Beautiful Strategy; Deadly Execution

Terminator, Self-Portraitphoto © 2009 Matt Hendrick | more info (via: Wylio)

One of my clients recently contacted me about yet another e-mail he had received, which he considered to be SPAM. We are all getting more and more annoyed with SPAM, regardless of the effectiveness of our filters. SPAM forces us into a huge waste of otherwise productive time, to deal with the nuances of those who would inflict their unsolicited marketing efforts and avarice upon us.

My client had received an unwanted e-mail “offer” for something from a company which produces software he uses in his business. He complained to the company. They responded, apologizing (something I find exceedingly rare these days), and said they would remove him from their e-mail list. End of story, right? Of course not!

He got more e-mail and even a phone call. As it turns out, the company, somewhat amazingly, felt it had to continue to apologize because they had turned their e-mail marketing efforts over to a “respectable third party” which, as they said, had created what they considered a “fail-safe mechanism.” This mechanism was designed so that when the “respectable third party” company received an “unsubscribe” message, the primary company was “blocked” and could no longer communicate with the “customer” by e-mail.

Bottom line seemed to be that my client continued to get hassled, possibly because multiple e-mail lists had been generated at some time after his initial subscription to an online professional publication he used in his business. Neither the primary nor the “respectable third party” e-mail marketing guru company seemed to be able to find where the continuing stream of e-mail was coming from, and so the SPAM continued.

My client finally got a total refund for his subscription, but during the process, felt, as many of us do, that, like the thermostat in a hotel room, the unsubscribe button seemed to be for show. I’ve actually read a few articles which caution against clicking on the unsubscribe button because some marketing companies use it to verify that they have actually hit a “live” e-mail address, and thus ramp up their marketing efforts on this newly verified e-mail account.

What we have here is a failure to communicate, effectively. (With apologies to Cool Hand Luke and Paul Newman)

It looked to me like this company did make a much better than average attempt to do what they could to “make things right” for my client, including the personal phone call, apparently thoughtful letter and e-mail, and presumably full refund. Key words, however, are “average” and “what they could.”

This point coincides with a growing frustration I have with big and small companies. That includes a recent attempt to redirect a birthday present I had tried to get shipped to a relative. I was presented with a logistics system from one of our major package “facilitators,” that apparently does not include humans, and a previously well rated vendor who, no doubt, intentionally conceals any ability to investigate the status of shipments or contact a human, once your credit card payment is accepted.

I likewise recently tried to get my hands on a software shipment that was mistakenly delivered to the wrong address. Being at least a semi-nerd, I went to the package “facilitator’s” Web site to redirect or attempt to pick the package up, since it seemed to be floating around town faster than I was. The shipping agent’s notice on my office door indicated the package was accompanied by a “don’t turn it over unless you get his signature” caveat. From the facilitator’s Web site, I happily changed the pick-up location to indicate I would drive 20 minutes away and pick it up from the local distribution hub, rather than chasing the drivers around town.

When I got to the hub the next day, however, I was actually told by the facilitator’s employee that the package had been delivered to my office’s next door neighbor, who had apparently been kind enough to sign for it, and that the Web site deal pretty much never seemed to work. It took several days, e-mails and phone calls with my office neighbor to coordinate with her part-time schedule to finally get the software, at no small inconvenience to her or me. 

Back to key words: “average” and “what they could.” I’m pretty well fed up with companies who cannot control their technology, and particularly those who tout the strength and efficiency of their logistical technology assets. Your experiences and mine, although different in many respects, may be similar in that more and more of these companies seem to have made a deal with the “devil” in order to leverage their business.

We all face this issue from time-to-time, but I’m afraid some aspects of the technology some companies use seem to be taking on a life of their own, not unlike the “Terminators” and “Cylons” of science fiction fame. I’m actually now starting to worry about whether I should unplug my iRobot vac in the basement when go to sleep at night or am away from home.

The efforts of my client’s vendor did appear sincere and beyond what most companies seem to be willing or capable of doing in such situations. I understand economies of scale and that a vendor can probably ship something more cost effectively through a company which focuses only on logistics. I also realize there may be a further economy of scale for the vendor if it turns over other functions, such as e-mail marketing, to other companies that concentrate only on that.

The problem seems to be developing and monitoring an effective way for the primary company to retain control of the whole process. In the 1984 science fiction film The Terminator, by James Cameron (more recently of Avatar fame) the premise was that mankind had developed an artificial intelligence system, including a network called Skynet. That AI network was so sophisticated that it became self-aware and then set about to eradicate the pesky and less efficient humans who built it. The humans fought back and were on the verge of winning back their planet. Skynet, according to the story, then used emotionless cyborgs they had created called Terminators, to try to kill off the survivors.

These Terminators were very effective because they had no emotion. They were totally focused upon the goals they were programmed to achieve. Does this start to sound, even remotely, like a company with good intentions, turning various core functions over to “respectable third parties” who, in turn, create a fail-safe system to prevent errors? When the next step is turning your customers into the “resistance,” is it possible it might be time to rethink your strategy?

I believe it was Winston Churchill who said: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” Some companies may be creating their own Terminators, as part of their effort to improve efficiency and their own bottom line. The bottom line, however, could be terminating their customer base, and in turn, themselves.


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Posted in Applied Entrepreneurship, business, Business interruption, crisis, etc., entrepreneur, Growing a business, Innovation, Running a business, technology
One comment on “Beautiful Strategy; Deadly Execution
  1. bizlawblog says:

    Here’s another take on this:
    The Ethics of Outsourcing

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