During our vacation last week, one morning was particularly entertaining and educational. We were on the list for a White House tour and lined up with about one hundred or so other folks at 7:15 AM outside of the southeast gate. A light drizzle was falling. Were it not for the waiting list and hoops that you have to jump through to get on those tours, I would have bribed the kids into doing something that didn't require standing in a line that morning.
As we got to our gate, there was a lower-twenty's looking young man in a tie and jacket checking ID's. He wasn't in law enforcement. He was likely an intern. The educational part of the morning was me telling my kids that when they get their first jobs they had better not act like that dude.
In the few minutes I watched the guy, I could almost write his bio. Somebody had pulled strings to get him this job, but he was "above" it. Having to check the ID's of the huddled masses wasn't something he remotely enjoyed - and it showed.
Not one smile. Not one "Good Morning." And his gestures to everyone from grandparents to grandkids were rather dismissive. He used a palms-up, quick-finger-curl gesture that exuded impatience. I think the only word I heard him say was, "Next."
The entertaining part of the interaction came after he had looked at my ID and handed it back without so much as a grunt. I chuckled, "Hang in there, man. I'm sure TSA is hiring."
My wife tried to hold back an apoplectic explosion as she whispered, "So help me... if you get us thrown out of here!"
Yes, I did behave for the rest of the tour. But I found it amusing that when we were done, my wife commented, "You know, it felt like we were all sort of intruding in there."
In contrast, a nearby diner we then had breakfast at had the friendliest waiter I've seen in ages. He had a booming voice and an easy laugh. He asked if we were from out-of-town and practically became the DC welcoming committee when we said that we were. Even before we had eaten, I felt good about our dining choice. I smiled and thought, "They need this guy working the gate down the street."
The contrast between a person who obviously didn't like his job (and liked customers even less) and someone who recognized that customers are what keep him in business was pretty stark.
What impression will you make today?
One of my favorite topics in presentations is how new technologies and the subsequent changes in customer preferences they create transform industries. The funny (or scary) thing is how many of us are more interested in fighting or ignoring those changes than in mastering the new realities we face.
The subject is fresh in my mind after reading a story in USA Today about how Redbox, its unique distribution model and its $1 DVD rentals are causing fits for its competitors as well as some movie studios. I wasn't a big believer in the concept early on. When the first Redbox kiosks showed up in our local independent grocery store, I doubted they'd last very long. (Nostradamus I'm not.)
But when my wife became impressed with their website, technology, and price, Redbox became a regular weekend ritual in our household.
The thing that had me smiling the most while reading the article was the complaint of a movie studio rep that Redbox is too cheap. He gripes that their products are being "grossly undervalued" at $1 per rental. (Well, it costs me about $60 to bring my family to the movies. So cry me a river, dude.)
Remember when the movie industry fought tooth and nail to stop VHS rentals? Today, many of their movies wouldn't make a nickel of profit were it not for rentals. (I guess they ain't Nostradamus either.)
Some studios have grasped the industry shift and are embracing Redbox. Competitors like Blockbuster are promising to roll-out thousands of their own kiosks with "some" price points of 99 cents. They'll likely offer video game rentals as well. Of course, Blockbuster's much bigger problem is finding ways to drive traffic into and/or justify the costs of their large, free-standing stores. (Sound familiar?)
To state the obvious, take note of where Redbox places kiosks. What a novel idea. A company places smaller, more cost-efficient distribution points in existing retail areas with built-in customer bases. (Sound familiar?)
Our own industry is facing not-to-dissimilar challenges and opportunities. Are we going to adopt new technologies? Are we going to rethink branch types and networks? Are we going to have to offer higher levels of expertise and personal service? Yes, yes, and, uh... yes. And that's how it should be.
Sure, change creates unease. But it creates opportunities as well. Are you ready to seize them?