Customers, Respect & Value: Lean Muppets Post 9

Jim BensonPrimers2 Comments

Respect is a fundamental value in Lean

Profit in business comes from repeat customers;
customers that boast about your product and service,
and that bring friends with them.
~ W. Edwards Deming

Everyone has been in this position before.  You’re doing business with someone – your only goal is to give them money for their services – and they make the simplest request onerous. In this case, the customer has ordered a bowl of soup and it is, apparently, defective.  We can feel his dread of calling support when he notices the fly. He knows frustration is just around the corner.

But, he’s not getting value for money and he calls Grover over. Grover goes through several emotional phases before confronting the problem.

Avoidance – Grover puts him off. “Just a moment sir,” and “Not now sir.”

Misdiagnosis – The customer tells Grover there is a fly in his soup. He’s been around soup enough and knows full well the scope and extent of the problem. Grover however, then goes through a set checklist of problem solving provided to him on his first day in customer support. First, the checklist tells him to look under the soup. The customer tells him it’s not under, but rather it is in the soup. Grover returns to his checklist and looks next to the soup. Again, the customer clearly tells him the fly is in the soup.

Disbelief and Blame – “I will look in  the soup now, for this supposed fly.” Grover first insinuates that the customer is wrong, and then looks “on” the soup.

At this point the customer loses his cookies and lays into Grover, to the point that the two almost come to blows.

Admission – In the heat of this exchange, Grover asks, “Why did you order fly soup!?” It turns out that the system (his restaurant) specially serves bowls of fly soup. What was a feature for the restaurant is a defect in the eyes of the customer.

Complete Communication Breakdown – To placate the customer, Grover then goes to get another bowl of soup. He returns and offers, “I think you will be very happy with this.” When the customer asks what it is, he replies “Cream of Mosquito.”

While we could certainly  talk about failure demand, like we did in back in post two when Ernie painted Bert’s portrait, here we’ll talk about respect.

Customers who have a choice will not continue to deal with companies that do not respect them. If you are in a business where you are lucky enough to enjoy a monopoly or near-monopoly you can treat your customers poorly or even regularly insult them. But if they have a choice, you may want to think twice.

In general, people do not feel respected if they feel “processed.” So checklists, forms, and formalities do not set a stage for repeat customers.

But let’s take Deming’s quote one level further. In business, you get profit from repeat customers. But our customers are not always people buying services from us. If our spouse asks us to take out the garbage, they become our “customer” for that task. (If you don’t believe me, dump the garbage on the floor and tell me if your spouse doesn’t act like Grover’s customer).

Each day we engage in myriad transactions. Some of them are economic, but most are social. Consistently disrespecting people will eventually erode our social capital and leave us with no friends and distrusted by all. If we respect others, then we will have friends that boast about our product (ourselves) and bring more friends with them.


This is ninth in a series of Lean Muppet Posts. For a list of Lean Muppet posts and an explanation of why we did this, look here -> Lean Muppets Introduction

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Jim BensonCustomers, Respect & Value: Lean Muppets Post 9

2 Comments on “Customers, Respect & Value: Lean Muppets Post 9”

  1. Pingback: The Lean Muppet Series: Introduction | Personal Kanban

  2. Brian Hodgman

    Hi Jim,

    Can this post please be tagged with “muppets” like the others in the series for easy finding?


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