Thursday, October 25, 2018

Who Comes First?

Ethical dilemmas are often posed in the scenario of a crisis situation.  If there are only so many seats on a lifeboat, or so much space in a bomb shelter, whom do you take in and whom do you turn away?  It is presumed that the choices people make in a difficult situation reveal their true values.

The same is said of companies who face a crisis, and people watch to see “who comes first?” as a way of gauging the company’s ethical values.  Propaganda aside, whose interests does a company seek to protect when a crisis arises? Do the managers set up golden parachutes from themselves?  Do they seek to protect profits?  Or do they take care of their customers and employees?

There is a strong distaste for firms that put profits first, and the widespread perception that when companies are faced with a product recall, this is an opportunity for the firm to show their true colors and demonstrate whether they care about customers.  Particularly in industries where human life is at stake, people expect firms to put profits aside and do the right thing – as almost every firm will claim it does when there is no crisis at hand.

Unfortunately, the traditional approach of companies is first to attempt to cover up the incident so that no-one will ever realize that a mistake was made.   If it cannot be hidden, to maintain a stiff upper lip and show no sign of panic so that people think that they are well in control of the situation.   This sort of cold reserve that gives battlefield commanders the mien of valor comes off as being cold and unconcerned, or even ignorant or in denial, in non-emergency situations.

There is some merit to the notion that people will recall companies that have to issue defects as being incompetent, but survey results do not bear that out.  No-one expects perfection, and the majority of people recognize that even the best-run companies can make mistakes.

And if this bears out, then it is correspondingly true that very few people will assume that a company that makes a mistake is entirely incompetent.   Accidents will happen, and the true competence of the firm is not in producing perfection, but in responding competently when mistakes occur.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Haphazard Training

The unfortunate truth is that practices in teaching workmen skills is very haphazard.   Schools teach students the skills they might need in an abstract form, often buy rote and with little to no practical application.   When a new employee is hired he is sent to the shop with little instruction, expected to observe and figure out the job with little guidance.

This is even more so of the knowledge workers than laborers.  An individual who is meant to fuel an engine is shown how to shovel fuel into the boiler, but one who is meant to sell a product is simply told to “go sell” without any instruction.   It is to his credit that, by some haphazard process, workers can teach themselves to do a task with some level of proficiency – but this ability is too much relied upon by the vast majority of employers.

For employers, this leads to employee turnover. Employees who might have become competent with instruction are unable to figure things out on their own and leave in frustration, or are dismissed for being less productive than needed.   As such a person may learn a piece of the job in one shop, another piece in another shop, and over the course of several years come to develop competency in his trade.

Learning by experience means learning by mistakes and successes – which carries with it the necessity of making mistakes, and some of them quite serious.  “The burnt child avoids the fire” summarizes the issue of haphazard learning: it would be better if the child were taught to avoid the fire without getting burned.

This is not merely a theoretical consideration of what might happen – looking at the high turnover rate in businesses in general, and certain industries and positions specifically, it is a widespread problem.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Advertising and the Natural Capacity for Attentiveness

Physiology tells us that the human brain is largely identical from one person to the next, buy psychology clearly demonstrates that this organ is used in different ways by different people.   There is some argument over whether slight differences in the biological organ cause some to behave differently from others, or whether this is merely a matter of their upbringing and training – but it is moot, as the brand does not have the ability to raise its customers from childhood, it must confront prospects such as they are.

Some individuals seem to have a natural proclivity to focus their mind on a very specific goal and disregard all the rest of the world.   Some of the greatest inventors and artists have demonstrated this single-mindedness to great ends.   Others seem to be scatter-brained, unable to attend to one thing and constantly hop from one thing to the next, unable to see an idea to completion before something else “pops up” in their minds.

Some individuals can read a book with perfect satisfaction, whereas others consider reading to be intolerable.   Some can focus their minds on reading in a noisy environment, others cannot.  By the same token, some individuals can work in an environment of distraction, giving their attention to a certain subset of stimuli of their choosing, others cannot.

Some individuals can maintain attentiveness to their tasks, and to do what might be considered excellent work even when they are deprived of sleep or even intoxicated.  Others produce horrible work when they are slightly tired or barely intoxicated.

The most sought-after individuals are those with high levels of concentration, who seem to be able to focus their minds when others cannot.  Such men are precious, but such men are rare.  One cannot expect a market to operate as if every prospect can keep pace with the fastest and best, any more than one can yoke horses together and expect the slowest and weakness to keep up with those with unnaturally high strength and stamina – it tends to be the other way around.

In addressing the mass market, a brand may attempt several campaigns that function at different levels of attentiveness – and in general will find that the speed of the least attentive prospect sets the pace of sales.  If they gave as much care to their audiences as they do to their campaigns, realizing that each must be reached within the limit of its natural capacity for attentiveness, they would find that the performance of their campaigns to be as efficient and effective as their targeting.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Reasonable Expectations

Not every customer expects the best – they know they can’t afford it, and sometimes they just want a basic solution at a cheap price for something that is not that important.  They have reasonable expectations – some might go so far as to say they have low expectations – and delivering something beyond those expectations is not going to impress them.

Moreover, delivering capabilities beyond basic functionally may frustrate and annoy a certain segment of the market.   Those customers who pursue a basic product understand that they are not getting the bells and whistles of  a more expensive model, and this is often the result of careful consideration: the customer knows that the additional functionality comes at additional cost, and has determined that the incremental value of the upgraded version is not worth the incremental price.

For example, consider the customers who choose to shop at a discount merchandiser.   They are well aware that they are not going to get the same level of attention and service as they will in an upscale boutique, but they are also well aware that the exact same product will cost less than half as much because a discount merchandiser spends less on rent, staff, and d├ęcor.  

It is also not necessarily a trade-off of price versus quality: a customer may choose a discount merchandiser for the sake of avoiding the level of “service” that boutiques provide because he finds being constantly “served” by sales associates to be an unpleasant experience.   That which the retailer considers to be a premium is actually undesirable to certain segments of the  market.

As a result, not every firm has to be “the best” at everything – because what is “best” is determined by the customers, and not everyone wants the same things, either from the product experience or the retail experience.   In fact, many of the largest and most successful retail brands are downscale mass-marketers – whereas those that serve the upscale market tend to be smaller, trendier, and more short-lived.