Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How NOT to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying)

So I'm in the market for two cruise tickets.

I've never been on one, she's never been on one, and really, neither of us has ever been out on the big blue ocean, even with a combined five years' active Navy time between us.

So anyway, we've decided the cruise thing might be a cool way to spend the honeymoon, because it'd be something new, a cool chance to get to somewhere new, and sort of no-frills (we just have to get to Boston, and the rest is pretty much being done by someone else).

Neither of us cruise novices has any idea how this stuff works, so we did what anyone else might do in a similar situation -- start typing into Google the general stuff we're looking for, let Google Suggest spell it all out (thanks, Kevin Gibbs!), and then start calling people for information and quotes.

Again, being new to all this, we have/had some pretty basic questions (i.e. If we buy the suite, is that price for the suite itself, or is it per person?) so we needed to speak to a real live person on the other end of the call.

The first number I tried went right to an automated voice prompt, which started with the "Due to a high call volume..." bit which I would've thought was going to have me wait a bit (which I was perfectly willing to do) before speaking to someone. But alas, it just took me into the company's voicemail.* Huh?!?! They asked me to leave a message with my number, which I did, before promptly moving right on down my list of other companies' numbers to call.

Now, to their credit, they eventually did get back to me, but not before I had already spoken to a couple other companies and gotten quotes (and the quotes, mind you, were almost identical to the dollar for the same cruises, which makes me think all these companies must somehow be in cahoots).

When I got back on the line with Company No. 1, I tried explaining their procedural flaw, even going out of my way to tell the person I was speaking to that this wasn't anything directed towards her but instead towards whoever in management set their policy. Well, she either didn't understand what I was saying, didn't care, or it was some element of both. Whatever. On principle, considering the quotes were identical, I ended up buying the tickets from the next company down the line (the one that was able to put a real live person on the line with me when I called).

I have several good friends that are either in business school, have recently graduated, or are about to start. My own "Plan A" for right now would have me joining their ranks after my next deployment. And to anyone writing business plans, whether for an academic or a real-world purpose, the first piece of input I'd wish to give is this: Don't neglect the human element.

It's great that we can call Generation Y the "digital natives." It's great that we have the Internet almost anywhere we go these days. It's great that we have phones that can make toast, iron our clothes, and floss the poppy seeds out of our teeth (well, almost).

But that doesn't change this very basic fact -- When someone calls you out of the blue, credit card in hand, willing to drop an entire paycheck on your service, and you deny him the chance to even speak to a real live human being before disconnecting, well, your business plan completely and utterly sucks.

And it doesn't take a fancy-pants MBA to figure that one out.

* Just to be clear, this wasn't something where the customer was presented with the option of leaving a message in lieu of wasting time/phone minutes being on hold. If the choice were given, that'd be totally different, and I'd have no source of righteous indignation with which to write this. But the whole point is that, much like a Bank of America phone tree to nowhere, it was the company dead-ending me, which leads me to pretty quick but resolute, "No thanks," in return.

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