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.