Rear-view Mirror Lies
At last week’s IN2LEX meeting we were discussing how communities like Austin and Boulder gained the regard they have as vibrant, creative, innovation-hospitable communities. I’ll claim it was not a grand plan but rather heavy doses of successful start-ups and it is futile to try to emulate these communities without the runaway successful companies that makes a community fertile for growth.
Dell is the second largest employer in Austin with over 17,000 employees (The State of Texas is the largest employer in the area - source). IBM and Motorola spinout Freescale Semiconductor are the other non-government/healthcare companies making up the top ten employers. Boulder’s largest private employer is IBM with Sun Microsystems, Level 3 Communications, and Seagate falling in the top ten.
The success of Dell set the stage for the growth of SXSW and Austin’s “Keep It Weird” theme. Keeping Austin weird is only “cool” because they have had several ultra-successful tech companies in the region that created an environment hospitable to growth. I’ll claim we probably wouldn’t be talking about Austin if Michael Dell hadn’t launched Dell Computers out of his dorm room 26 years ago.
I’ll challenge you to name a community you’d like to emulate that isn’t built on a modern, successful private employer or employers. Better to concentrate on building successful companies (employers) than to look at the “cool” things that become emblematic of a community and yearn to emulate that aspect. Chic follows runaway entrepreneurial successes.
Which companies are going to breakout in your region and help create the environment needed to grow a community that everyone wants to emulate? What are you doing to help them?
Raise The Bar
My first experience with a company setting a new level of expectations was Dell back in the late 90’s. At that time I was buying my company’s computers from a local computer shop, a relationship that began in 1991. After a couple of missteps by the local vendor I turned to Dell. I was blown away by the experience and never looked back. I was able to browse for new equipment on their website and place them in a virtual shopping cart. I could then call a real person on the phone and within seconds they were looking at the items in my cart and answering my questions. When I was ready to purchase (lease) the Dell representative kept me on the line and brought onto the same call the leasing representative from DFS (Dell Financial Services) to complete the transaction. Twenty minutes later there were lease documents on my fax machine and the transaction was complete. Blew my mind. How could a company a thousand miles away service me better than one a mile down the street? The answer is they invested in their backend systems, enabling their reps to tie together people from multiple departments to complete a transaction, and forever raised the bar for customer service.
I can remember soon after this experience going to Home Depot to purchase cabinets for ArchVision’s new office. After spending some time with the store rep and choosing the cabinets I asked about delivery. The rep told me I needed to take my ticket to the service desk and schedule a delivery. In hindsight it probably wasn’t a big deal but against the backdrop of the service I had recently received from Dell I was furious! Here I am buying several thousand dollars worth of cabinets and I was told to go find the service desk, wait in line and schedule my own delivery. Sounds petty but again, I was now measuring the level of service at Home Depot with the service I had received from Dell. Imagine how easy it would have been for the person who I had just spent 30 minutes with to walk me and the ticket to the scheduling desk and complete the transaction. The situation at Home Depot would have been analogous to the Dell rep giving me a phone number for the leasing department and telling me I’d need to call them after we hung up if I needed a lease. Dell had ruined me. They set the new customer service bar from a thousand miles away and I judged every transaction after that against what I knew could be accomplished.
We set the gold standards here in the US for product quality and customer service. I’ve traveled around the world and my experience is there is no comparison when it comes to customer service in the US. We’re also driving the next generation of software interface design. We are spoiled when companies like Dell and Apple raise the bar and expect (demand) that everyone else follow suit. Better quality and better service at lower prices. Capitalism at its best.