Can I Have Extra Celery Instead of Fries? No?!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 by Tripp Babbitt
Yesterday, I went to a Buffalo Wild Wings to meet a friend of mine.  I had decided on the wings, celery and fries combo.  Only I didn’t want the fries, so I requested extra celery ( keeps the weight down).  The response was shocking . . . my waiter responded, "Our computer doesn’t allow us to put in extra celery, would you like a salad instead?"

Wow!  This person now becomes my example of how entrapping technology can become at service companies.  Yet, I see this everywhere with standardization done to make software coding easier, "standard work" and "5S" accomplished with "Lean tools", scripts, standard product offerings, SOP, etc.  Systems designed to make life easier for management, the vendor, etc. but incapable of absorbing the variety of demand that service offers.  Customers left shaking their head as to why they can’t get what they want, even when it is just extra celery.

Be it bank management consulting or customer service consulting the theme runs through most service organizations that I have worked with.  A strong belief that these standardizing activities actually save money when in reality they drive customers away or at least left scratching their heads.

Some people will say we have a people problem here.  Really?  The system was built to entrap and this person didn’t know how to deal with the variety.  I don’t know why the system entrapped the waiter, could be they have had shrinkage in the celery inventory or other areas or some management dictate that all orders have to be in the computer would probably be my first guesses.  But I am sure there was something in the system that didn’t allow me to get my "extra" celery (what we refer to as system conditions) and the individual was following orders that conflicted with my demand.

Standardization in service as a place to start is misplaced.  Organizations "saving money" may be losing customers or may be promoting other dysfunctional activities that add costs.  We believe a better "systems thinking" way is to understand customer demand by going to the work and finding out "what matters" to the customer and designing a system against demand.  Don’t you?

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from "Understanding Your Organization as a System" and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at or LinkedIn at

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