will ultimately results in the belief that only that which is absurd or nonsensical must be important.

To some degree, this method may be useful in identifying ways to market a product that is extremely difficult to sell based on the appeal of functional benefits - but taken too far, it may become counterproductive. Most customers are not so naive as to be taken in by oblique advertising, and many are experienced enough to be suspicious of it: if a commercial message says little about the functional benefits of a product and attempts to engage the audience on an emotional or psychological level, it's a sign that the product isn't very good and the brand isn't very honest.

Don't get me wrong: I'm a fan of surrealism and I adore absurdity, which means I'll gladly watch a thirty-second film of a ballerina in a bowler hat throwing overripe apricots at a chimpanzee against the backdrop of an art museum ... but I don't think I'll buy the brand of hammer they're trying to sell me, and I'll likely have the impression it's probably overpriced and not very good at driving nails.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Odd Similarity: B2B and Nonprofit Marketing

I was reading a blog post about nonprofit marketing and was stricken by the similarity between the situation of nonprofit marketers to their counterparts in the commercial sector, particularly in business-to-business marketing.

The author's point was that the chief difference between consumer and nonprofit marketing is that in consumer marketing, the customer is purchasing something for his own benefit, whereas in nonprofit marketing, the donor is purchasing something for the benefit of someone else. In the case of nonprofit, the necessity of cost-versus-benefit and quality of service remain important to the donor who expects his contribution to accomplish something significant.

Granted, this is not evident on the level of the low-end of donors: the millions of people who will give in small amounts to charities really don't invest much time in considering how their donation of $20 or $200 is going to be spent, unless the charity itself is notorious for being wasteful or corrupt in its use of donated monies, which is why charities who depend on small donors and have few significant ones are (rightly) viewed with some suspicion. The situation is much the same for low-ticket purchases: where the amount of cash is small, the consumer doesn't do much research and isn't particularly disappointed when their experience of using the product is less than ideal, and the small-ticket vendor is not often very scrupulous (unless he counts on many repeat purchases over a long period of time, adding up to a significant per-customer income).

On the level of high-dollar patronage, where wealthy individuals or corporate sponsors contribute six figures or more to a charity, much more discernment is given to how the charity will use the money, with an eye toward ensuring it is used well, and that the beneficiaries of the charity actually receive some benefit from the use of their donations.

In terms of brand, a nonprofit organization that seeks to obtain large contributions must be able to demonstrate that it delivers value for dollar, and must maintain a spotless reputation for being fiscally responsible and effective in accomplishing their stated ends.

My sense is that the same is true of B2B marketing - even though it is pay-for-product, the person who makes the buying decision and approves the money to be spent is not the user of the product, but ideally decides to make the purchase based on how well the product will suit the needs of their users.

Considered in that way, the mind-set of the buyer in a business is similar to that of the donor to a charity - for better or for worse. The corporate buyer is inclined to seek the cheapest alternative that is "good enough" rather than purchasing a product that will actually deliver the full functionality others seeking to obtain - and ultimately, the need of the employee for an effective solution is done in order to deliver a benefit to the company or the customers they serve.

That said, the B2B customer does shoulder some of the blame when they are indifferent to the quality of product or service that is delivered by a vendor. It's the undiscerning customer that feeds firms that should rightly have no customers at all.

And in B2B marketing, as in charity, there are vendors who will happily serve both classes: some offer cheap solutions for the "good enough" buyer, and others offer effective solutions for the "must be good" buyer. And the lower the price of the good, the less they care about whether it actually accomplishes its desired goals.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mobile Apps versus Mobile Web

In the mobile industry, there seems to be an ongoing argument over which way the medium will evolve - to use "apps" that run on the mobile device, or to add functionality to a mobile Web site. My own sense is that the mobile Web will eventually "win" over apps, but there are reasons for and against it.

In general, I see the notion of an app as being contrary to the value users seek to obtain from mobile - they want access to any information they might need, at any moment they might need it, in any location they happen to be at the time. The Mobile Web has the potential to deliver this in a way that apps cannot.

However, the mobile Web is presently lacking in content, much as the Internet was during its early years. Up until about 1995, you were better off having a CompuServe or AOL account because you could do more with it than you could on the Internet, which was largely composed of collections of academic research - but eventually, the number of sites exploded to the point where the capabilities of the Internet surpassed online services and made them obsolete.

.... but that leads off on a digression that has already been talked to death, so let me try to get this meditation back on the rails ...

To have access to an app, you must download it in advance: that is to say you must know, or at least have a general sense, of what nature of information you might need in future. And in that way, the mobile device has little advantage, save compactness, over a written resource that a person might carry with them - it is in effect a digital backpack that you must load before you go out into the world.

Granted, some argument can be made that a user can access an app store at any time to download something he might discover a need for - so it's not strictly true that the mobile device is entirely cut off and limited - but it does take considerable time to download an app when, at the moment the user discovers a need for information, they want it immediately, not after a wait of several minutes while an application is downloaded. And then, he's stuck with an app cluttering up his device and consuming (limited) resources that he only needed once, in an odd situation.

The mobile Web, meanwhile, provides much faster access to needed information - again, with the caveat that the information is available at all - without the necessity to predict in advance what might be needed. And that's where I see the mobile Web winning: especially when you consider that the mobile device travels with you, wherever you may go, it's not feasible to know what information or resources you might need in any situation you encounter and load it into the device in advance.

You can predict some of your informational needs, but you will still find yourself in situations where you need something you didn't foresee and didn't prepare for, and if you rely solely on apps, you would be left as helpless as a person who didn't have a mobile device at all. Granted, the user is not required to choose one or the other - mobile devices support both, so the user can download apps for their predictable needs and refer to the mobile Web for the unpredicted ones ... but in terms of evolution, I expect the latter will surpass the former, just as the Internet surpassed AOL, when the volume of resources reaches critical mass.

To download (and pay for) an app to check stock prices is as foolish as to download a software program to your computer that does the same simple thing. Which brings to mind the notion of Apple Widgets (and Windows Gadgets), simple uni-tasking programs for doing things like checking the weather report, stock prices, or playing a game using a local application rather than going to a Web site for the same details. Neither of these caught on, and were laughed down by users and the industry alike. But is this not the same as mobile apps?

And while I'm chasing down analogies, consider the fate of the encyclopedia - not merely that a digital version has replaced the voluminous paper version, but that online encyclopedias versus encyclopedia applications. To sell (or buy) an encyclopedia on CD-ROM is virtually as silly as to sell (or buy) a paper copy. Some still do, and it's a matter of personal preference, but from an objective standpoint, the online version is superior to the CD-ROM version in many respects. And my sense is the exact same thing is true of the mobile Web versus mobile applications - likely, the list of advantages is about the same.

And still, I have my doubts.

The decision of whether to use an app or a mobile site is similar to the decision as to whether to develop a computer application or deliver the functionality via the Internet. And while the Internet is resplendent with informational resources, there are still a multitude of applications, written to be installed on a specific machine, from which users will not be parted.

Even when the limitation of location is addressed, users tend to prefer stand-alone applications for specific functions. Google Docs can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection and is entirely serviceable as a word processing program, yet it still has not replaced Microsoft Word as the text editor of choice for a vast majority of users, who prefer to store and edit their documents locally in spite of the fact that they are locked to a specific computer.

My sense is that this will continue to be true of the mobile platform: even should every imaginable need for information be satisfied by resources on the mobile web, and connectivity is no longer in doubt (which was also a problem of the Internet in its early stages) there will be certain instances in which users will prefer to have a local app on their mobile device to perform a specific task.

So I find it highly doubtful that the "battle" will ever be won - users will turn to whatever they prefer to address their needs, and developers will continue to provide both mobile apps and mobile web capabilities. And neither is in necessary for one or the other to win at all - there's absolutely nothing wrong with having options and leaving it to each user to choose what best suits their purpose - it's largely the narcissism of UX designers to assume there is only "one best way" to do any task and seek to eliminate alternatives ... but that's an entirely separate meditation.


A sort of afterthought: the battle, such as it is, is being fought in the wrong field. The decision of "app or web" is too often made for reasons that have nothing to do with its serviceability to the user. The cost of development, or the capabilities of the developers, often drive the decision, with the belief that the user will happily accept whatever decision they care to make.

Given the poverty of resources on the mobile web in its current incarnation, the providers still have the power to make such decisions to suit their own interest instead of those of their users, and users will indeed have to live with the consequences of their decision for lack of a better alternative. But as soon as users catch wind of a good mobile site for doing a specific task, or better yet a handful of alternatives, the demand for an app to do it will likely dry up.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Guide to the ATM and Debit Card Industry

I've added reading notes on the Federal Reserve Bank's study of the ATM and debit card industry, which details the rapid change within the banking industry to accommodate a consumer marketplace in which electronic methods of payment have rapidly gained popularity over the past 25 years, and the rapid transformation in both existing payment systems (physical cards and online payments) and emerging technologies (person-to-person and mobile payments).

It's also significant to consider that the incidence of electronic payment, which it has grown considerably over a short period of time, is further exaggerated by hype. Significant marketing has been done to create the perception that electronic payment is universal and that anyone who still uses cash and checks is an old-fashioned oddball who just isn't in step with the current age ... but the numbers tell a different story: 63% of retail payments in the US market are still being made with cash and checks, and of electronic payments, credit cards still dominate by a ratio of six-to one.

Taken together, this means that debit cards and other forms of electronic payment that directly transfer funds from the customer's bank to the merchant constitute a mere 5.2% of all retail transactions. One one hand, it seems like all the attention and excitement over electronic payment is entirely unwarranted ... but on the other, there's no denying that there has been significant advancement and considerable room for growth as the methods continue to expand and mature.

From a consumer marketing perspective, this is largely trivia: paying and accepting payment electronically has become a matter of course, even though it was almost unheard of a few decades ago: three's a great deal of back-end technology and business practices that supports the simple act of swiping a card, keying an account number into a Web site, or "beaming" payment information from a mobile device to a point-of-sale system. Ideally, a merchant should seek to support any method of payment that a customer chooses to present.

But from an operations perspective, the differences in fees for processing different methods of payment, while negligible on the level of an individual transaction, can come to quite a lot for large volumes of transactions. A difference of even half a percent in processing fees means five million dollars per year for a retailer whose revenues are $1 billion - and for a retail giant such as Walmart, whose receipts exceed $400 billion, the difference is $2 billion per year - and to cover that expense without passing surcharges directly to the debit card consumer, this would mean covering the cost indirectly, by raising the price of merchandise to all consumers.

As such, it makes sense that Walmart would have taken the lead in the suit to protest the "honor all cards" policy of national debit card processing networks: being compelled to accept a method of payment that is disadvantageous to merchant and customer alike is particularly toxic to a firm of its size, and whose primary source of competitive advantage is price ... customer convenience be damned, and convenience of 5% of customers at the expense of the other 95% is plainly offensive.

Ultimately, the dispute between card processors and merchants will be resolved by a higher authority - the consumer himself - who will decide whether the convenience of using his preferred method of payment is worth switching to the retailers that support it. And of all the reasons that a customer might prefer one merchant over another, the fact that the retailer accepts a specific kind of payment has never, to my knowledge, been a deciding factor in the success or failure of any merchant.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reputation Management

The idea of reputation management is getting a great deal of attention, and in what I've read on the subject, I notice that something is completely lacking: that the best way to ensure you have a good reputation is to earn it.

The majority of interest seems to be focused on cleaning up the public image of a firm that have egregiously mistreated their customers or their employees. Not only have they treated people poorly, but they intend to keep treating them poorly. They are motivated merely to suppress any evidence of their behavior so they can carry on with business as usual.

Firms claim to be the innocent party, wrongfully attacked by individuals who seek to do them harm, or victims of a smear campaign. Such claims lack credibility: while there are people who delight in being malicious, and others in the traditional media who profit well by doing so, they must be handed an opportunity to do so - people don't look for things to complain about, but delight in complaining about the things that actually happen to them - to vent their frustration, and to (justly) provide a warning to others.

In instances where a firm accepts responsibility for its actions, it gains credibility. There is no firm, and no person, that has never made a misstep - but many that have never admitted or acknowledged the errors they have made. Customers, by and large, are willing to overlook a single negative review in a queue of positive ones in forming their overall impression - in fact, a string of reviews that are universally positive lacks credibility at all and has about it the stink of a carefully orchestrated cover-up.

However, a firm that has an occasional misstep isn't concerned about reputation management - though it may monitor negative comments, it is more in the nature of identifying a problem that needs to be corrected. This requires not public response on the part of the firm, only introspection as to whether the comment reflects a need for change.

Moreover, any negative comment is seen in the context of many more positive ones, and a firm that treats customers or employees well can expect them to come to its defense when it is "attacked" by a person whose experience was negative, and these rebuttals hold more weight than any comment the firm or its paid spokesmen might make in response. In that way, the reputation of a good firm will mend itself, without any action on its own part.

The firm that takes a great deal of interest in reputation management is the one who has a poor reputation - which is to say the one that has earned a poor reputation - and is primarily interested in suppressing the comment rather than addressing the problem. These are the firms that delete comments that reflect poorly upon them, or feel the need to post an immediate reaction on their own, fearing (or perhaps knowing) that no-one will come to their defense.

In all, I think that specializing in reputation management is a career option I'd prefer to avoid: while there is increasing interest in the topic, and a correspondingly increasing demand for individuals who are skilled at it, I don't think it's a line of work I'd care to be in: it would lead me to work for a string of ill-reputed firms that merely want to do damage control rather than address the problem and restore the reputation of their firms in the proper way.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sucking Less is not Serving Better

I watched a Webinar about ways to make customer voice messaging systems better, a smattering of random, disorganized, and uninspiring do/don't tips - and it occurred to me that this wasn't about providing better service, it was about making the experience less offensive.

At no point did the presenter offer any research indicating what customers actually like about voice messaging systems. As a matter of fact, she offered no research at all - it was all opinion and observation, which has its place (namely, in a blog) and some value in that it conveys the wisdom of experience to an audience who has less than the speaker. But more importantly, it was clear to me that the presentation was geared not to doing anything for the express purpose of making a caller happy, but avoiding common practices that make the experience more unpleasant.

I'd meant to preserve the list itself here in my notebook, but it seems to me that there is a more significant consideration on a broader level: that much of what is done to improve customer service is in addressing the worst aspects of something that the company who provides it knows to be bad for the customer, but refuses to abandon.

Voice systems are just one example, and an acutely terrible one. They were rotten from the start, and while the companies that use them seek to make them less rotten, nobody has ever come up with a good one.

I'd go so far as to say that no customer is every happy to hear a synthesized or recorded voice on the telephone - but there are exceptions. For example, when I call my bank to check my balance (on the rare occasion I don't just do it online), I am happy to get a recording because it is brief, direct, and doesn't try to sell me other products. But I think that's likely not because the automated system is "good" but that live phone reps from the same company have become so clumsy at providing a quick answer to a simple question and so pushy in selling other products, that I'm actually relieved to not have to deal with them.

And my sense is that they are just as happy not to deal with me. Aside of making an explicit statement that "you are a nuisance to us and we wish you would just go away," I can think of no better way for a company to communicate to a caller that he is so unimportant to them that they can't be bothered to answer his call personally than to make them talk to an automated system.

But back to the point: I would be highly dubious of any assertion that a company had put in place an automated messaging system because the did research and testing that led to the conclusion that customers would prefer an automated system to a live operator. They did it to save money. Period.

Voice messaging systems have been around for decades, and the fact that no-one has gotten them "right" is a sign of an inherent flaw that cannot be overcome. And all the pretense of providing better service is a clear acknowledgement that they are doing something that is bad for the customer, and are trying to ameliorate, but have no intention whatsoever to stop doing it.

The problem is not specific to voice messaging, but is evident throughout customer service and customer interaction in general: in many instances, companies inflict an uncomfortable process upon the customer to make their own operations more efficient - and when they discover that the revenue they lose by offending and mishandling the customer is greater than the cost they are saving, they attempt to mitigate the damage. But they don't stop to consider more effective ways to address the problem, and will not admit that the cost-saving idea they implemented is ineffective and awful.

The situation is altogether absurd. Imagine a project kick-off meeting based in the premise that the company is going to just punch customers in the face, and the team's task is to figure out how to make customers like it. Do we aim for the cheek rather than the mouth, nose, and eyes? Do we put on a cushioned glove? Do we make the glove a pleasant color? Do we say something clever to them after doing it?

Doubtless, everyone knows that people don't like being punched in the face, and if you were really intent on making the customers happy, you would not punch them in the face at all. But this is not something the company is willing to consider.

Anyone who makes the suggestion of not punching the customer in the face is "not a team player" and "doesn't have much of a future around here." A consultant has convinced a C-level officer that we need to punch customers in the face, a flock of sycophants agree it's a great idea, the accountants say it will save us a lot of money, and all out competitors are already doing it. So we're going to do it, and all we need to do is figure out how to go about it

And as exaggerated and ludicrous as it seems, is this not exactly what is going on when a firm seeks to improve something that is inherently flawed? Does it not perfectly describe the nature of trying to "improve" a voice messaging system, an application process, a refund policy, a technical support operation, or any of the other industry-standard practices and policies that are inherently offensive to the customer?