Here’s a story about someone I know and his idea to follow the path of least resistance.

He worked for a farm vehicle parts company and he oversaw the Saturday shift. The thing is, he didn’t like working Saturdays. Neither did his small team. So, they hatched a plan to get out of Saturday working. An innocent plan, or so they thought.

  • They started to avoid the phone calls so that people would ring back on Monday.
  • They avoided the emails and online orders and claimed they weren’t getting through.
  • They didn’t register the sales by cash until the Monday – making it look like the customers were buying on a Monday rather than on the Saturday.
  • As most of their customers were account customers – they did the same thing with their orders – putting them through on the following Monday.
  • This left a small number of customers who paid by credit or debit card on the Saturday.

To the owners of the business it appeared that their customer purchase patterns were shifting. Suddenly Monday was looking like a great day. It therefore made sense to put their staffing focus behind Monday. It was clear Monday morning was a busy time – at least from looking at the books.

It also transpired that over time, Saturday was looking more like a day where profit wasn’t good.

So, the plan had worked. The owners closed the door on a Saturday and put more staff on the floor on Monday. This manager’s plan had worked – he no longer had to work Saturdays.

You can guess what happened next.

  • Profits dropped by a large amount. It turns out that Saturday is the busiest day.
  • What about those order by phone that the team ignored? The theory was that they would phone back on Monday. They didn’t. They went elsewhere.
    • They needed parts on a Saturday and this company could no longer deliver on that – another company could – a company that embraced opening on a Saturday.
  • What about those emails and online orders? They weren’t getting fulfilled until Monday – this meant the customers didn’t get their parts when they expected them and they went elsewhere and then asked for a refund.
    • They needed parts on a Saturday and this company could no longer deliver on that – another company could – a company that embraced opening on a Saturday.
  • What about registering cash and invoice orders on a Monday? For those using proxies such as lagging financial numbers – Monday was now appearing to be a good day. As it turns out, Monday was the slowest day by sales (on the day), now it was the most heavily staffed.

There are some lessons here

  • Provide a service when your customers need it. If that is 24/7 so be it. If it’s on a Saturday – so be it. Avoid the path of least resistance.
  • Think through all seemingly logical plans. What is being affected by this change? What could happen? What problems are being traded?
  • Be careful of sudden changes in buying behaviour. This is the same for software as it is for a shop. It should be an alarm bell and you should investigate. It’s rare for behaviours to change so quickly without some catalysing event – find out what that event is – and work out whether it is good or not.
  • Go see for yourself. You should trust everyone you hire, but don’t remove yourself from the business and rely on proxies alone. Going and seeing for yourself works well.
  • Customers aren’t as loyal as many believe. If your service isn’t good anymore they will move on. Competition is fierce and someone else may care more about their customers than you do. Customer service is the next marketing. People will pay more for good, reliable and consistent customer service.
  • Don’t make your decisions based purely on finances. The purpose of the business is more important when altering your operating model. In this example the numbers said one thing, but the business purpose was not being delivered against. It can be easy to look at lagging numbers and conclude something. It is harder to look at numbers and validate that the purpose of your business is being delivered on. This often means going and seeing for yourself and tying the two together.
  • Don’t rush in to changing your business so quickly – the owners only took three weeks before a knee-jerk reaction to close on Saturdays!

And trust me. This is a true story.