How the default mode can kill a business

Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

IN psychology, a default mode is what you get if you accept everything the seller is offering: “Here’s our product or service at this price. Take it or leave it.”

This happened to me thrice in a row this past week with people who talk like they’re all robots.

Situation One: I was looking for a professional emcee to host my 4-hour public seminar until I checked on a referral by someone who offered to do it at six thousand pesos. I checked her profile on the social media and found it in order – at least it shows a semblance of professionalism. I accepted the offer.

However, two working days before the event, she sent me a formal contract requiring me to agree on certain terms that were not discussed and agreed during the negotiation. These included the down payment, tax surcharge, parking provision, meals and an accommodation for one assistant.

While they appeared reasonable, the tax surcharge and accommodation for additional personnel were not. If you’ve an on-the-job trainee, then why are you charging it to me, I wondered. Really, what I asked her was: “How flexible are you?”

No, she’s not flexible even if the deal is a meager five-hundred peso deal to put in the extreme. Ooops!

She lost the deal, but not before me unleashing a mini lecture on good governance. She should have told me about all the possible terms before, but not after we’ve agreed on the price. Her reason was that the industry is populated by con artists and that the contract would help minimize, if not eradicate, the problem. “Errr, are you saying that I’m a potential character from the underworld? Sorry Miss, I can’t accept that argument and I can’t be a part of your tax avoidance scheme.” Double oops!

Situation Two: With more than one hour to spare prior to a business appointment, I walked into a nearby office that offers outsourcing services. The receptionist walked me through their office as if I was a new employee being ushered into a medium-size room with some carton boxes. A fat woman in her mid-30s came, greeted me without shaking my hand and without offering her business card. Her mood was evident in her weak, toothless smile, which according to my body-language reading wife, — is actually a smirk.

Orca, the killer whale wasted no time in emitting sound waves of a memorized 3-minute sales pitch.

“I’m sorry, Miss! But that’s not what I wanted. Listen carefully. Specifically, can you do projects A and B?” The woman looked at me directly into my aging, bulging eyes and said something: “Oh my goodness! Why did you not tell me right away, Sir?” she said in mild exasperation. I thought she would hit me with her fat-enriched palm.

“OK, Sir! I will send you a proposal by email this afternoon.” Now, three days have elapsed and still…there is no proposal. Is Miss Orca being preoccupied with her oversized diet?

Situation Three: In a restaurant offering Japanese cuisine, I raised my hand to a 40-something man who looked like the manager because he was displaying an akimbo and wearing a uniform distinct from all others — he’s not wearing a funny hat. I wasted no time complaining about the high salt content of their beef bowl.

“I’m sorry, Sir. That’s our signature dish that contains our standard ingredients. We spent several years of market research in Japan to perfect the recipe. Sir, how can we make a mistake? Can you tell it to me, Sir?”
Well, at least in Situations Two and Three, they addressed me with a salutation “Sir” so many times even if I haven’t received my knighthood yet from Queen Elizabeth.

Joking aside, every encounter between a business organization and its customers would normally fall into a take it or leave it framework. But there’s hope. The enemy of the Default Mode is mass customization as exemplified by Dell Computers known for its strategy of meeting varied, different customer requirements because it has no inventory to force sell to customers.

It has no reason to empty its warehouse, because it has no warehouse to talk about in the first place. It relies much on the pull system of customers and delivers just-in-time from the suppliers direct to the customers — the way they like it best – topnotch quality, at the most reasonable price, and delivered in about five days or less.

I don’t mean to create the impression that any problem created by a default system can be solved exclusively by mass customization. God knows there’s plenty to talk about when it comes to solutions, but if only the manufacturers and service providers would regularly clean their ears.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in HR and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts.


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