As part of my focused nutrition programme designed to support my cycling training, this weekend I followed Friday night’s take out curry with fish and chips on Saturday – the sacrifices we ‘athletes’ make… I didn’t rationalise it at the time but I probably had an expectation in my mind of both the ‘product’ (pretty straightforward – 2 main ingredients), and the service experience (basically fast food, the ‘fast’ bit being a key part of the proposition). I had been to this fish and chip shop once before and had a good experience as far as I can remember, so the prospect of a successful outcome seemed good. Twenty minutes after ordering, and still with no food, my optimism was clearly misplaced.
Seeing Life as your Customer Sees It
The shop was in a fairly upmarket part of Dorset and was one of the newish genre of fish and chip shops which try to position themselves as rather smarter than the historical norm; the key elements of this genre appear to be the same product in nicer stores with slower service costing more money. During my twenty minutes of considering how I might respond to the store owner’s request to ‘like’ his/her Facebook page, I observed that 3 other people were also waiting; it would appear that no food was ever ready to go. I then saw a sign along the lines of ‘All our food is made to order; please be patient during busy periods.’ There was no definition of a busy period but one can only assume that 3 customers on a Saturday night met that criterion. The implication here appeared to be that ‘made to order’, made it worth waiting for. And here’s the rub. It’s just fish and chips. It’s going to have to be pretty amazing to convert me to a repeat customer who is prepared to wait 20 minutes every time. The owner has designed a marketing proposition, presumably intended as some sort of differentiation from other similar shops. However the food is not noticeably worse or better than anywhere else; it just takes longer. The supposed point of difference was irrelevant to me, and I am guessing more than a few consumers of fish and chips. The quality of the product needs to be a given. A better marketing proposition might be a discount if I have to wait twenty minutes.
The ability to see things objectively from a neutral position, or even from the point of view of a customer or competitor, is surprisingly rare. We tend to get wedded to the brilliance of our own plans and ideas, even more so when things go wrong and the bad outcome is anybody’s fault but ours. An observer will tend to see things objectively, whilst an ‘actor’ (within a scenario) will tend to have a subjective perspective rarely being honest with themselves about the reality of a situation or factoring in the hidden assumptions in their thinking. This is a known condition in psychology called actor/observer bias. The ability to remain objective about our own ideas, or issues which we are personally involved in, is not common, but is a key driver of high performance. If decisions are made on flawed assumptions, or skewed interpretations of evidence-based data, then it is unlikely that the best decisions are being made.
Military and intelligence agencies have been aware for a long time of the danger of this sort of thinking and have developed the concept of Red Teaming – teams formed with the specific aim of stress-testing a plan or strategy from the perspective of an adversary. One of the higher profile examples in recent years was the CIA’s Red Team put together to come up with alternative hypotheses about who might be in the compound where Bin Laden was subsequently found. Example applications might include driving innovation, stress-testing plans and assumptions before action, and playing out scenarios in fast time to achieve understanding and alignment across functions prior to execution.
A step too far connecting waiting times for fish and chips to global counter-terrorism within a sheet of A4? Possibly; and if the shop becomes a roaring success with people prepared to queue for the ‘made-to-order’ chips, then I am prepared to eat humble pie (or cod). However it seems to me that the owner was ‘barking up the wrong tree’. If any market research was done, I imagine it was along the lines of ‘would you like fish and chips made fresh to order?’ You might get a different insight asking ‘would you wait 20 minutes for fresh fish and chips?’ Asking the right question makes a big difference. Surveys indicate that most people believe in organ donation but hardly any sign up. However a change in the question (on driving licence applications, and I paraphrase from memory) from ‘will you donate your organs in the event of your death’ (very low take up) to ‘would you like to receive an organ if you need one; do you agree to donate yours?’ produced a dramatic increase in take up.
Seeing life through a customer’s eyes could make a big difference to your chances of global fish and chip domination…