Cost, Value, and Manufacturing

Does anyone else remember when Walmart was first breaking onto the scene as a competitor against K-Mart, they advertised “Proud to sell ‘Made in the USA’” merchandise?  Then shortly, Walmart faced its first scandal, being busted selling cheap junk boasting “Made in China” on the label.  The “pride” was pushed to the side, the “Made in the USA” disappeared, and the price was all Walmart was going to compete on, “Prices are falling.”  K-Mart is gone, Walmart is still selling, “Prices” are still “supposedly” falling, but where is questionable, quality is all but gone, and who has benefited?

I remember when my town got a Payless shoe store.  I plunked my money down for a nice pair of shoes; they lasted less than 30-days of wear; I was told, “You get what you pay for.”  The next pair of shoes I bought at Walmart turns out they were probably made on the same manufacturing line in China.  Payless sold them for $20.00; Walmart sold them for $30.00.  Neither lasted long enough for the new shoe smell to evaporate.  Payless Shoes is gone, Walmart is still here, the quality has not improved, and I am still asking, who has benefitted?

I purchased some tools the other day; I was mystified at the following label on the tag, “Made in the USA, of parts configured mostly in the USA but manufactured in other countries of origin.”  It turns out, if the assembly of parts is done inside the US, a finished product can be labeled as “Made in the USA.”  If some of the sub-assemblies occur outside the USA, the manufacturer might, or might not, be legally responsible to declare such, depending upon the industry, the finished goods, and the lawyers and labor unions involved.

Country of origin labeling is real sketchy, full of hungry lawyers and fascinating self-interest, as well as enough political grandstanding to satisfy forests of trees being slaughtered for centuries to come.  All in the name of, yes, you guessed it, transparency.  I am oversimplifying the problem here to make a point.  Your child’s pencils in school have to declare Made in China due to some lead poisoning issues in the yellow paint, but crayons can hide the country of origin because a lawyer said the transparency issue does not cause harm.  This convoluted logic is rampant throughout the entire mess of country of origin labeling.  Unfortunately, this is but the tip of the iceberg in manufacturing, cost, and value.

By the way, I guarantee, there are hordes of lawyers plotting ways and means of overturning country of origin labeling to hide or overturn legal decisions they find onerous, mainly to further remove any hint that “Made in China” could be traced to problems with poisoning to China.

Taking us to the first point in this article, when did America stop manufacturing?  Why did America stop manufacturing?  Why did stores stop selling American manufactured goods?  In Home Deport today, I made a point of looking for “Made Proudly in the USA” stickers on tools, products, and other items for sale.  There were no official statistics, no actual counts, just browsing shelves, looking for products, and I was not pleased.  Walmart has long been turned into a proud repository for Chinese manufacturing; to see anything other than “Made in China” on their shelves would be a significant accomplishment.

Having ventured into a Hobby Lobby recently, I was again amazed at the incredibly talented people worldwide and wondered again, “When did America stop manufacturing goods?”  Dollar Tree is another place where Made in China flourishes, and one has to wonder, “Why did stores stop selling American manufactured goods?”

Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I am China-bashing or Big-Box Bashing, please note that I am sick to death of the excuses that “Manufacturing in America is too expensive to be profitable.”  I detest hearing excuses that “Manufacturers cannot find enough unskilled laborers to work the machines, without illegal labor.”  I am through listening to supposed experts declare that “Americans cannot compete with Chinese labor due to American expectations for benefits, job expectations, the cost of safety, etc.”  The other day some ignorant putz declared that the “American worker is just plain lazy compared to workers even in Europe, which is why Americans can never work fast enough to meet production goals.”

Bringing us to the cost and value topics of this article.  Long have cost accountants and operations managers had a professional love/hate relationship.  We love to hate each other for one reason; we do not see eye to eye on basic fundamental reality.  To a cost accountant, everything has a cost, but the difference between cost and value is not found in green money losses alone unless you are a cost accountant.

We have discussed the different types/colors of money previously.  Green money is cold hard cash, and cost accounting is only, ever, concerned with the end of the day totals of cold hard cash!  However, reality always has other types of money involved, relationships that cannot be qualified in monetary means, and humans are more than dollars and cents in a ledger.  Value is always different than cost.

Simple explanation; a hammer costs your great-grandfather $1.00.  With that hammer, your great-grandfather built a home and a cradle.  That cradle rocked your grandfather, father, and you to sleep.  Upon reaching the age of accountability, each, in turn, was taught how to swing a hammer, driving nails, and learning carpentry.  That hammer holds four generations of value, beyond the cost of $1.00.  Green money costs, that hammer has depreciated in value until it is worthless to the company and should be scrapped for a new hammer; but the value of that hammer is not measured in dollars and cents.  Thus the disconnect between operations and cost accounting.

What does all of this have to do with retail establishments, manufacturing in America, and “Made in China?”  What is the value of manufacturing in America; self-sufficiency in the time of trouble, pride of accomplishment, value in production, and upward economic mobility of dreams for employees. Why does America need retail establishments that will sell “Made in America;” to remind Americans who we are, why we are neighbors and provide an outlet for manufacturing in America to compete.

Ask yourself, why did President Bill Clinton pave the way for China to join the World Trade Organization and actively push to move manufacturing to China?  Why did President Richard Nixon push so hard to “Open China?”  What has been the cost, and where is the value in either or both of these decisions?  Sufficient time has passed to evaluate both of these decisions without political rhetoric and bombastic bloviations from either political extreme.  Both presidents possessed more reasons and desires than they admitted while in office for these decisions and actions; the consequences are the focus, and you can judge the consequences yourself.

Consider cost versus value, consider the toll on hometowns across America where factories lay idle, homes lay vacant, streets lay silent, and poverty is so thick generations of destitution have lived and died in its shadow.  Consider how some towns have tried to restructure themselves and succeeded, others have failed, some shipped their children to schools far away, others have turned their towns into “sleeper communities” for cities 2-6 hours away.  You decide!  Think!  Investigate!  Talk to people laid off by unions and forgotten.  Then remember when politicians discuss taxes, labor union special interest projects, and social spending.  Remember the next time you, a citizen with a brain, are reduced to “Human Infrastructure.”

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.

What do we DO? – I have an Answer – Several, in fact!

Dont Tread On MeRegularly, after I write an article, I am asked, “What is a person to do?”  The question is generally followed by the following, “The enemies are vast, the criminals are legion, the forces entrenched, and the allies are too few in number to matter.”  As Rogers and Hammerstein would relate, I am not a “Cockeyed Optimist;” however, please allow me to relate and offer some suggestions.

Earlier this past week, I was in Walmart after an ER visit, never pleasant.  What was worse about this visit was that some toddler was being teased mercilessly by an older child to scream hysterically.  At this point in my day, my cherub-like demeanor is on life-support, and I am crying, “For the love of mud and money, make it stop.  Parents end the torture, stop this child screaming!”  The parents were immune to the screams, the public refused to intervene, the store refused to manage the parents, and I was left to suffer, along with every other person, to the sounds of this child screaming.

Foghorn Leghorn - MedicationI wandered from the pharmacy to other parts of the store, looking for anywhere I could hide to escape the onslaught of this child’s screams and could find no place safe from the sounds and attacks on my nerves.  I went looking for this child to offer gold, silver, food, anything to silence this detestable decibel desecration and end the onslaught.  That is when I discovered how uncaring and useless the parents were in controlling their children and realized the minority could not be bribed into obedience.

In the agony of this experience, but worse after several days of recollection, I have learned some valuable lessons.

      1. The child screaming is not the majority of children. Worse, the children are not the majority of people in the population.  The ones screaming are such a small percentage that with minimal adults banding together, caring, and taking action, the child and the weak-kneed adults could easily be overpowered and sanity restored.
      2. While some suffering is good for the soul, other suffering requires action, commitment, and dedication to principles of freedom to overcome.
      3. How do you tell the difference – There is NO difference! There is no distinction between one type of suffering or another.  All suffering can be fought against and won if the individual has strong enough intestinal fortitude and can gather enough like-minded people willing to care and act!

Sharing is CaringHow do I know this is correct?  I talked to people; I observed people suffering under the hellacious onslaught of this toddler screaming, these parents’ indifference, and understood a common principle for Republican Societies, gather enough like-minded people dedicated to a common cause, and blessed change can occur.  I kept asking, why didn’t the parents demand the older child stop teasing, the younger, and can only surmise they desired this public spectacle for personal gain, attention, and because they like sharing the power they have over society when their children misbehave.

Character List

Angry Wet ChickenIt is common knowledge George Soros has invested a LOT of money into the criminal justice system, especially into city district attorneys, to win criminal justice and abuse victims.  If George Soros is akin to the parents, and his ilk are those paying for the toddlers and older children to tease for personal gain when the toddler screams.  We have a pattern and reasoning for the toddlers raising rhubarbs in the Walmart societies called “America.”

Having identified the parents, who are the toddlers screaming and throwing a fit?  May I suggest we look to the evening news for characters screaming.  Paid actors who raise their cackles at the drop of dimes annoy the populace every time they open their mouths.  ANTIFA, BLM, LGBTQ+ communities, Communists, Leftists, Extremists on both sides of the political spectrum, Labor Unions, AOC and her band of merry idiots in the US House of Representatives, Pelosi, Biden and his bucolic band of bumblers, other politicians, and those who consider themselves of the “political class,” “peaceful protestors” which are nothing but terrorists burning cities and towns across America, and so many more.  Never forget, some of the worst people screaming are those reporting the screamers themselves, the corporate media!

Angry Grizzly BearWho is the older child relentlessly teasing, on the urging and the silent approval of the parents, the toddler?  Would it surprise anyone if the first and most potent teaser are the bureaucrats who refuse to be governed and scrutinized?  How can we know this is a fact; how did “peaceful protestors” burn down a police station?  How did police officer defunding grow into such a cohesive movement in such a short time?  How did funding move so quickly from city to city across America, and delivery of bricks and other riot supplies mysteriously appear in riot zones, without anyone noticing?  The bureaucrats across this nation are up to their collective eyeballs in protecting their power from the citizens from catching wise of their crimes.  Why do you think so much money was pumped into the races of those who count ballots!

Who else is teasing the toddlers?  Big tech is playing a supporting role.  Big pharmaceutical is playing a supporting role.  Both receive considerable windfalls in investment support, and the evidence can be found when you play simple games of “Follow the money.”  Corporate media in 2020 was caught on camera teasing the toddler and participating as a toddler in the screaming, and nothing was done to punish the press.  Hollywood, many of the most lurid and detestable of Hollywood, are paying considerable sums to practice low-intensity conflict (LIC) from the comfort of their living room for personal gain and private glee.

Realization

How big is the population of toddlers?  Tiny, all but insignificant.  Want to know a secret; like all terrorist organizations and toddlers around the world, they know how small they are, how insignificant they are, and they know their only weapon is NOISE!  Why are the terrible two’s and three’s called “Terrible,” because the child has learned how small they are and have realized they can affect the world through obnoxious NOISES!  Gaining attention through NOISE.  Being discovered, having fun, getting rewards, all this and more through NOISE!  What do responsible parents do to correct behavior in toddlers to make the “terrible” two’s and three’s less terrible, behavior modification!The Duty of Americans

What is the first step?  The responsible parent stops the older child from teasing the toddler!  Usually through behavior modification of the older child!  If the older child persists, the behavior modification increases until that child learns teasing will NOT be tolerated!  At the same time, the responsible parent is also correcting the noise the toddler is making and correcting the child to use words or signs until communication skills catch up with mental abilities, making clear that abject NOISE is NOT tolerated – also increasing behavior modification until the lesson is learned and NOISE is stopped!

Suggestions

      1. Band together. I cannot emphasize this enough!  Like-minded people built America, and until like-minded people reband to rebuild, nothing is going to change!
      2. See something, say something!
      3. Ridicule is a powerful tool! Laugh at the stupidity and the inanity of those who would abuse our tolerance.
      4. Record the toddlers acting the fool. Post those recordings.  Share the recordings with others.  Mock, ridicule, and publicly shame!  Public shame is not harmful, nor is it discriminatory.  Until the toddlers learn to use logic and words, they deserve to be mocked, scorned, and humiliated!
      5. Every time the toddler’s teasers are discovered, post, share, like, and ridicule!
      6. Take decisive ACTION! – The toddlers gain power when action is not taken. Simple lesson parents learn.  Retake the power from the toddlers, and this also is not discriminatory.  Society belongs to those willing to sacrifice for it, and the toddler will not sacrifice; thus, the toddler has no place in society.
      7. The toddler’s good behavior cannot be purchased with gifts, bribes, shiny baubles, and other transitory items. The toddler is appetite incarnate; the only thing that works to curb a toddler’s appetite is to teach behavior modification!  Behavior modification is NOT discrimination!
      8. Understand LIC. Know LIC.  Fight using the principles of LIC.  It cannot be understated; this is war, LIC is WAR!  The toddlers have waged war, and right now, they think they are winning because they are not finding any opposition.  If you need a refresher on LIC, check out the links, read up, and learn!

Final Comments and Thoughts

LinkedIn ImageIt does not matter if the entire house is full of toddlers and mischievous boys hell-bent on teasing the toddlers into an army of NOISE bombs!  The adults are always in charge, always outnumbering the toddlers, and always in command!  Use this knowledge to strategize, organize, think, layout tactics, and begin today to out-think, outsmart, and outmaneuver the teasing older children to reduce the toddler noise!  You and I, we outnumber these pestilential reprobates, and the rule of law IS sufficient to the task of curbing this obnoxious behavior.  We need to begin to show up in strength, marshaled for war, and ready to curb the toddlers!  Join me!

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.

The Walmart Effect – Competition is NOT Just Cost

Exclamation MarkAfghanistan and the fraudulent President Biden have had me thinking about the Walmart effect over the last three days or so, and I cannot help but think there are some lessons to be discussed.  More to the point, the lines of congruence between the Walmart effect and the current political situation possess the potential for correcting course and saving America.  Not just America, but representative governments worldwide.  The Walmart effect is a global pandemic more powerful and pernicious than COVID ever will be, and we need to at least recognize this truth.

What is the Walmart Effect?

Working DollarWalmart has always competed on price.  As if there was nothing else to compete upon.  Lowest prices, regardless of the junk sold, price mattered more.  Hammer the price to nothing in every aspect of the supply chain.  Hammer the costs of doing business to lower costs to consumers.  Cheapen and eliminate packaging, “helping the environment,” and reduce costs.  Force suppliers and vendors to absorb traditional costs stores assumed, lowers costs, and increase profit margins.  Everything in the Walmart model is about lowering consumer costs, and Walmart has been very successful at twisting arms and breaking heads to reduce costs.

But, what has been the result of focusing just on costs the consumer sees?  First, lots of hidden fees have become observed.  Some of which was a good thing, most of which have become more obscure, and this is not such a good thing.  Worse, think of the fuel fees and delivery charges you now pay for having a pizza delivered.  Once a fee is begun to be charged, it is very difficult to stop charging the fee.  The Walmart effect passes costs onto consumers and shows the consumer why they are paying a higher fee, then the consumer accepts the fee as the cost of doing business and does not complain.  Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why there are so many fuel fees and why they became apparent almost overnight; I promise the cost of fuel was not the reason, the Walmart effect was the reason, and making money is the purpose.

Pigeon RevengeSecond, quality and service have disappeared in competition.  Safeway, as a grocery store, has excellent service; but they cannot compete on service and quality because the Walmart effect has changed these two adjectives to be synonymous with higher consumer costs.  Believe it or not, the grocery store model has not changed in the last 200 years. Walmart changed society to believe everything was about competing on consumer costs, and the rest of the competition has played along.  Want to know a secret, you as a consumer are being deceived into believing that Walmart has the best prices, but when quality is added to the picture, Walmart is selling you junk.

Third, all big-box retailers employ science to lure you into their stores.  Bright lights, color schemes, smells, all carefully crafted to keep you in the stores.  Musical shelves where products move from day to day in the store to lengthen your time walking the aisles.  Everything is carefully planned and organized to influence you to spend more money.  Now, back to Walmart and the claim about junk.  Some of the items in Walmart are end runs of name-brand products.  Some of the items are cheap knock-offs.  Some of the fruit and vegetables are almost spoiled or completely raw.  Yet, Walmart pushes those products for sale anyway.  Purchasers for Walmart are under strict order to find products for sale at the lowest costs.  After working with a manufacturer supplying big-box retailers, I can tell you that many manufacturers hate dealing with Walmart because of the Walmart costs of doing business.Lemmings 3

Fourth, all big-box retailers represent a plethora of manufacturers trying to get their products in front of customers in the easiest way possible.  This is a truth, and a problem, for the manufacturers, are always competing, think Kraft and General Mills, Post, and other brand names.  These manufacturers compete for every dime you spend; they compete for shelf space; they compete for advertising space; they compete for every second you spend in the store, and dealing with these manufacturers is like herding long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs.  A loose conglomeration controlled by access to the customer portal, Walmart manages an extensive customer portal, Safeway, Home Depot, Lowes, etc. All control certain customer portals and commit to selling XX amount of goods for the manufacturers.  But, this is not “friendly” competition by any stretch of the imagination.  One manufacturer scores a benefit that improves their access to customers over another manufacturer; you can bet another manufacturer will be competing to repeat the performance.  All of which increases costs to the consumer in hidden fees, generally through rebate scams, BOGO “deals,” or my favorite “Rollback prices.”

Interestingly, the political situation in all representative governments is similar to America’s current situation.  A phenomenon I find both alarming and intriguing, but one with enormous potential to be taken advantage of to correct and save representative governments.  The one thing cost-focused competition cannot do is compete with service.  When customer service is truly the focus, cost competitors melt away.  Therein lay the answer, but we must first describe the lines of congruence before we can discuss solutions.Lemmings 5

Consider point one of the Walmart effect, competing on price both hides and reveals costs.  Every representative government worldwide has an entire industry working 24/7, working tirelessly to plasticize words where taxes are concerned to make progress bad and regression good.  Regressive taxes are considered good, even though they kill jobs, ruin lives, cost more, and eventually lead to the ruination of liberty and freedom.  Progressive taxes are hailed as bad, even though they cut government costs, increase liberty and freedom, allow people to keep more of their hard-earned money, and force the government to live on a budget.  While the tax language has been around longer than Walmart, the truth is, the Walmart effect has improved the tax language to the point that representative government can rob you blind, and you never know.  Just like that fuel surcharge on pizza receipts, after the cost of ingredients for the pizza skyrocketed.

Point two of the Walmart effect; where has customer service gone in government?  Since I was a kid, citizens’ accessibility to elected officials has dropped like a sack of lead.  Worse, we have seen active animosity from the elected officials towards the citizenry.  Mayors allow terrorist mobs to destroy public and private property without regard, mobs and gangs to rule, entire sections of cities lost to civilization, and elected officials do not care until they utter empty words in an election campaign.  Enter a government office for a permit, license, get a question answered, etc., and you are treated like scum, and the bureaucrat is doing you a tremendous favor by granting you an audience.  Now, how do you honestly feel when you walk into Walmart and ask an associate a question, provided you can lasso an associate to ask?

Gravy Train 3On the third point in the Walmart effect, politicians spend enormous amounts of effort to use marketing science to play upon emotions to get and keep an audience.  The same marketing science employed to keep you in a retailer making purchases keeps you “connected” to your political party.  Worse, because there are familial traditions in being one political party or another, there remain tighter ties to a political party.  These strings are played to the fullest to bind you ever tighter, so you do not use conscious thinking when voting the party line.

Finally, we come to the fourth Walmart effect, the one with the most pertinence to current political dogma, the bundling of obscure groups into a ruling party.  I have never been shy about admitting that two-party political rule is terrible for America.  I am all for having 10-15 separate major political parties; in the confusion generated by the many voices, better governance occurs, mostly.  I respect the Israelis for their political system with their separate and ungainly political parties because of the need to gain coalitions and be very connected with and responsible to the people in those coalitions and the citizens they represent.  Recognizing that the political system does not always work, a robust system of codified laws is mandatory to keep the government in check and accountable to the people.

Bobblehead DollFrankly, I do not care what side of the political spectrum you come down upon.  What matters to me is how your representative governs.  Once an elected official of a representative government gains office, they cannot simply think they only represent that political party while in office.  Thinking this way is the epitome of the Walmart effect and stems from competing on cost alone.  Worse, thinking that the representative only represents those who placed them in power places that elected representative into a position to abuse their office.

Using others is what Walmart has done because they control such a vast portal to customers, and the manufacturers have been paying a steep price in more than dollars and cents ever since.  Unfortunately, so have the customers.  The harm to the manufacturers is delivered to the end consumer, and Walmart does not care as they are just a portal through which a manufacturer sells goods.  The same thing for the politician, all of society is harmed when a politician can be purchased and influenced; when harm comes to one person because of their political leanings, everyone suffers.

Knowledge Check!Therein lay the other answer to the Walmart effect, recognizing that we must join together, or fall individually, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle since we are all interconnected.  Service and joining together are the only paths forward.  We must not allow divisive political agendas, carefully crafted scientifically marketed political pogroms, and slick groomed politicians to sway us from the important points of freedom, liberty, and a pursuit of happiness.  We cannot afford the governments that have ballooned and festered over the last 60-years.  We cannot afford the Walmart effect; the cost is just too great!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Let’s Talk Customer Service – Internal and External Processes

I have been shopping for a new financial institution since Washington Mutual was gobbled by Chase ten years ago this October.  Washington Mutual was not perfect, but they offered two things I rate all business transactions upon, ease of business, and functionality.  The functionality occurred with precision, veracity, and good customer experience.  Ease of business meant that the customer experience was not inhibited by internal processes, the need for conducting business (external) was not clogged or overshadowed by processes (internal).

Why does this matter? – Because when the customer needed a transaction concluded at Washington Mutual, the bank philosophies of ease of business and functionality made the customer experience more robust and easier for employees and customers alike.  It is to ease of business and functionality, as a core business mentality, the following is addressed, in the hopes of promoting improvements in customer attention, focus, and support.

Blue Money BurningAs a financial institution shopper, especially when the customer approaches a manager or assistant manager, regarding a poor experience, the mentality of ease of business and functionality should be the cornerstone of the conversation with customers (external & internal).  10 October 2019 – I approach the “Welcome Desk” at Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU) and ask to speak to a manager.  The person behind the desk claims, “I am an assistant manager; how may I help?”  I explain, I am shopping financial institution shopping and have a problem depositing a check using the NFCU App.  Then I ask if the check I was presenting for the deposit, and the endorsement were acceptable for both an ATM and the counter.  When the endorsement was verified as acceptable; I asked, “Why is the endorsement unacceptable for the NFCU App?  To which my answer was, “The verbiage specified for deposits through the APP is different to protect NFCU from double or triple deposits of the same check.”  Interestingly enough, the verbiage is not standard across the website, the NFCU App, or the email received rejecting the deposit through the NFCU App.  Meaning, my check deposit was denied through the App because NFCU’s internal processes are insufficiently designed for ease of business and functionality; thus, the customer is inconvenienced because NFCU cannot function properly in the back office in support of front office customer facing-transactions.  Why is it an external customers job to make the back-office employees work less?

There is a trend in financial institutions, Government offices, and emergency rooms to hide the employees behind the double and triple walls of an impenetrable polymer.  Chase branches have all been upgraded, my local VA Hospital is being updated, and the local Social Security Office was upgraded several years prior.  At the Chase branch, the counters appear to have shrunk to improve the ability to hear and be heard through the thick polymer; good job Chase, Thank you!  The VA ER, no such luck, no such plans, hearing a patient’s concerns has been trumped by the business stated need to “protect the worker.”  At the local Social Security Office, the desks and counters equate to more than 4-feet of separation between the speaker and the listener, and communication is non-existent for anyone with hearing difficulties, speech difficulties, etc.  Functionality and ease of business have been eternally sundered, and the customer pays the price in time, frustration, aggravation, and the inability to conduct business.  In the dangerous times we live, it only makes sense to have a security plan, to implement security options, and to support a safe business environment.  However, security should never be the excuse for killing ease of business or functionality.  I recently traveled from Albuquerque, NM to El Paso, Texas, to visit my “local” Chase branch.  Where I then had to repeat myself no less than twice for every verbal request, and the teller had to repeat themselves the same to conduct business.  Was a transaction concluded; yes, but the functionality and ease of business were abnegated and not conducive to continuing a customer relationship.

3-direectional-balanceEase of business and functionality should not be sacrificed as a cost-savings measure or staff reduction model.  The Chase branches I have visited in the last two-to-three years have been changing, staff reductions have occurred, while automation has increased. During a previous visit to a Chase branch, three teller positions had been replaced with ATMs inside the branch office.  I applaud Chase for the investment made in making technology work; but, when I visit a branch, I want to speak to a person, not be hassled by another machine.  I want to be treated as a person whose time is as important as the banker/teller’s time, and have a human experience.  Hence, when I witness people replaced by machines, no matter how good the technology is, my cherub-like demeanor takes a significant hit.  I understand Federal Minimum Wage, State, County, City Mandated Minimum Wage Laws have all gone crazy increasing the human cost in business, I understand the need for physical security increases costs for human transactions, and I know that the human element is expensive in other ways and means, requiring more back-office work and humans.  Do not sacrifice ease of business and functionality on the alter with the humans.  If you have physical, armed guards, checking, x-raying, and hassling customers, you should not need the polymer and technical stations.  Strike a balance and err on the side of human-to-human contact, not technology.

Corporate LogosSpeaking of the need to strike a balance between technology and human-to-human contact, ease of business, functionality, and customer service, those “Self-Checkout” stations forced upon customers in retail stores remain a significant point of contention.  Home Depot and Lowe’s, thank you for not sacrificing customer attention and customer responsiveness on the altar of technology as “Self-Checkout” has proliferated in your stores.  Walmart, Smith’s, Kroger, Fry’s, and so many more stores could learn from your example.

My spouse has several Walmart locations she visits as “local.”  In every one of these stores, the same thing has transpired, the self-checkout stations have multiplied exceedingly, but the number of floor employees has dropped exponentially.  In fact, there is less customer attention in Walmart since the explosion of self-checkout than before across the five states I have been measuring; thus, I can only conclude, this is a tactical exercise from Walmart Corporate Offices to reduce staff, while not improving the customer experience.  Between the constant game of “Musical Shelves,” where products are in continuous movement from shelf to shelf and location to location, and the reduction in customer support, I find myself losing my cherub-like demeanor when trying to complete shopping.  Back in the 1990s I read a research report discussing how for every minute spent in a store, the balance of the shopping cart increases $10.00; thus, I understand the psychology of playing “Musical Shelves,” but the human-to-human involvement has led to less functionality in the shopping experience, throwing ease of business in the garbage.

Leading to the following suggestions:

  1. When looking to strike a balance between expenses and functionality and ease of business, err on the side of ease of business. Functionality will automatically improve when ease of business is sufficiently provided.
  2. Never allow a process, a procedure, and a business standard of measure to celebrate a second birthday. The ease of business should be a constant aspect of the daily workflow.  Functionality, as an extension of ease of business, should be the second prerequisite in the evaluation of processes to meet customer service goals.  Never forget, if a process, procedure, or business matrix cannot be explained completely in a single elevator ride, then that process, procedure, and business matrix are too complicated and need revision.
  3. Customer service should never involve telling a customer about an internal process. Thus, if the back-office is demanding a customer inconvenience that hinders ease of business or functionality, the back-office needs to be held to task and the process changed.

Businesses cannot long shirk ease of business and functionality and survive.  Human-to-human interactions are customer service, and when anything gets between the customer and the employee, business leadership must return focus to ease of business and functionality, not cut out the human.  Customer service should never be tossed because of technology, ease of employees, or as a staff reduction effort.  Your employee today is your customer tomorrow, and your customer today is your employee tomorrow, do you really want to proliferate problems handed to external customer’s as they become tomorrow’s internal customer?

Trader Joe'sTrader Joe’s remains the pre-eminent example of ease of business, functionality, and customer service working in an environment that is well balanced.  No self-checkout, no hassle when asking questions, and several of my local stores have added physical security without changing the human element.  Ease of business and functionality are apparent from the prices to the products, the shelves, to the physical store environment.  No technology separates the customer from a robust shopping experience that is both pleasing and adventurous.  Nothing special is done as a process by Trader Joe’s, but the ease of business and functionality promote the customer experience, which is shared by customers who spend short or long periods shopping and desire to return.  I recently witnessed a Trader Joe’s employee explaining to a customer how to improve fruit ripening techniques, the employee then went out of their way to guide the customer through what to buy and how to use the methods discussed with several different varieties of fruit.  This example is not a one-off singular event, but a regular occurrence at every Trader Joe’s store I have visited.  When you commit to ease of business and functionality, as a person and as a professional, opportunities develop.

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

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