Phone tree tyranny
The true cost of consultants
A simple call to cancel a hotel reservation feels like a battle of wills. Why is this so hard?
After weaving through several branches of an automated phone tree, I decide to do What Must Be Done. I mash ‘0’ and shout the word operator in my deepest baritone. I think it was the seventh press that forced HAL to give in. “Please hold while we connect you with an agent.” Man triumphs over machine.
But I’m not out of the woods yet! “…if you’re interested in learning about our premium rewards credit card, please press one...” Is this robot pulling my leg?
I get it. It’s hard to find reliable people. Let alone someone to answer the phone and deal with questions typically best answered by reading an FAQ page. But being sold to by a bot while desperately searching for someone real is a step too far.
I believe these types of increasingly bizarre customer experiences stem from the widespread outsourcing of decision-making to consultants across our economy. More specifically, from the mass proliferation of frameworks developed by consultants to “solve business problems.” But real life doesn’t fit in a 2x2 matrix. And too often the question asked is what can be done rather than what should be.
Several months earlier, I went down a YouTube rabbit hole of consulting case studies. (I know.) I stumbled on a mock interview which gets to the heart of the framework matter. Three bright-eyed MBA students were asked to help a theoretical television manufacturer decide if it should get into the 3-D TV business.
In true consultant fashion, each candidate walked through how they’d approach the question, what information they’d need, and how they’d formulate their recommendation. They each spent several minutes dazzling the mock interviewer in their smartest slim fit suits. Their explanations as polished as their collars were starched. Sharp!
It hit me when I was watching the third J.Crew model confidently speak about market sizing and “estimating input costs.” None of these young scholars ever asked the most obvious question.
Have you ever met anyone – anyone! – that actually wanted a 3-D TV? Would any of the candidates say “yeah, I can’t wait to watch House Hunters International with special glasses on.” Absolutely not.
I kept waiting for the punch line. When is the interviewer going to shake these people out of their consulting framework stupor? “Congratulations. You just told this CEO to bet the farm on mass producing a 3-D TV that you, an upwardly mobile white-collar professional with disposable income to spare, would not personally even consider buying.” But it never happened.
I’m not sure which is worse. Either they were afraid to say the obvious or they didn’t even consider it.
I’ve won the battle of wills and I’m on the line with a real human being. Months, or perhaps years, earlier, a hotel executive was asked about using automation to boost credit card signups. Either they were afraid to say the obvious or they didn’t even consider it.