A secret blend of herbs, spices and chemicals

Let me not pretend I am something I am not. A bunny hugger I ain’t. According to me, “vegetarian” is from the Latin root that means “bad hunter”. I believe we have dominion over the animals, and I love steak. But, being a meat lover/eater (don’t worry, the red meat animals get their revenge on me, I suffer from terrible gout!) does not mean that I turn a blind eye to the rights of animals. While you won’t find me picketing the fashion stores or butcheries, a fast food store had my stomach turning this week.

Heading back to my home office earlier this week, I realized my schedule was tight. Now, I am living a healthier lifestyle than in the past, and have lost almost 15Kg’s of weight during the last year. Meaning that I actually try and make healthier eating choices. It dawned on me that a quick, fast food bite, preferably of the drive through variety would suit my schedule best. Faced with a number of bad choices, I opted for what seemed to be the lesser of a number of evils, and opted for something chickenish. Calling it “chicken” would be an absolute travesty… Now, this particular three letter acronym chain has not seen business from me in a long time, and I opted for a burger and a drink. Imagine my shock and surprise at the “fishy” smell and flavour, with something “chemical” lingering… Can it really be, have we as consumers fallen so far of the top of the food chain that this almost toxic, smelly blend of deep fried whatchamacalit passes as food in our world? One bit was enough to leave me reeling. Did I have a singular bad experience at a bad restaurant, cathing them off guard, or is this the quality and taste consumers crave nowadays?

Reason why this brand was top of mind this week, is that one of my family members doing his articles to qualify as a Chartered Accounted recalled the vast amounts of money these businesses generate. Forget about shoving your morals aside and opting to buy a franchise for pure monetary gain. You cannot buy one even if you had the money. A few companies now control the franchise ownership and new stores are allocated to these companies using some method, about I will best not speculate, lest I find a horse’s head in my bed.

Driving past these shops around meal times, you find them stuffed to the brim with customers, cash in hand and a row of cars around the building, waiting to be served. Is their marketing really that good, or are we really that oblivious and stupid? And they are not the only brand whose food I cannot stomach. A clown themed one is right up there too. What they pass off as a burger patty in a country that rears some of the best beef in the world is unfathomable. Despite this, I have a friend who confesses an almost drug like craving for their offerings. While his wife has him on every weird diet based around hormones, pills, injections and flab busting machines, he enjoys nothing more than cheating on that diet with a sneaky double burger with “cheese”. Calling the yellow goob slab on said chemically enhanced patty “cheese” is an insult to the bacteria that make the actual process of producing cheese possible.

Reading all the horror stories about these brands on the web, for a long time I dismissed these as pure disgruntled, ex-burger flippin’ employees with a vendetta hogwash. I did not see the fire where the smoke was. After sampling their wares, heed my warning, there is a fire raging…

No lock in. At all. Ever

Quickly logged in to my mobile phone provider account this morning. My Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE device, running CyanogenMod, is getting a bit long in the tooth. Eagerly logged in to have a look at the new phone models available (time for a Sony, or another Samsung?), imagine my shock and disgust when I realized that I am only due for a free upgrade days before Christmas this year. I stared in disbelieve at the date, looking at the accumulated bill in front of me, amounting to thousands per month. Surely this cannot be? I spend big bucks per month, so surely my phone is not an expense but an enabler? Allow me to elaborate. I burn in excess of 1000 minutes per month, spend a couple of GB’s of data (despite wireless all over my office and home) and even pop off a few text messages a month. Making sure that I have a top flight phone should be an investment not an expense! In fact, giving me a free phone once a year would great. And not a “free” phone, but a real free phone.

This got me thinking…do business execs ever place them in the shoes of their own customers? How do you think our local Telco exec’s would feel, having to spend two years waiting for the next “free” phone while shiny new tech comes along every day, and 6 months is an almost acceptable replacement cycle for certain tech goodies? Getting phones for free as an R&D expense is nice if your a telco exec, but for the rest of us it is torture…

So, customer lock in. This used to be a very acceptable business model, and it is easy to see why. 20 years to pay of a house, 5 years for a car, 2 years for that new “free” cellphone etc. So many services force you to be locked in for a fixed, minimum period. Don’t think I can easily cancel or reduce my golf driving range membership. No sir, despite your current work schedule and minor health issue, you cannot cancel or “park” your membership, locked-in you are. Order a local ADSL service from our monopoly provider and get a “free” wifi ADSL router, if sir will just sign here and be locked in for 2 years. Crazy!

Why does this happen? I now believe it is because many companies do not have the means and wherewithal to effectively compete in a constantly changing business environment. Why drive ourselves to constantly innovate and delight our customers, when we can just lock the suckers into a term contract? I hope the boardroom talk is not as blunt as that…

But, the world has changed. Even things like cloud computing platforms who bill you on a pay-as-you-go basis have you locked in, because getting your apps and data in and out is difficult or in some cases impossible. Thus while it is easy to turn your billing on and off, moving providers in not that easy.

Now take pity on my poor business partner for what I am about to say. Not only are we entering a new competitive market space, but achieving lock-in has never been part of my design or business plan. Why? Simple, I imagined myself as my own customer. How would I feel if I am locked into some sub standard and slow service? I’d be hopping mad, frustrated and ultimately tell all and sundry to avoid such a platform like the plague. No, the way I want to keep customers is by making it easy to get on my platform, make it easy to use, quick to provision, bill using modern flexible methods, and finally make it easy to leave if you are unhappy. Risky? Not all, if I constantly delight you, and charge you a reasonable rate, why would you want to move, I gave you no reason too 🙂 Will we have churn, sure, but those customers will also return when they go and try the alternatives and realize how easy getting in and out was with us. The pressure will be on us to delight and surprise our customers, keeping them with us out of loyalty due to the great service and deal they get.

On that note, a shout out to my peeps (Wilfred, Christian, Johan et all) at O’Galito’s Centurion. This Portuguese style restaurant has delighted me for almost 10 years. Last night I took some family there and we had a blast, great service and food. They have never dropped me once, which is why if you do business with me, are a friend or family, you’ll end up there with me sooner or later… Obrigado!