Business Performance and Technology Corner
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Creatures of Habit

April 12, 2012 | By | 4 Replies More

Creatures of habit and the comfort zone. I have consistently opined about the varied ways that business look at their data, and I find the enigma of human behavior fascinating when it comes to ‘how and why’ somebody looks at something that relates to their business.

With respect to hand held devices, I have often joked about us ‘older folks’ needing glasses to read them, and that I am waiting for the future generations to turn 40 so that they can feel our pain. Recently I hear of a study that shows a rise in the number of eye related health issues because of the number of hours that the current generation affixes their eyes to these small devices.

Yet, if I had a Crystal Ball to see what it would be like in several decades, I would be willing to bet that these devices – or similar – will be the manner in which people operate their businesses. Why? Because people are creatures of habit with a defined comfort zone.

As I get older, I notice that I tend to want less chaos in my life, and that I have certain procedures or mannerisms that have manifested themselves from years spent trying to avoid that chaos. As I watched my parents grow old – and their friends – I noticed that routines were a strong part of their lives – and gave them daily balance.

Can you believe that I still use a Texas Instruments calculator that I bought in 1978? Sure I could use the good old Calc program in windows – and even tried. But alas, I still use that old calculator – with no tape. And this is from a man who beats his head in to the wall everyday trying to push the technology envelope. I admit – I am weird; have a good laugh.

How many times have you worked with a client, and they say ‘this is the way I want this report done’, despite any suggestions you might have that might improve the information. Or you hear ‘I have been looking at this the same way, for the last 30 years, and I am not going to change now’. It may mean that data entry procedures might have to change to accommodate the end result, but the end can be more important than the means – especially to a business owner.

The reverse can also be true – where a business will not change the way it does things to get better information. For instance if customers want a list of jobs that are complete, they could use several criteria to do so: job status, job end date, job without active estimates, custom field, etc. etc., but are reticent to do so because it requires a change in habits or procedure. If they want it bad enough, they will relent, but their initial resistance can be obvious.

The use of Excel is probably the greatest technology example of habit. No matter what it is – report, analysis, or anything having to do with numbers – clients want it in Excel. If it costs more to do so, or maybe not even possible or plausible, and it has to be created in some other medium like Crystal Reports or Access, or ?, then the next question becomes ‘well can I export it to Excel?’.

In many ways the Excel spreadsheet has become the ubiquitous tool for anything. Over the years I have seen people use it for forms, analysis, information repository, database replacement, you name it.

Several years ago, I visited with an IT VP of a Fortune 1000 company, and the discussion entailed SAP® Business Objects technology – which is high end cloud and desktop solutions for business analytics/intelligence. Their implementation ran into the millions of dollars. The comment that resonated with me was ‘we just spent all of this money to put in this data warehouse and fancy graphical tools, and then I walk into somebody’s cubicle, and I find that they have downloaded everything to Excel’. He went on to say ‘I was exasperated’.

Was it the fact that they had to learn new software? Maybe. Was it the fact that the tools wouldn’t do what he wanted to do? Probably not. Was it the fact that the tools were harder to use? Questionable. Was it fear? Could be. But all things considered, it was the comfort zone. This person was more comfortable – for whatever reason – using Excel to do his work; he had done it this way for years.

Recently a TV news magazine featured a successful mutual fund manager, who still used the same tools he has been using for the last 30 years – pencil, paper, and some spreadsheets. Databases? Nadda. New tools? Nadda.

During the years that I pounded the pavement in the 80’s and 90’s, selling ‘computerized operations’ I soon learned that the most difficult hurdle to overcome was the collective ‘fear’ factor from various people in the organization. ‘Sally’ the administrator has worked for the company for 25 years, and had control over how things were done – SHE was the biggest hurdle to overcome. Gaining trust was by far more important than just showing how the ‘technology’ would improve her life. If ‘Sally’ didn’t buy in, the project was going nowhere – whether the boss wanted it or not.

Cloud implementation is another area that I have mixed emotions about. I have had many discussions with fellow Intuit Service Providers who say that their clients are adamant about NOT putting their QuickBooks data into the cloud. Certain applications such as CRM, Time Tracking – which tie in with their accounting software – have little resistance from these same owners – because it is convenient. But there is a definitive delineation of what they will remove from their direct control.

Companies that host QB remotely are doing nicely, but they all seem to apply their technology in different ways such that making simple changes to your configuration or adding third party applications can be a hassle at the very least. For some, this is a perfect fit. For others, this simply does not reach their comfort zone.

I don’t want to get into a discussion of the pros and cons of cloud computing – because IMHO owners wrestle more with the psychological comfort – rather than just strict dollars and cents.

Think about it, how many people do you know that will always do it themselves, and then there are others who always want someone else to do it for them; then there is everything else in between. Logic doesn’t always play a part in the decision making process.

Scott Cook, founder of Intuit was so instrumental in using the phrase ‘pain points’, because pain means you are NOT comfortable. That single thought was responsible for so much of his success since his original QuickBooks idea.

The term he has used in the last few years, has been ‘customer delight’ – which has led to many new ideas and products. However I am not convinced that ‘customer delight’ trumps ‘pain point’; I am more convinced that ‘comfort zone’ is a better gauge of what the customer will do – or not.

They are creatures of habit.

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Category: Chuck's Business Performance and Technology Corner, Excel, Expert's Corner

About the Author ()

Chuck Vigeant is the Managing Partner of CLEARIFY, LP and is known as the “grandfather” of Crystal Reports and Business Intelligence for QuickBooks. He is considered the foremost expert on QuickBooks ODBC connectivity and both the Intuit SDK and IPP offerings for data analysis and integration, and his company is the world's largest provider of Business Analysis, Business Intelligence, and custom management reporting systems for a variety of Intuit products. Chuck has recently expanded his efforts into creating specialized small business data warehousing applications, which have fundamentally changed the way people extract and use their data. His QQube application now makes it possible to do the most complex QuickBooks data analysis in Excel or SAP Crystal Solutions applications without an engineering or programming degree – or even knowledge of tables or relationships. Chuck achieved several technical certifications - most notably MCSE and CCNA; and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Public Administration from The University of Hartford, and a Masters of Education degree from The University of North Texas. He is the author of the Business Performance and Technology Corner column for QuickBooks and Beyond.

Comments (4)

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  1. Andrea Lee Carter says:

    Chuck, I believe there is a lot of veracity to what you are saying about comfort zones dictating what a client will or won’t do. I know of one man who (to protect the innocent–namely me) will remain anonymous and is still using QuickBooks 1999 and absolutely refuses to consider upgrading, even under the threat of data loss because the software might someday fail. And the reason? He’s comfortable with that version…he knows how it works and has no desire to endure a learning curve with a new version. “If it ain’t broke…” he tells me every time I chide him. And cloud computing? Ha! There is no way you will ever convince him of how secure cloud computing can be. None! Nada! However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel…he has at least aquired and begun using an iPhone, and he does borrow my iPad on occasion…but that’s as far as he’s willing to step out of his comfort zone for now. Ghandi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So, those of us who are computer savvy, techies at heart, and love what’s new in the ether world, can best serve those those want to stay where they are by staying abreast of developments, using them ourselves to show that these things can work and be willing to let the comfort-zoners move at their own pace…until they have no choice but to pick it up at beat or two, and be there to hold their hands when they do.

  2. William Murphy says:

    Chuck – I have been going to mention this to you in an email, but this article gives me a forum to post this now.

    I am wondering if you will have (or have given any though to) a simple ‘run-time’ version of your QQube product so we can design reports using your product for our clients which they can then run with a simple ‘run-time’ version? Many clients need specialized reporting but simply don’t want to learn a new product no matter how easy you make it, they have enough difficulties with the reports in QB. They know what they want/need and can describe it, but they want an expect to get it for them.

    Murph

  3. Diane Gilson says:

    Hi Chuck,

    I totally agree with you about ‘comfort zone’ being a primary driver! To add my thoughts here,… maybe we should also add in “Cost/Benefit” concepts…

    I frequently think about:
    1. The sheer number of different software packages and innovative products now available to us.
    2. The learning curve that accompanies each of these innovations
    3. The limited number of hours in a day
    4. The fact that we have to actually get things DONE (as opposed to fiddling around learning the quirks and personalities of tools that are supposed to be helpful – but often turn into thorns in our side and require hours invested with tech support!)

    These factors can make even those of us who DO embrace technology somewhat cautious about adopting ‘the latest & greatest’. Until it’s obvious that the BENEFIT far outweighs the TIME & COST involved in adopting something new, the tried and true can be good long-term friends.

    So, to tie this all together, until the PAIN of the current solution takes us out of our existing COMFORT ZONE, we’re probably not willing to explore the COST of an alternative solution. When the PAIN gets great enough, we may be willing to endure the COST of trying to achieve a new COMFORT ZONE where we hope to experience the BENEFIT of CUSTOMER DELIGHT. Experience, however, has taught many of us that this can be the exception rather than the rule… so we have a tendancy to stay in our COMFORT ZONE – where the outcomes may be somewhat less satisfying, but infinitely more predictable.

    And thank you for sharing your thoughts! I always enjoy your posts as they make me think about the psychology behind what’s going on in our business owners’, minds – and that’s where we, as accountants, end up spending a lot of our time!!

    Diane

  4. Jay Shah says:

    Another name for it is Inertia! Consider how many would not touch tax or accounting software and would only do with folio, forms and pencils. Then accountants would not move to windows because DOS was faster! But they did move apart from some outliers that will always exists and more power to them.

    No cost/benefit analysis or ease of use or anything else would move from the inertia state. As Newton said – an external outside force will make one to move. And move they will but at their pace and at their customers pace. Payroll service bureaus was the in thing and then came Desktop AFP and live payroll and then Paycycle brought in net based payroll. Has it taken over? No but has it made a constant push – yes.

    History has the proof.

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