Sometimes micro-managing works. That doesn’t mean it is a good strategy to replicate. If you benchmark Apple you might decide that you should have a tyrannical obsessive involved CEO who is directly involved in every detail of products and services. After all Apple is now the second most valuable company in the world with a market capitalization of $324 billion (Exxon Mobil is the top at $433 billion) and a huge part of that is Steve Jobs.
Apple products & services that Apple does well are the ones that Steve Jobs uses
An interesting point, and really it doesn’t matter if it is completely true it illustrates a point that Steve Jobs is the rare leader that helps by being completely involved in nearly every detail. And at the same time he provides strategic leadership rivaled by very few others. But if you try to benchmark this (simplistically – as most benchmarking is done) you will fail. This works with Steve Jobs and maybe a handful of other people alive today. But with most leaders and organizations it would fail completely.
On another point Jason Kottke makes, I would normally suggest the opposite approach:
Openness and secrecy. Competitors should take a page from Apple’s playbook here and be open about stuff that will give you a competitive advantage and shut the hell up about everything else. Open is not always better.
I think you may well be better off doing the opposite and countering Apple’s secrecy with openness. It would depend on your organization, but, I think you might be better off trying to exploit Apple’s weakness instead of trying to do what they do well. Now things are never this simple but on a cursory level I think that is where I would look.
He thought we needed to make the same shift with our users – instead of seeing having to engage with them digitally as a time-consuming and resource eating problem, we should be seeing our audience as an asset to the brand. Any online organisation that doesn’t include readers in the production chain is inherently inefficient.
I agree. And I think this is a good example of an organization needing to adapt to the changing environment. I thought about what I would do if I ran a news site and how I would try to take advantage of the possibilities to increase engagement using internet technology.
I do think if I was trying to increase engagement I would try to figure out how to highlight thoughtful commenters. I would probably try to look into something like the commenting system on Reddit (with Karma) and also the ability to follow commenters (like you can follow article contributers on Seeking Alpha). I would look at giving value back to good comments (maybe something like commentluv). I would definitely have a pages where you could view more comments by a commenter. I would try to set up categories and then list top commenters on local politics, local sports, health care… I would display in the order of popular comments (like Reddit) not just list in order made. There are lots of ideas I don’t see used (but I haven’t really thought about it until 5 minutes ago – maybe these are already widespread, or maybe I haven’t really though out why they wouldn’t work well).
I just remember a post here previously about a newspaper in Kansas that was taking some sensible actions, and seemed to get the value chain they were serving. I would also take a look at them if I were really going to do this for a news organization.
This blog has a failure miserable, engagement with readers. Hopefully I can work on improving that in the next year. My last post, Customer Focus and Internet Travel Search (is the effort of one of the 4 founders of Reddit).
The internet should make finding airline flight information easy. Instead it is a huge pain. Hipmunk has taken on the challenge of doing this well, and I think they have done a great job. This video provides an excellent view of both web usability and customer focus. This is a great example of focusing on providing customer value and using technology to make things easy – which is done far to little at most companies.
If you have customers that see you as adequate you will keep customers based on inertia.
But you have several big problems awaiting you. Those trying to win your customers business only have to overcome inertia – which can be very low hurdle (saving a small bit of money, some minor additional feature). If your customers are delighted they won’t leave (by and large) without significant reasons to.
Also your attempts to increase price are very likely to lead to increased customer losses (than if customers are delighted). Delighted customers are willing to pay a premium which helps profits enormously (Apple has done this quite well).
Delighted customers will refer others to you – great free marketing.
Satisfied customers leave you very little leeway for error. If you cause satisfied customers some problem (which granted, hopefully you won’t but if you do) they are not likely to be forgiving. If they are delighted they may well stay even if you have a delay, provide less than stellar customer service for some request…
The failure to give your organization the flexibility to serve customers is a big mistake. Many companies make this mistake. Often the basic problem is managers don’t trust that their systems to hire and develop people that will make good decisions. The solution to this problem is not to give your staff no authority. The solution is to manage your systems so that you can trust your people. This is not as easy to do as it is to say, I will grant that.
You see, when I booked my flight last night I used their online system (good) and made a mistake in booking the date for my return (bad). I’m going to Boston for the weekend and accidently booked by return flight a month later in August instead of the 4 days I was looking for.
Of course their site has a lot of bookings and almost no one makes an error like this. But any UI designer who looks at their site could see that it’s absolutly possible since the length of the trip is never revealed except for the flight dates. (I”m arguing that they could put in a little fading header that tells you how long your trip is for.) If’ I’d see anywhere that my trip was scheduled for 35 days I’d have immediately know there was an issue. (I could make a simple change to the jetBlue UI that would solve this problem for everyone within a day.)
Today when I looked at my emailed itinerary I immediately spotted the problem and went online to change my ticket. They have a $100 change fee which I paid thinking I’d give them a call and that surely they’d waive that. After all, it wasn’t a change I was asking for, it was the ticket I wanted in the first place. It was less than 24 hours and the flight wasn’t for a month.
In speaking to the customer service rep who ‘called’ a manager. I was informed that I had only a 4 hour window to make any changes and that after that, there was nothing anyone could do. You see, no one at jetBlue customer service has the ‘authority’ to refuse this fee. It was company policy that they couldn’t actually do anything.
Dr. Deming was, among other things a professor. He found the evaluation of professors by students an unimportant (and often counterproductive measure) – used in some places for awards and performance appraisal. He said for such a measure to be useful it should survey students 20 years later to see which professors made a difference to the students. Here is an interesting paper that explored some of these ideas. Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors by Scott E. Carrell, University of California, Davis and National Bureau of Economic Research; and James E. West, U.S. Air Force Academy:
our results indicate that professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement, on average, harm the subsequent performance of their students in more advanced classes. Academic rank, teaching experience, and terminal degree status of professors are negatively correlated with contemporaneous value‐added but positively correlated with follow‐on course value‐added. Hence, students of less experienced instructors who do not possess a doctorate perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course but perform worse in the follow‐on related curriculum.
Student evaluations are positively correlated with contemporaneous professor value‐added and negatively correlated with follow‐on student achievement. That is, students appear to reward higher grades in the introductory course but punish professors who increase deep learning (introductory course professor value‐added in follow‐on courses). Since many U.S. colleges and universities use student evaluations as a measurement of teaching quality for academic promotion and tenure decisions, this latter finding draws into question the value and accuracy of this practice.
These findings have broad implications for how students should be assessed and teacher quality measured.
Systems of people function in repeatably ways. Based on the horrible service airlines provide you can be almost certain their managers do not treat employees with respect. When organizations treat front line staff as costs that need to be minimized and as unthinking, untrustworthy problems they will almost certainly pass on the bad treatment to customers.
Why do so many companies market one thing and provide something else? I know it might be easier to sell something different than what you offer your customer today. But if you decide to market one vision, why don’t you change your organization to actually offer that?
I suspect this is substantially due to the outsourced nature of large marketing efforts. It makes sense to me that when you outsource your marketing message creation it isn’t tied to your management system and the two silos can pursue their own visions.
I would imagine marketers would claim they “partner” yada yada yada (and sometimes it actual seems to happen, but not often). As a consumer it sure looks to me like companies outsource marketing to ad agencies that come up with marketing plans that are not in harmony with the real company at all. I can understand putting a positive spin on things, but so much marketing is just completely at odds with how the company operates.
Treating a marketing message as something separate from management is a serious problem. When your marking message says one thing and your customers get something else that is a problem. I think the message is often based on what the executives wish the company was (and the outsourced marketers think it should be), but it isn’t the customer experience the management system provides.
If you believe the vision of your marketing then make sure your organization has embraced those principles. I think, often, companies would be wise to follow the vision their marketers came up with. But instead they tell customers to expect one thing and manage the organization to provide something else. I just don’t see how that is sensible.
The more you pay for your hotel room the more likely they will charge to provide decent WiFi in your room. Whether a company tries to rip you off with exorbitant prices, or lousy service, is just a function of their lack of respect for customers. Obviously it is cheap to provide decent WiFi (as staying at numerous cheap hotels shows – nearly all offer WiFi completely free).
Most expensive hotels show they do not respect their customers. Some actually do rise to the level of a typical budget, and cheaper, hotels and motels so it isn’t all expensive hotels that fail to meet this low standard. The management of those hotels come from the same school of management thought that produces our bankers.
Jeff Bezos captures one difference between poor managers (prevalent in many spreadsheet focused managers) and lean manufacturing managers with the quote: “There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less.”
Low inventory levels do not mean failing to have products available for customers. Now, if you manufacturing in huge batches and can’t respond to customer feedback then it might mean failure to predict customer demand does mean failure to deliver. But lean thinking has shown how to avoid this problem. People need to adopt lean manufacturing practices and gain the benefits of low inventory levels without the costs of failing to deliver what customers want.
The “it” gifts this year could swiftly vanish from store shelves, as retailers, with nightmares of Christmas 2008 markdowns dancing in their heads, have slashed inventories to some of the leanest levels in recent memory.
Retailers themselves are battle-scarred by last year’s fourth-quarter fiasco. Following the financial meltdown of September 2008 and amid the most severe economic crisis since The Great Depression, consumers retrenched.
That’s when stores hit the markdown panic button, slashing prices upwards of 75 percent. The result was the worst holiday selling season since 1970, according to The International Council of Shopping Centers.
But although leaner inventory levels should drive profit margin gains this holiday, “retailers might not have enough inventory to fully satisfy demand,” said Citigroup retail analyst Deborah Weinswig, in a research note. It is a risk they are willing to take.
“They would rather lose a sale than take the markdowns they had last year,” said Goldman Sachs analyst Adrianne Shapira.
The retailers need to design their systems with lean thinking in mind (not lean – as in cut expenses without thought). And they need to work with suppliers using lean manufacturing principles.
PartnersFirst is a different kind of credit-card company. Started in 2007 with funding from Western Alliance Bancorp (WAL), the fledgling firm has three key tenets: keep rates steady, eliminate fees, and rigorously evaluate the risk of potential customers. PartnersFirst mainly makes money from the interest it charges borrowers, whereas most credit-card companies also rake in huge fees. “I realized that there was an opportunity to give cardholders a square deal and still make a profit,”
Credit-card companies have made billions on affinity cards over the years – but regulators and lawmakers worry that consumers get raw deals. Critics say colleges put their financial interests ahead of those of their students, encouraging them to rack up high-cost debt. “Affinity cards started simply as a product that alumni associations could offer members, but alumni boards realized they could bargain for more cash up front,”
The companies involved in banking and credit cards in the USA have been hostile to customers for quite some time. I have been waiting for someone to decide to provide value to customers and take a fair profit. Hopefully PartnersFirst will continue this model, though I am suspicious, if they succeed they will be bought by another financial firm that is too-big-to-fail in order to once again restrict competition via their standard practice of buying any competitors instead of providing value to customers.
A few weeks ago, we ran one of the largest multivariate experiments ever: a 1,024 recipe experiment on 100% of our US-English homepage. Utilizing Google Website Optimizer, we made small changes to three sections on our homepage (see below), with the goal of increasing the number of people who signed up for an account. The results were impressive: the new page performed 15.7% better than the original, resulting in thousands more sign-ups and personalized views to the homepage every day.
While we could have hypothesized which elements result in greater conversions (for example, the color red is more eye-catching), multivariate testing reveals and proves the combinatorial impact of different configurations. Running tests like this also help guide our design process: instead of relying on our own ideas and intuition, you have a big part in steering us in the right direction. In fact, we plan on incorporating many of these elements in future evolutions of our homepage.
Since the birth of Toyota, the company’s philosophy has always been to “contribute to society.”
“Contributing to society” at Toyota means two things. First, it means, “to manufacture automobiles that meet the needs of society and enrich people’s lives.” And second, “to take root in the communities we serve by creating jobs, earning profits and paying taxes, thereby enriching the local economies where we operate.”
Toyota has overcome many challenges during its seven decades of business. What has made this possible is the way we make our cars under our “customer first” and “genchi genbutsu” principles
Rather than asking, “How many cars will we sell?” or, “How much money will we make by selling these cars?” we need to ask ourselves, “What kind of cars will make people happy?” as well as, “What pricing will attract them in each region?” Then we must make those cars.
Through these processes, I would like to make Toyota’s product development and product lineup more region-focused. We will change our policy from achieving “a full lineup everywhere” to “a lineup necessary to meet the needs of each region”. We will also launch new vehicles that anticipate consumer needs and are exciting to drive.
At the press conference in January, I talked about my desire to become “a president who is closest to the frontlines, or gemba.” I believe that the essence of management lies in the gemba, and Toyota employees play a vital role there.
Toyota continues to show they are an exceptional company that doesn’t waver due to short term pressures. They know the management system they have in place is excellent. They always try to improve. And they react to evidence that shows they have room to improve. They then access the situation and move forward.
Amazon is acquiring the unique company – Zappos: we have written about Zappos previously: Paying New Employees to Quit. Jeff Bezos uses the webcast above to talk to the employees of Zappos. Excellent job. The letter from Tony Hsieh, the Zappo’s CEO, to employees is fantastic. This is a CEO that respects employees. These are leaders I would follow and invest in (and in fact I am glad I do own Amazon stock).
First, I want to apologize for the suddenness of this announcement. As you know, one of our core values is to Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication, and if I could have it my way, I would have shared much earlier that we were in discussions with Amazon so that all employees could be involved in the decision process that we went through along the way. Unfortunately, because Amazon is a public company, there are securities laws that prevented us from talking about this to most of our employees until today.
Several months ago, they reached out to us and said they wanted to join forces with us so that we could accelerate the growth of our business, our brand, and our culture. When they said they wanted us to continue to build the Zappos brand (as opposed to folding us into Amazon), we decided it was worth exploring what a partnership would look like.
We learned that they truly wanted us to continue to build the Zappos brand and continue to build the Zappos culture in our own unique way. I think “unique” was their way of saying “fun and a little weird.”
Over the past several months, as we got to know each other better, both sides became more and more excited about the possibilities for leveraging each other’s strengths. We realized that we are both very customer-focused companies — we just focus on different ways of making our customers happy.
Amazon focuses on low prices, vast selection and convenience to make their customers happy, while Zappos does it through developing relationships, creating personal emotional connections, and delivering high touch (“WOW”) customer service.
“I think it comes down to two basic things: one is that we’re run by artists. … John Lasseter is a film director, as opposed to being from a business school or whatever. He has that side of him as well, but he’s always approaching these things as the same way we are.
“Second, we have some pretty great people that they’ve managed to collect here. This is our 10th film, and every film has just gotten better and better, whether that be in animation or special effects or lighting. And it just all comes together to make for some really fantastic stuff.”
“One of the things that I really love about [Pixar] is that no matter what you do, if you’re a production assistant or a producer or a marketing executive or running the kitchen, everyone here thinks like filmmakers,”
Like, I didn’t work on ‘WALL-E,’ but I feel like it’s mine, you know? And I want that to look great and be great. And then I want that bar to be higher and for us to be challenged.”
Pixar has done a great job of creating the right climate for the business they are in. They make movies and have been very consistently successful. Many of those strategies are useful concepts for everyone. Create a climate that promotes pride in work. Create a climate where everyone sees how they contribute to the end product. Hire people you trust and let them do their jobs. Seek continual improvement. Respect people. Customer Focus. Innovation (for example: Pixar Is Inventing New Math).
By the way, Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, paid $5 million for Pixar and sold his share for $3,700 million of Disney stock (he is the largest shareholder of Disney – approximately 7%). Pixar Movies include: Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles.
Listen to Your Customers — One of the company’s mottos is “Our customer is everything.” Applying that belief led to the company policy of preparing burgers just the way customers asked for them. Some of the customer favorites became popular and were eventually adopted as the restaurant chain’s “secret menu.” By listening to their customers, In-N-Out created menu choices other stores couldn’t duplicate.
… Treat Employees Well — The Snyders always held their employees in high esteem, paying them higher wages than competitors and calling them associates to make them feel more connected to the franchise.
“They believed in sharing their success with their employees,” says Perman, noting that In-N-Out associates make $10 an hour working part-time and starting store managers make $100,000, plus bonuses tied to store performance. The company benefits package is also generous. Such treatment engenders loyalty from workers.
“They have the lowest turnover rate in the fast food industry, which is notorious for turnover,” says Perman. “They say that the average manager’s tenure is 14 years, but they have managers who have been there 30 or 40 years.”
Keep Things Simple and Consistent…
The fundamental idea of respecting people is something most executives seem to have no interest in. Treating employees as the critical partners in organizational success is just something that doesn’t leap out at you based on the actions of most managers, unfortunately. And that poor management damages the performance of the organization.
Revealed Preference: the preference consumers display by their action, in contrast to what they may say they prefer. While surveys may be useful people often say they will do one thing and actually when given the choice to do so, don’t.
Normally what matters is not what people say they want but what they actually will choose. For that reason revealed preference is a better measure than stated preference. Stated preference is often used as a proxy for actual preference (which may be fine) but it is important to understand that it is just a proxy for actual preference.
Joel Spolsky webcast on creating Stack Overflow (with the goal of providing answers to professional programmers) using ideas from anthropology. Once again he provides great information. This is particularly interesting for software development but also just a good presentation for understanding the importance of customer focus and systems thinking.
“We actually recruit for values,” says Chief Operating Officer Robert McDonald. “If you are not inspired to improve lives, this isn’t the company you want to work for.”
The P&G strategy starts on college campuses. The Cincinnati company dispatches line managers rather than human resource staffers to do much of its recruiting.
For the few who get hired, their work life becomes a career-long development process. At every level, P&G has a different “college” to train individuals, and every department has its own “university.” The general manager’s college, which McDonald leads, holds a week-long school term once a year when there are a handful of newly promoted managers. Further training—there are nearly 50 courses—helps managers with technical writing or financial analysis.
Career education takes place outside the classroom, too. P&G pushes every general manager to log at least one foreign assignment of three to five years. Even high-ranking employees visit the homes of consumers to watch how they cook, clean, and generally live, in a practice dubbed “live it, work it.” Managers also visit retail stores, occasionally even scanning and bagging items at checkout lanes, to learn more about customers.
Going to visit the gemba, the actual place is incredibly important, and far too often ignored by managers today.
The emphasis on life long learning (in practice, not just words) is also very wise. In my experience far to little emphasis is placed on continual improvement of what many companies will say is their most important asset: their people. If you don’t invest in education of your staff that is going to harm your long term success. The investment P&G makes shows a respect for people.
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