Efficiency, of course, is an incredibly
important operational goal. It’s
needed behind the scenes in streamlining
your operation, it’s needed in how
you design customer-facing processes
as well. But it can really mess you up
when applied to particular items that
your customers truly value. To show
you what I’m talking about, let me take
you, briefly, on a trip to camp.
Batching a week of letters home
from summer camp (and mailing
them all at once)
When my daughter went to overnight summer camp for the first time,
it was on an isolated, low-tech island.
Being the first time on her own, she
wrote home faithfully every day: to her
parents, to her little brother, even to
her pets. She dated the letters Monday,
Tuesday, Wednesday, and so forth, put
them in the pre-stamped envelopes
she’d prepared ahead of time, and
handed them to her counselor each
evening to be mailed the next day.
The camp office, however, decided to
be what I suppose they considered
efficient. Instead of trekking kids’
letters to the docked mailboat each
day, the camp mailed all her letters
(six of them, each in its separate,
hand-addressed, stamped envelope)
on the last day of camp. The letters
arrived home the morning after she
did—after a full camp session of her
family thinking she’d forgotten us—all
postmarked for that last day of camp.
Needless to say, we’re not eager to
shell out our money to the same
camp again—or recommend it to our
friends. In spite of everything they
may have, invisibly, done right for her
during the week.
My tale from summer camp, if we’re
going to be real about it, is kind of
pathetic: I doubt that you’re doing
anything in your business that’s quite
as emotionally tone-deaf.
But in less clear-cut situations,
are you similarly failing to consider
your customers as you strive for
efficiency? I see this all the time
as a customer service and customer
Stop batch-reading your
One of the most common places
that I discover customer-antagonistic
efficiency with my consulting clients
is this: they’re systematically batching
the customer surveys they receive
and waiting to respond to them all
at once, perhaps once a month.
This is the flat-out wrong way to do
it. The right way? Scan your surveys
immediately (I mean the very same
day they come in) for any particularly
upset customers, or any issue that
could benefit from a timely response.
Respond immediately to those
customers. Wait ’til the end of the
month or whatever is your normal
cycle to get your more generic thank-you
notes out, and to tabulate the data.
What other opportunities can
you find to be less efficient?
Look around your business and see
what else could benefit from reducing
efficiency, in the spirit of keeping
your customers feeling that they’re
front and center to you.
Especially think of the competitive
advantages of doing the
uncomfortable, awkward, hassle-filled little (or big) things for your
customer that your more “logical”
competitors would never think of
doing. For example:
... stocking the full line for
your customers—even the
For Paul Hawken, starting the Smith
and Hawken Tool Company many
years ago on less than a shoestring, his
chance to win competitively was
through inefficiency and he took it:
Hawken insisted on keeping in stock
for his customers every single item in
the particular, obscure line of British
tools they were known for, not just the
popular items of the line. It was a
hassle for him, but it made sure that
his customers never had to go
… hand-writing thank-you notes?
For HEX, it’s hand-writing thank-you
notes to customers after every
purchase, 13,000 notes to date.
Just about the least efficient action
a business can take, on the face of it,
in our age of autofill, form letters
Does my approach contradict
Lean (Lean Manufacturing)
principles? Not the way I see it.
Those of you who have been through
Lean/Lean Manufacturing training
may be questioning what I’m saying
here. But I would ask you to slow down
and re-read what I’ve written, and I
think you’ll find it consonant with the
methodology of Lean. Because Lean
teaches that it’s only waste if it’s not
valuable to the customer. And customers
often value what seems inefficient,
impractical, a pain in the neck, to the
company required to provide it.
Author, keynote speaker and customer
experience consultant. Expert in customer
service, the customer experience, customer
centricity, hospitality and building a
customer-centric corporate culture.
Lean teaches that it’s only
waste if it’s not valuable
to the customer. And
customers often value
what seems inefficient.