The dark side of low prices

I spent over an frustrating hour on the phone yesterday with Bank Of America and Paypal trying to sort out what a charge that was showing up on my credit card. All of $4,200.00. So nothing small. It turned out that it was correct, but the description was so incorrect that it was impossible for me to figure out just from reading the statement. I know we’ve all been there.

During this fiasco I spoke to five different people, earned myself a $25 Amazon gift certificate to ‘apologize’ for the bad service (Is that all my time is worth?), was on infinite hold (15 minutes+) waiting for a ‘supervisor’ – twice. Anyway I won’t go into the blow by blow because it’s boring and stressful to recount.

My point. We are getting what we pay for. Whether it is banking or airplanes or health insurance or telephone or cable. We have set up a world where competitors fight to the death to meet the one metric we have or care about, and that’s price. The cheapest wins. And so the competitors fight to the death to give us the cheapest service which means the worse service. We don’t (or can’t reward) vendors for good service and so that goes out the window. 

Minimally trained ‘screeners’, forcing you to explain your problem before being given to a live agent (if at all), being subjected to advertisements while on hold, multiple and inconclusive transfers to another department, confusing bills and all that. 

We are getting what we asked for.

Mark Twain: All Ideas are Second-Hand

I have often been heard to say: “Ideas are Cheap”, by which I mean to say that my admiration goes more with the implementation, the making real and tangible, of an idea than the idea itself. It’s much easier to come up with something that would be cool and useful (“A solar powered ambulance”, “a retractable and reusable parachute”, “email on steroids”) than actually design it, build it, realize it. 

I believe that as much about my own ideas as about anyone else’s. BlogBridge was supposed to be “an RSS reader done right”.

I have a few wonderful ideas for new products, like “Twittepedia” which is an encyclopedia with 140 character definitions. Wouldn’t it be nice not to be able to learn what “geometry”, or “racisim” or “bernoulli effect” are without having to read a 10,000 words wikipedia article? 

There, I just gave it away. Why? Because ideas are cheap, and building that service and making it successful is what really counts.

As it turns out, Mark Twain had the same idea. So you see, even the idea that Ideas Are Cheap is itself cheap. How meta.

This is from Mark Twain’s Letters, Volume 2 via Brain Pickings:

“…or substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing…

… in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing — and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that….”