Good, Fast, and Cheap

Just last month, a colleague shared an old saw commonly cited by manufacturers. “I like to tell customers,” she said, “we can make it good, we can make it fast, and we can make it cheap – pick any two.”

Aphorisms, like this one, are memorable partly because they are pithy, partly because they are delightfully clever, and partly because they are true – or in this case, they were true when they were coined. The problem with the “Good, Fast, Cheap” aphorism, you see, is that technology has made the impossible doable. And that has changed customers’ expectations. So, while it once sufficed to assert that things made quickly and cheaply were not made well and could not be “good,” that distinction no longer withstands scrutiny.

But it’s not just false in manufacturing, it’s false in customer service, sales, human resources, and finance, as well. Accounting and HR software have improved accuracy, lowered cost, and radically cut wait times. Social media has facilitated the complaint and escalation processes for customers, while simultaneously enabling service representatives to acknowledge and address concerns in real time. And e-commerce has lowered selling costs and shortened buying cycles for providers, while speeding the research and acquisition processes for buyers. Homeowners can even receive financing approvals while touring a prospective home.

In fact, advances in technology have already made some jobs obsolete, and many more jobs lie in its kill-path.

So before we get snarky with our customers, it may be wise to reconsider our assumptions. Particularly this one. Today’s customers can find exactly what they want, when they want it, at a price they’re willing (if not eager) to pay. And if they can’t go through you to get it, they’ll simply go around you.