Thursday, November 03, 2011

Want more jobs? Take your business elsewhere

We are experiencing another dark side of efficiency.

And too much efficiency is hell.

Many businesses are sitting on piles of cash and not hiring ... we hear about this daily. But why? Job recovery is always a lagging indicator in a recession, but we've been 'out' now for a while and yet even as the layoff and job LOSS rate flattens, the hiring rate does not pick up.

That may be because business is so efficient right now, with the improved communications and control ability brought about through automation and internet connectivity, that businesses are able to satisfy the load on their capacity with fewer and fewer people.

But there is a downside to that and it is the consumer who suffers it.

Just today I was essentially turned away from a garage for an oil change (very early on) because they had too much work to get done in a day...if I come back tomorrow, even earlier, I may get a slot.

I bypassed McDonald's for breakfast because the drive through line this morning was snaking out into the street. And the inside line was outrageously long too.

I skipped Starbuck's for coffee for the same reasons.

Note, I said line. Both places had so few staff on board at 7.30 this morning that they could only staff one inside line.

Last Sunday the same thing happened at another Starbuck's. Long drive thru line, TWO inside lines, and only 3 baristas in the store. One poor person was trying to make drinks and take orders at a register simultaneously. Take it from someone who's run a cafe before...that is no way to make a good cup of coffee or run a coffee shop.

I asked there why they didn't have at least one other person (that much business, they really needed +2) and was told management wouldn't hire any more. "We just have to deal".

Sonic has trimmed the fat off its menus...wait, actually, they've trimmed the lean...virtually all the chicken sandwiches are gone and if you look carefully you realize all they really offer are variations on a hamburger...with or without cheese, bun or texas toast, one greasy patty or two. The whole menu can be summed up in a single sentence.

So, while it may be amazingly efficient to eak out every erg of work related energy and every therblig of productivity from fewer and fewer workers, the consumers suffer poor response times, poor choice, poorer quality goods and service, and a general feeling that they are being abused.

Of course the workers suffer as well; horribly overworked, unable to concentrate, fearful for their own continuance of employment.

Perfectly efficient capacity sounds wonderful. We do more with less which translates, on paper, to an apparent increase in productivity and value.

But let's face's crap! So what can we, the consumer do?

Here's what I did
  • I pulled into the Sonic, looked at the menu, and when the staff member came on to take my order, I politely told her I was going elsewhere because their selection was now so poor.
  • I politely explained to the Starbuck's barista who served me my Americano that he should mention to his manager that one customer won't be back until they hire more staff.
  • I told the garage manager that I was happy to hear they had so much business, but I would find another oil change place that had enough capacity to handle an oil change and tune-up more rapidly than 24 hours.
  • I did not speak to today's McDonald's and Starbuck's folk, but I also did not purchase from them.

We used to have a saying..."no one comes here anymore, it's too busy."

A business needs to have a bit of over capacity...a bit of stretch room. If your capacity is operating at 100%, you have exactly the number of employees to handle exactly the number of customers you get, then you have too few employees or too many customers. The slightest hiccup (an illness, a stopped up toilet) leads to unhappy customers.

We take this into account when we order computing hardware; servers and network gear. If you order just enough that you run at 100% utilization, all of your customers will be unhappy with the poor performance. You HAVE to have some extra capacity not just to handle spikes, but to keep things running smoothly for customers during ordinary times.

Few businesses will hire more staff if everything SEEMS to be running smoothly. The base load of work is getting done, customers are coming in and buying goods and services, employees are not collapsing in the aisles from exhaustion.

The best way to send a message to a business that they need to change is to NOT buy their goods or services. Walk away. Vote with your feet. But they need to know why.

So if you find yourself in situations like mine, let the manager or someone know. Start a gentle murmur of discontent on the client-side. Don't buy from them if you feel they need to hire more people.

Now, the key is, of course to be very polite, understand the person you say anything to (even the store manager in many cases) cannot do a damned thing about the lack of capacity, but make sure they understand you are walking away from that business because it has not staffed up to provide a modicum of over capacity and a bit of breathing room for employees.

Don't tell them they are too busy to handle your needs. Tell them they are too understaffed to handle your needs. Tell them something very specific like that.

And you don't have to can come back another time and make a purchase if you need to. But if you decide to walk away because there are not enough people to help you, let the store know. They need to know and the best WANT to know.

Business will get the message. If there is a perception that a lack of staff is leading to a fall off of custom, change will occur. And more jobs will suddenly, magically, appear.

Is any business likely to suffer greatly or have to lay off more people because YOU choose to walk away? Hell no! They won't let it get that far. One person says it to them it's nothing. Ten people mention it and walk away, it's weird. After a month of hearing it fro 30, 50, 100 customers, business management WILL act and more people will be hired.

Look how fast the banks backed off when consumers just said, "NO". A consistent, gentle nudge from many, many people can move even a giant stone.

Too much efficiency run best when well within their tolerances, when they have a bit of give, and with a certain amount of noise in the signal.

Just my thoughts.