“I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom where centuries of work.” -Henry Ford
My colleague, Steve, recently experienced a rotten customer service situation with a company we have long admired for being a leader in their space. In fact, we use this company’s product every single day at Gemba Academy and like it very much.
But, here was Steve, on the phone with one of their customer service agents desperately seeking help for a rather serious issue we were experiencing.
Guess what happened? He got no help. In fact, the customer service rep told him he had to submit an online ticket and someone would get back to him.
Now, Steve is a very level headed, respectful, lean thinking leader who knows how to deal with crisis. As such, he calmly summarized the situation with this customer service agent with a simple statement, “So, what you’re saying is you won’t help me, correct?”
The agent seemed caught off guard and simply replied, “Correct.”
Please Allow 3 Business Days for a Response
And, as if that wasn’t enough, I recently emailed another company we have longed looked at as an excellent model for how to conduct business. This company is also a leader in their space and, like the company Steve dealt with above, we also pay to use this company’s product.
So I emailed a rather simple question to them and here’s what I received back from an obvious autoresponder.
Thank you for contacting <company name>. A service ticket has been automatically created and assigned to your inquiry.
Your ticket number is 00122545.
Please allow three (3) business days for a response.
3 days? I had a simple question. In 3 days I’ll probably forget the original question!
Update: The actual response rate was 5 days… c’est la vie.
Careful Who You Look Up To
Now, to be sure, these two situations really helped me, and my Gemba Academy colleagues, realize that very few companies (including ours) are perfect.
We also learned that it’s OK to study other companies in order to see if there are things we can learn from… but, in the end, we have to find our own way.
I did my best to reflect deeply on Henry Ford’s “I invented nothing new…” quote.
I think it’s obvious he meant that he learned to “assemble” many of the good things he learned from other companies into what Ford became under his watch.
But, I also imagine, he learned many lessons of what not to do from others.
What about Toyota?
Now, we lean practitioners spend a lot of time studying Toyota. And for good reason. They’re an incredible company.
But Toyota isn’t infallible. And after talking to Toyota employees, and past employees, I’ve learned they don’t ask to be copied. In fact, they discourage it to some degree since the true power of Toyota lies in their ability to think critically and solve problems.
One former Toyota associate told me TPS really stands for the “Thinking Production System.” I agree.
Finding Our Own Way
So, yes, I do believe we should study – and learn from – other excellent companies. But, more importantly, I believe we need to always remember that, in the end, we must find our own way.
To be sure the way will rarely be easy… but if we focus on the key principles of respect for humanity and continuous improvement nothing, and I do mean nothing, is impossible.