The vanilla ice cream story at General Motors

In the lead up to the “new financial year” well at least the one that accountants keenly celebrate, I thought it might be time appropriate to share a real story of what happened between a customer of General Motors and its Customer-Care team.


This story was one I shared with a client just last week where we were debating the characteristics of “lateral” and “logical” thinkers and which one they needed most in their team moving forward.   Not only is it a good example of lateral thinking but it is also very relevant for the company I co-found and run – Schedullo.

This is a real story that happened between the customer of General Motors and its Customer-Care Executive…

A complaint was received by the Pontiac Division of General Motors:
‘This is the second time I have written to you, and I don’t blame you for not answering me, because I sounded crazy, but it is a fact that we have a tradition in our family of Ice-Cream for dessert after dinner each night, but the kind of ice cream varies so, every night, after we’ve eaten, the whole family votes on which kind of ice cream we should have and I drive down to the store to get it. It’s also a fact that I recently purchased a new Pontiac and since then my trips to the store have created a problem….

 


You see, every time I buy a vanilla ice-cream, when I start back from the store my car won’t start. If I get any other kind of ice cream, the car starts just fine. I want you to know I’m serious about this question, no matter how silly it sounds “What is there about a Pontiac that makes it not start when I get vanilla ice cream, and easy to start whenever I get any other kind?” The Pontiac President was understandably sceptical about the letter, but sent an Engineer to check it out anyway.

The latter was surprised to be greeted by a successful, obviously well-educated man in a fine neighbourhood. He had arranged to meet the man just after dinner time, so the two hopped into the car and drove to the ice cream store. It was vanilla ice cream that night and, sure enough, after they came back to the car, it wouldn’t start.

The Engineer returned for three more nights. The first night, they got chocolate. The car started. The second night, he got strawberry. The car started. The third night he ordered vanilla. The car failed to start.

Now the engineer, being a logical man, refused to believe that this man’s car was allergic to vanilla ice cream. He arranged, therefore, to continue his visits for as long as it took to solve the problem. And toward this end he began to take notes: He jotted down all sorts of data: time of day, type of gas uses, time to drive back and forth etc.

In a short time, he had a clue: the man took less time to buy vanilla than any other flavour. Why? The answer was in the layout of the store. Vanilla, being the most popular flavour, was in a separate case at the front of the store for quick pickup. All the other flavors were kept in the back of the store at a different counter where it took considerably longer to check out the flavour.

Now, the question for the Engineer was why the car wouldn’t start when it took less time. Eureka – Time was now the problem – not the vanilla ice cream!!!! The engineer quickly came up with the answer: “vapor lock”.

It was happening every night; but the extra time taken to get the other flavours allowed the engine to cool down sufficiently to start. When the man got vanilla, the engine was still too hot for the vapor lock to dissipate!!!

 

As we head into the “new financial year” if you feel you may have been looking at your firm/team/individual issues as being “ice cream related” in the past and want to cast a new eye over the problem of “time” – give us a shout or take a look at our website.  Schedullo has been designed by a group of professional service providers with professional service providers front of mind.

Kate Blecich – co-founder of Schedullo