Emotion vs Efficiency: SBM 101

father and son work on a classic carHave you ever become angry when your computer booted up a little slower than usual or when a traffic jam delayed your trip home an extra ten minutes? Admit it. Most of us have placed greater importance upon our time than we have the actual quality of the experience. We live in an efficiency culture. There is no getting around this; however, my real question is what costs does efficiency come with and are there opportunities for marketers to take advantage of.

Efficiency is essential. Is it really?

  • You can get a decent cup of coffee at McDonalds in about 2 minutes.
  • An oil and filter change takes about 15 minutes at Jiffy Lube.
  • Netflix allows you to serve up a movie via your “watch instantly” queue in under 45 seconds.
  • If you are a reader (and I hope you are), Apple, Barnes and Noble and Amazon all allow you to download a new book and start reading it in less than 30 seconds.

It is amazing to think just how efficient technology and the amazing companies that know how to use it well have made our lives easier. It’s a big deal too. Many of us spend more time working and commuting to/from work than we did just ten years ago. With less time to devote to our families, passions, hobbies and other personal pursuits. Businesses that help us save a little time become valued friends. I can’t tell you how much time Amazon has saved me over the years.

But at what costs?

I’d venture to say that all of the efficiencies come at a some cost. I recently visited a local bookstore just to browse their selection. It was the most relaxing thing I had done in a while. Not only was it relaxing, there was the sensory experience that came with it. The smell of the old books. The feeling of discovery that came from pulling books off the shelf and thumbing through their pages. The comfy lounge chair that sat in the corner of the shop. The creek of the old wood floors.

The bookstore had its own coffee bar. It took ten minutes to get a cup, but the wait was worth every second of it. I got to watch it being made by a quirky barista with dreadlocks and tattoos. Her voice was raspy and filled with the wise laughter that comes from a well-lived life. The aroma of the coffee mixed with that of the books.

Can Amazon or McDonalds deliver this type of experience? What happens when consumers wake up and realize what they have lost in the pursuit of more?

Do you have memories from your childhood of working in the garage with your father – a regular oil change became an opportunity for fathers and sons to bond. In many ways, it was a right of passage and now fathers and sons sit in a smelly lobby waiting for the car to be done. What is meaningful about that?

At what costs have we so easily allowed efficiency to replace our inefficiencies? Will consumers ever push back and want to return to simpler times? Will the current economy force us to rethink our current system?

Where marketing is missing to point.

We live in a world where everyone seems to be moving at the speed of light. We strive to get more done in less time. We sacrifice experience for speed, hoping to amass extra time somewhere in order to spend it doing something we “really want to do” only to end up sitting in front of the television fighting off exhaustion that comes with modern life.

As business people and marketers we seem to be constantly looking for ways to make our customer’s shopping or service experiences more efficient – faster checkout, faster downloads, lower costs, speedier service. Is this really what they want or is there an opportunity to use inefficiency as a way to create deep, meaningful experiences with customers and to help them find ways to create amazing stories in their own lives? Could you rethink your business and figure out a way to do this?

The music industry has suffered through years of decreasing sales and one hit wonders. They’ve created a model where they serve up the latest talent, milk them for what they are worth, and move onto the next band. We are bombarded with new CD releases every week from bands we’ve never heard of and really never feel connected to. Concerts have been transformed into impersonal, cheap food, over-priced, sell to the masses big stadium events where we end up watching a big screen television because the artist is a speck in the distance.

Digital downloads are definitely the way to go, but could the concert experience be changed in order to maximize profits while creating an experience fans will relish and really talk about? What if bands gave up on the big stadium events and moved their concerts to smaller venues where they can take advantage of scarcity and profit from more expensive ticket prices. Instead of spending one night in town, they could stage three or four concerts and take advantage of word of mouth, sell way more merchandise, and develop great relationships with those fans that come night after night.

Think of the last restaurant you went to. Did you feel rushed? Was your waitress in a hurry to get you out of the door so the next couple could get your table? Or, were you encouraged to stay, enjoy the food, chat with the waitress, have a couple extra drinks and wrap up your evening as the restaurant was about to close up for the night?

Inefficiency matters

Often times marketing programs and campaigns are built around the measurable. I would agree that we should measure whenever and whatever we can. But this mindset has its limits. How do we measure love or happiness accurately? Can we adequately measure a customer’s loyalty with a simple NPS score?

There are companies out there that have placed inefficiencies above efficiencies. They still measure where they can, but at the end of the day they are way more interested in creating a relationship with their customers. They aren’t stupid in how they deploy this strategy. They still measure. They still are profit oriented. They still make changes when the situation dictates. They understand that the long-term relationships are much more important to their long-term viability, growth and sustainability than short-term profits.

I spent an afternoon in a coffee shop not long ago working on a few things. The entire time I watched for the efficiencies and inefficiencies. If you went into this place with an efficiency scorecard, you’d probably want to shut it down. And you would have missed the real-life, business lessons that were going on. The gal running the place talked to everyone. In fact, she knew quite a few of the people that walked into the place. She was slow and methodical as she worked on people’s orders. It is a place where inefficiency has become an art form and their customers love it. It is place where you can kick back and relax. The coffee is spectacular. The ambiance is what it should be – calm, quite music plays in the background, local artwork adorns the walls, and the furniture begs to be sat in.

Help build memories.

Walk into almost any auto parts store and what do you see? They all carry the same products sitting on the same shelving sold by annoyed grease monkey surrounded by the same NASCAR decor. Why? Why not reach back in time and help customers remember what it was like to help their fathers out in the garage? Why not inspire them to create their own memories with their children? Could they invest some money in a classroom where they teach inspired fathers how to perform some of their basic auto maintenance tasks on their own?

Almost any food related business can benefit by engaging their customers differently than they do today. Why be in a hurry to get customers out of the door? Those who want to will find a way; however, you local customers want more. Why not offer them something your competitors never will? Get them involved in menu selection. Hold classes and teach them how to be better cooks. Ask them what they would like to see. Spend time talking to them and find ways to make your shopping experience much more pleasant and inviting.

Why not help customers slow down their lives and create the memories we all long for? Are there things you could do within your business that could become meaningful experiences instead of conveniences?

Thanks for reading,

Jason's Signature


4 thoughts on “Emotion vs Efficiency: SBM 101

  1. Hi! I was advised to check out this post by Suzanne Vara. What an interesting thought you have here. I’m going to have to think about this for awhile, but off the top of my head…

    I think somewhere along the line, inefficiency, regardless of the experience, became symbolic of some deep and underlying problem. If it takes a long time to get your food while eating out, even if the environment is very beautiful and relaxing, we assume that there is a problem. If someone tries to reach out and execute good customer service, we get antsy and feel like they must not get many customers. Why else would they want to talk to us so much?

    I think it might be a bit of the “chicken and the egg” syndrome.

    Very good post!

    1. Thanks so much for the comment. I really appreciate the incredibly thoughtful response.

      I totally agree with your comments about what you are describing. Yes, efficiency matters, but I would still say that there are times when efficiencies can work to your advantage. Take Zappos as an example.

      They could become incredibly efficient when it comes to customer service, but they choose not to. When you call up, you speak with one of their customer service representatives and she takes care of you no matter how long it takes. It does not have to be this way. In fact, they could have outsourced this part of their business, created scripts for the reps to follow, and set all kinds of time limits and call quotas. Instead, they have built the core of the business, customer service, around being inefficient.

      As you pointed out, there are definitely limits to inefficiencies, but I am a big believer that taking time to make a human connection far outweighs speed.

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