This article is about opportunity. Problem opportunity. I usually try to write about exciting and innovative service solutions that are challenging the product economic paradigm and shifting our world into 21st century business practice. My objective is to inspire and present an alternative vision of consumption, not necessarily to critique or expose those who aren't addressing sustainability. However, today in my article I want to 'green bash' a bit (ie, hit a few brands over the head with my green views because I feel so passionately there is the opportunity to do things better). I want to present some observations and problem opportunities for 21st century business. I will try to remain positive and optimistic with my tone, despite actually being quite angry and hurt by the insanity of my experiences, because I see these systemic problems as opportunities for innovation. They present a great argument for the service model — ie, looking at a closer connection with the customer to define exactly what they want and a continuous flow of value over time, which is very different to the dominant product economic paradigm that focuses on selling as many units as possible despite of my needs/motivations.Less is still obviously not yet more. Bash, bash, bash HSBC, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Crate & Barrel, T-Mobile in my recent experience, plus many more. The problem is systemic. The problem is the model of consumption we are still operating with — that is the notion of selling a 'product' not a 'service solution' to our needs.
Here's some bashing
HSBC (US) do not think about servicing me, they sold me a product. I opened my account with the bank in New York last week. My choice was largely based on my knowledge that the bank (in the UK) is working towards a responsible business practice. Perhaps I was totally misguided — as a consumer. While signing-up in the bank I asked to opt for online bank statements only (no paper); I also asked to un-tick the box on the manager's screen that said "Junk Mail". I was refused both. Why? Because I am consuming a product — a pre-determined/pre-packaged good, nothing close to a service that responds to me as a global citizen with preferences and motivations that extend deeper than the size of my overdraft. This is not a service model. This is the old world paradigm — 'sell a product, take money, run'. My question (the opportunity) is how might a bank service my needs as a responsible citizen and enable a sustainable lifestyle?
Bed, Bath and Beyond sold me products and failed to service my needs and motivations. I don't have a car; I don't need a car as I live in New York. I like not having a car. And I love the idea that in New York you can shop without having one, because if necessary (ie, you are buying too many goods to carry home on the subway) you can get a delivery. This is what happened to me the other day while buying some basic goods for my new apartment. I should've known much better. Five hours later my goods (lights, a few plates/glasses, bed linen etc.) arrived at my apartment in two enormous boxes. The delivery guys disappeared. I was left feeling sick. I have never ever experienced so much wasted packaging and bubble wrap in my entire consumer life. I have never seen can opener wrapped in bubble wrap. And I was left with an enormous pile of virgin packaging to deal with. I felt like this was my fault. I felt eco-dirty. And Bed, Bath and Beyond had done this to me. No service, no system, no preference there. My question is how might a retailer service my needs and instead of selling me a product sell me a product-service-system (where we are — together — responsible for the full cycle/circle of consumption) and a cradle-to-cradle solution?
In Crate & Barrel I unpacked my new pan from its heavy weight box and padding to leave the sales assistant responsible for the mess. There was a lot of mess. And yes, I refused the option of a bag in a bag. This time I wasn't going to take it home. Perhaps not fair to bash Crate & Barrel on this one, but they were the interface to my retail experience. I wonder what could change here to make this different.
T-Mobile recently acquired me as their new service customer. A healthy revenue stream from my monthly service plan will be coming their way for the next year, but they didn't really selling me a service solution, they sold me a product. Nothing, nothing, about my service experience with T-Mobile hinted at any sign of fulfilling my needs and motivations or building a relationship with me in the valuable moment they had with me at the point of purchase. A pre-determined packaged good was sold at me, not to me, in store. Nothing to suggest my preferences had any meaning to the world. It was not acceptable for me to refuse a second "free" phone alongside the phone I purchased ("give it to your friend to use" the sales assistant insisted); it was not acceptable for me to refuse the phone holder ("I NEVER use one" I said); it was not acceptable to inquire about un-ticking the "Junk Mail" option ("I've never heard a customer ask that" the assistant said); it was not acceptable to not have a bag for all my goodies ("I have a hand-bag, I don't need a bag" I said). It was acceptable to T-Mobile for me to walk out with a service plan and phone that now becomes my responsibility, my contribution to landfill and other environmental issues, that I have no say in helping to shape TOGETHER with this company. My question is how might a cell phone service provider (and the phone co.) sell me a lifetime of communication needs in place of a toxic time bomb and a large hole in a forest?
Am I living another world, or do these experiences feel old world?
Written by Tamara.