When Do Lies Become the Truth?

I recently picked up a bottle of Campbell’s V8 V-Fusion Strawberry Banana juice blend. I read the ingredients. Ingredients in food products are listed in order of predominance in the product – The ingredient used the most is listed first; the ingredient used the least is listed last.

In the V8 V-Fusion Strawberry Banana juice blend product, a reasonable person would expect to see, after water, strawberry and banana. Think again. Here are the ingredients:

  • Water
  • Apple juice concentrate
  • Sweet potato juice concentrate
  • Carrot juice concentrate
  • Orange juice concentrate
  • Tomato paste
  • Beet juice
  • Fruit juice concentrate (apple juice concentrate, strawberry juice concentrate, banana puree)
  • Flavour
  • Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)

There is more beet juice than strawberry juice concentrate or banana puree! Strawberry and banana are the last two items, just before flavour and vitamin C. Based on ingredients, this product should be called “Apple Sweet Potato juice blend” or “Strawberry Banana flavoured juice blend.”

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Do you think for a moment the labeling and naming of this product was by accident? Do you think the possibility of consumer confusion, believing this juice product comprised primarily strawberry and banana was lost on Campbell’s Foods?

At what point does telling a lie become the truth?  Do we just assume that no one will notice?

A Simple Question

I recently attended the CM Trends Conference 2010 in San Diego. The attendees at the conference are an inquisitive, questioning, observant lot. We look for defects. We look for trends. We look for opportunities.

We usually ate at the hotel restaurant, an Elephant and Castle. The atmosphere was casual. The food was good enough, well-priced, and a wide variety. Service was prompt and friendly. We usually ate in groups of four. Toward the end of our week there, we noticed a trend: After every meal, a waiter would bring our cheque… one cheque.

After every meal, we would say, “Separate cheques, please.”

After every meal, the polite waiting staff would respond with a smile, “No problem. Be back in a moment.” They were all very nice people who worked hard.

After every meal, the polite waiting staff would return a second time with our separate cheques.

I wondered if the waiting staff were trained to ask while taking orders whether cheques were separate. That would eliminate:

  • time lost for the second trip to the table and printing
  • printing unnecessary cheques (paper, wear, maybe ink)
  • delay for the customer
  • delays for other customers

I wondered. It was such a simple question. What simple questions exist at your workplace?

Some questions for you:

  • Do you train your people to look for opportunities to improve? To notice waste, rework and duplication?
  • When someone has an idea, do you welcome it or dismiss it?
  • If you say that you welcome ideas, do you actually evaluate the ideas?
  • Do you look for similar patterns? If this happened here, where else is it or could it happen?
  • Do you reward them for finding improvements?
  • Do you model continuous improvement?
  • If you notice something to correct, do you just tell people the correction or do you discuss it and look for more ideas?

The Table Experiment

In Sept 2010, I spoke at a conference. The stage had a lectern, short cocktail table with the computer on it, and a 2 m (6 foot) table for the panel of speakers, left-to-right as the audience looked at them. Between the lectern and the panel table was a 1 m space where the speaker could move to the edge of the stage, nearest to the audience.

I like to move around and flap my arms, so I knew that before speaking I would arrange to move the panel table. This struck me as an opportunity to experiment. I moved the table and suggested to the next speaker that he use the now freed space. He would be closer to the audience, appearing larger and people could see his whole body instead of the head-on-a-lectern view that distances speakers from their audiences.

The experiment was to see whether the remaining 15 speakers would notice the difference now modeled for them and use the rest of the stage without being told to do so or informed of the benefit. Of those 15 speakers, not one used this space. They chose to remain hidden behind the lectern. I gave 1/2 point to one speaker who ventured away from the lectern and stood next to the panel table.

The experiment told me something about public speaking: that many people who are willing to speak in public, fear it enough to retreat to the safe zone behind the lectern.

The experiment told me something about change management and continuous improvement: that even when people see an improvement modeled, they might not adopt the improvement, even if it benefits them, if they don’t notice or if there are other overriding blockages or concerns. We still need to communicate the change and the benefits of the change in their terms. We need to let them know WIIFM (“what’s in it for me”).

The one speaker who received my suggestion and adopted it looked larger and more present than all the other speakers. I wonder if he will remember it for future presentations.

I would like to perform the experiment again by coaching all the speakers to use the whole stage and measure the difference in adoption rate, if any. Maybe I could coach the first half of speakers and measure the adoption rate of the last half.

How many adopt an improvement after they are informed of its benefit?

Porter Airlines vs Air Canada

In June of 2009, I participated in the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride, joining 35 other cyclists to ride across Canada raising funds and awareness for childhood cancer charities. We had to arrange our own travel from our home to the start of the ride in Vancouver and from the end of the ride in Halifax to home. For the trip to Vancouver, I chose Air Canada and from Halifax to home, Porter Airlines.

When I checked-in at Air Canada in Ottawa, I knew I would have to pay extra for the bike box. I was surprised after my bags were weighed that Air Canada would charge me $150 for having too much weight in my checked baggage. It wasn’t that I had too much weight it was that the checked bags weighed too much. The additional bag was a medium-sized gym bag. The gym bag contained toiletries that I could not carry on the plane. I would have to transfer those items to my main luggage. Then I could carry the gym bag on the plane and there would be no extra charge. I looked behind me at the line of people waiting to be served, felt the weight of my laptop computer on my shoulder and thought about the quality time with my sweetheart before the flight. Air Canada wanted me to open my bags and transfer items from one to the other, not to decrease the overall weight, but to satisfy a corporate policy about the quantity of bags. The ticket agent indicated that she could get in to trouble if she didn’t follow the policy. I looked at the line of people behind me again, felt the laptop, thought about time with my Sweetheart, so I muttered, “Forget it,” and paid the $150, plus $7.50 General Sales Tax. The ticket agent said that I could later apply to corporate headquarters and I might get a refund. She said she would have liked to help me, but she might lose her job if she didn’t follow the rules. Let it be known that at Air Canada, you can lose your job if you make a reasonable decision that causes no impact on the company and delights a customer into repeat business.

At Porter Airlines in Halifax, the same situation occurred. Instead of the customer service agent, Sarah Wheeler, saying that I could apply for a refund, Sarah wanted to ask her supervisor to waive the extra charge right away, but her supervisor was away from the check-in area momentarily. I could wait for the supervisor to return or I could go ahead and she would personally follow-up, request the refund on my behalf and put the money back into my credit card account. I chose to go ahead and hoped she would take care if it. I decided to use this situation as an unplanned test, unsure of what would happen, fearing a ghost from Air Canada would lose my transaction into the ether of airline busyness.

By the time I returned home a few hours later, I received the following e-mail:

“My name is Sarah Wheeler and I am a Customer Service Representative with Porter in Halifax. I actually checked you in this evening (June 25th) for your flight to Ottawa. After charging you for the excess weight fee on your checked luggage, I spoke with my Supervisor here in Halifax and he authorized me to refund the $67.80 that I had charged you for the excess weight. I refunded that amount back onto your credit card about an hour after you checked in and I felt really terrible about charging you in the first place, unfortunately CSR’s are not authorized to over-ride excess weight fees. The amount should be back onto your credit card now, and if there are any problems please feel free to E-mail me back & let me know, or call our Call Center at 1-888-619-8622. 

On behalf of the Porter team here in Halifax, I would like to again commend you on your successful bike ride across the country for such a wonderful cause. You truly are making a meaningful difference in the lives of children living with cancer & you are a motivation to all of us here. I would also like to personally apologize for charging you at all & hope this did not tarnish your image of Porter. We look forward to seeing you again & hope you had a great flight back to Ottawa.

Sincerely, Sarah Wheeler”

I had to read the message a couple of times. My head nodded as I thought, “Now THAT is customer service!” 

To Air Canada: Your corporate policy and lack of empowerment and trust for your employees to make sound decisions earned you $100, but it will cost you thousands of dollars. I usually used Air Canada because I was loyal to what I perceived was Canada’s airline. You convinced me to change my mind and my choice of airline. I recommend you read Stewardship – Choosing Service Over Self-Interest, Peter Block, ISBN 1-881052-28-1.

To Porter Airlines: Sarah’s decision cost you $67.80, but it will earn you thousands more for the number of times I use Porter Airlines and influence others to do the same. Your Customer Service Representative, Sarah Wheeler, followed company policy and procedure and saw an opportunity to empower herself by taking responsibility for a customer’s situation. Sarah is an asset to your company and knows how to turn a tired cyclist into a delighted, repeat client. Sarah, you do not need to read the book “Stewardship” but you might enjoy it anyhow as a confirmation that you are doing the right things right.
Craig Senior
CSL Consulting, Inc.

Epilogue: To be semi-fair, on 2009-10-02, I sent an e-mail to Air Canada’s customer service centre, detailing the situation and the different responses. I should not have to do this. I’ll keep you posted on the outcome.