Clearly Valuable

“My definition of 'innovative' is providing value to the customer” – Mary Barra

For the last few years, I have lived in the centre of Cheltenham, a town in the south-west of England. As with much of the country, and especially in urban areas, space is a premium and as a result our house was built with three storeys. This arrangement provides us with all the space we need but it makes window cleaning something of a challenge, and so rather than do it ourselves we have a specialist company, with extra-long hoses and rods, visit approximately once per month to make sure that we can still see out.

A few weeks ago, there was a ring on the doorbell, and I answered it to find the window cleaner waiting outside. He took a quick look at the house and said: “do you know what, I don’t think your windows need cleaning”. It hadn’t rained much since the last time he came, and he was right, there was really no dirt on the windows, and it would have been a waste of time, and money, to clean them. At his own suggestion, he went away and agreed to come back a few weeks later. He realised that although he could have charged me for cleaning the windows on the day, it would have provided me with no value.

Almost eight years ago, in 2014, I moved to Connecticut in the north-east of the United States. I was aware that we should expect a lot of snow, and as the winter approached, I searched around for somebody who I could rely on to keep my driveway clear. I found someone, recommended by a neighbour, and agreed a price. As winter approached, we had an early sprinkling of snow. It can’t have been more than a millimetre in total and as the temperature rose it was clear that the snow was destined to be gone by the end of the day. But that afternoon I received a text message from my snow-clearing contractor proudly informing me that he had cleared my driveway and that I owed him $50. I was a little irritated, but I paid in the knowledge that worse weather was to come, and I would need a dependable arrangement to keep my driveway clear. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later we had a heavy snowfall. I made it into work and halfway through the day I received a text message. It was from the snow-clearing contractor, telling me that he couldn’t get to my house because of the snow and that therefore he wouldn’t be able to clear my driveway. At this point I gave up. I told him not bother coming again and I went out to buy myself a snowblower. Whether inadvertently or not, this contractor was providing zero value – in fact by clearing the driveway when it wasn’t needed, he provided me with negative value.

The moral of the story is the importance of creating value. The window cleaner clearly understood the concept of value creation and understood that our arrangement would only be sustainable if he provided value to me. He willingly declined short-term paying work to ensure adherence to this principle. The snow clearer didn’t understand this. As a result, he quickly lost my business.

Whatever your business, whatever products or services you provide, it’s essential that you find a way to sustainably provide value to your customers and/or stakeholders. If you don’t, you’ll lose them.

There’s a lot more about value in my first book, including a whole chapter about providing value to customers including several other memorable stories. More details here.


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