The Call of the Wild Consumer

Nov. 11, 2009
Dear Business Company. If You Want My Business, Meaning If You Want Me as Your Customer, What Will You Do for Me?
By Jeremy Pollard

I've been trying to renegotiate cell-phone service for my wife and me for a month now. Remember I live in Canada, where socialism rules and customer service is nonexistent in most arenas.

Talking with people at the telecommunication monopolies gets me nowhere. I am a 10-year customer, and the "threat" of leaving the company to go to a competitor—and I use that term loosely—has no bearing on the renewal process.

I ask the competitor, "If you want my business, which amounts to more than $300/month for two phones, what will you do for me?"

Answer: "Nada. Nothing. Zero."

I'm stunned. But I also don't have a choice.

I can't buy a Verizon phone and use it in Canada. If I could, I would. When a company or industry has the monopoly, the user is screwed.

I recently read an excerpt from Lee Iacocca's book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone? He wonders why we aren't as mad as hell and why we are still taking it. I know what he means.

Couple that with an interview with Dick Morley, the father of the PLC, in which he says, "If there are two of us in the room, and we have the same opinion, then the room doesn't need one of us." Kind of like two cell-phone companies that equally abuse the customer.

[pullquote]This idea can carry a lot of weight at this time in our industry. A me-too mentality leads to malaise. Where have all the leaders gone?

Morley says innovation creates problems, meaning that if you have a problem, you already have a solution. Innovation creates that problem by trying to determine how things must change. He wasn't talking incremental change either.

Cell-phone technology is one of those innovations that changed thinking. Maybe the question was, "How can we change the way we communicate?" or "Why are you tied to a desk?"

Pagers and portable radios came first in the mobility movement, but Qualcomm made the big leap with its wireless technology, and the rest is history.

While some could argue that it was a progression—RF to UHF to microwave and so on—the implementation of the innovation was unique.

Engineering solves the problems that innovation creates, Morley states. We cannot have any solution to any problem without some level of engineering. The passion that engineering brings to our world is remarkable.

Morley also talked about the way marketing creates problems by over-promising. Ever had a job land on your desk for a machine build that seemed to scream, "We can't do that"? But the problem gets solved through engineering.

Steve Jobs is one of the most innovative "changing" minds out there. The iPod phenomenon is testament to the engineering passion to enable a desired change, and now with video—cool!

Black swans are events that create large unmitigated change in our society. Sept. 11 was one of them; the iPod is another. Different causes and results, but black swans, nonetheless.

Email could be considered an incremental technology and by itself would not have taken down the U.S. Postal Service, but Blackberry has.

Morley's interview was more about change than anything else. He thinks there are advantages to change. And change is as certain as death and taxes.

The type of change is up to us, but if we all think that the same thing needs to happen, then only one of us is needed.
We'd only need one chair in the board room—one opinion. And we all know how well that works, right?

We quickly are becoming a software-and-service-oriented economy with an emphasis on branding.

The time for change is on us. The two cell-phone companies here in GettingScrewedland will be OK for the time being, but I truly wait for the time that our passion for innovation and engineering puts them on notice. They will end up like Smith Corona. It's only a question of when, if I hear Morley correctly.