Serving Customers or Making Cars?

From Dan Miller:

There seems to be a subtle shift that takes place in the history of most businesses.  Let’s say Barney was a cave man who made great wagons.  But there are only 20 people who live in his known world so as soon as he makes 20 wagons he’s out of business.  If he can’t imagine using his skills for anything but wagon-making we might then see him sneaking around at night burning the wagons to rekindle demand.  Or the town witch doctor knows he would not be needed if everyone were healthy.  So he “creates” illness to keep his patients coming back rather than help them attempt to find ultimate health.

Now fast forward to 2008 in America – same deal. We have auto manufacturers who can’t risk making a car that really lasts – they need 5-year obsolescence. Parts that wear out and systems that malfunction are a necessary component of keeping the machine of making cars in place. It would be self-defeating to make a car that semi-permanently met the customer’s needs. You have to hope the customer doesn’t stay happy with their purchase for too long.

Do you really think we aren’t smart enough to make a lightbulb that would last essentially forever? But what would that do to the sales of lightbulbs?

What if a counselor or chiropractor really helped every client they saw? Got them to a point of healthy functioning on their own? How would he/she pay the mortgage the next month? Keeping people dependent on their services may become more important than seeing them get better.

If you realize your “work” is more dependent on keeping a system in place than on meeting the real needs of your customers, you are indeed vulnerable. Real estate developers, publishing houses, record labels, auto manufacturing and “investment” firms are all suffering in their attempts to keep systems in place rather than responding to the changes in demand of the marketplace.

What we need are new ways to engage our creative skills; not government support to allow us to keep doing what no longer works.

I happen to be a car enthusiast, but I think it’s a joke that someone “decided” we needed new models every calendar year? My primary car is a 1991 Mercedes 500SL – it’s 18 years old! It looks great, has great styling and is fun to drive. I’d love to see a 5-year car – where nothing changed for at least 5 years, or even 10. Can you imagine the streamlining of parts and service, and the reduced waste from excessive manufacturing?

Now – what are you doing in your work or business to make sure you are serving your customer’s needs, even if those needs change?

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One Response to Serving Customers or Making Cars?

  1. Peter Kohan says:

    But, using the lightbulb analogy, no less than Wal-Mart has gone almost exclusively to selling long-life bulbs that use less energy. Check out Home Depot or Lowe’s. Same thing. The light bulb has gone from a “replace every year or two” product to a “replace every 5-7 years” product.

    Automakers need to innovate. They need to produce cars which can last and use less energy. Period. That vehicles would have a long life doesn’t mean the vehicles wouldn’t get worn out in other ways, or that consumer tastes would not respond to further innovations in design or respond to new features on newer models. Would you lease a vehicle that got 100 MPG for 39 months, or would you finance over 48-60 months? Depends, but I think we’ve all learned the American consumer can be sold similar goods in a fancier package and respond to the fancier package.

    Like

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