Old Faithful and Reliability

Old Faithful is a geyser located in Yellowstone National Park, USA. It gets its name because it regularly shoots steam and water to great heights. In fact, with a margin of error of 10 minutes, Old Faithful will erupt either every 65 or every 91 minutes, depending on the length of the previous eruption. It’s been doing this since 1870.

While most of us who endeavor to be Trusted Advisors would probably prefer not to be associated with a “geyser” (myself included), there’s something we can all learn from this phenomenon of nature.

Reliability: The Good News/Bad News

Of the 12,000+ people who have completed our online Trust Quotient™ survey to date, Reliability comes out 16 percentage points higher than any of the other three elements of the Trust Equation. This isn’t really surprising, given that Reliability is the easiest to grasp and execute. Reliability is logical, concrete, and action-oriented.

The bad news is we’re not as good as we think.

Case in point: I’m always interested to see how participants in our programs handle the pre-work assignment we send via email a couple of weeks before the program begins. Responses are due to be emailed back within a week. It takes 10 – 20 minutes to complete the work. People generally fall into one of three categories:

  • Turn it in late with no acknowledgement (slightly more than half)
  • Never turn it in (some)
  • Turn it in on time (very few)

So while Reliability seems like a “slam dunk” in the world of trustworthiness, there’s room for us all to improve. (And by the way, I am no exception, witness how I’ve been doing lately on my goal of writing one blog post per week.)

The Road to Being More Reliably Reliable

Generally, people experience you as reliable when:

  •  You feel familiar to them. They’re at ease with you. They have a good sense of who you are and feel they know you. You use their terminology and templates. You establish routines in your relationships (regular meetings, emails, etc.). You dress appropriately.
  • You are consistent and predictable. People know what to expect from you, and they get it. You set expectations up front and report on them regularly. You are rigorous about using good business practices, such as meeting agenda and notes. You make lots of small promises and consistently follow through. They can count on you to be the same person at all times, and the same to all people.
  • You work to make sure there are no surprises when you’re around. You use others’ vocabulary and respect and reflect their norms and environment. You make sure that their expectations of you are consistent. You produce documentation of consistent quality and create deliverables with a consistent look and feel.
  • You do what you say you will do. You keep and deliver on your promises, and see keeping your word as a matter of personal integrity. When you are unable to fulfill on a promise, you immediately get in communication to acknowledge the impact and reset expectations.

Reliability is Reliability is Reliability

Here’s the rub: Consistency matters. If you apply these best practices more with your clients and less with, say, your Trusted Advisor instructor … then your reliability score suffers.

Perfection is not the goal here; impeccability is (See Impeccability vs. Perfection: Who’s Got Your Back?). There’s always room for error and for our humanity. When it comes to trust, what matters is being rigorously self-aware, transparent about our strengths and weaknesses, and willing to hold ourselves to higher and higher standards of execution.

Writing this post was one action I chose to boost my own Reliability today. What’s yours?

Beta Software You Can’t Trust

The other day I decided to offer credit card payment capability.  I quickly narrowed it down to two choices—JPMorgan Chase, and PayPal.

Chase was professional and comprehensive, but required me to fill out forms, fax them in, then phone someone a day later. Uh uh, not me.

PayPal offered a cool online menu for creating customized Outlook-generated email with embedded credit card payment links.

I went with PayPal. Then the fun started.

Let’s just say it didn’t work.  I called PayPal tech support.

“Oh yeah, I see. Hmm, you’re right, it doesn’t work. Well, that’s beta software, and we really don’t support it.”
“If you don’t support it—why do you offer it on your website?”
“Well, some people like it. But it’s beta, we really don’t support it.”

Now, I like PayPal.  It’s a business I’d like to see succeed.  Nice technology.  Nice people, good customer service manners, cool techies.

But the end result—in this case—is flakey. Doesn’t work. Undependable.  Can’t rely on it. Untrustworthy in that sense.

And the big sin?  They think it’s OK!  After all, it’s just beta!  What do you expect?

Increasingly, I expect it to work.

PayPal is not alone.  I remember discovering Plaxo, one of the early contact management software updating programs, and thinking, “what a great idea.”  It was being offered in beta test format.

I tried it.  Spent hours on it.  Pissed off several friends.  I called to complain, and the nice/service-oriented/tech-savvy person offered me a free year if I’d come back in a month and try their update.

I did.  It was not updated enough.  I left them, and now here I am saying bad things about them online.  They blew two chances with me, and thought it was OK!

I think it started with Netscape. In its early days, academics and gurus were raving about this new business model that allowed customers to actually contribute to the design. User-friendly! Cutting-edge!

True. But also flakey. Undependable. Untrustworthy.  But they thought it was OK!

I’d be interested in hearing from others, but for my money, the trend has gone way past the equilibrium point. 

I don’t want to help design some trivial widget—I just want the stupid thing to work.

And I certainly don’t want to contribute to testing something I’m going to be depending on—like payment systems, Outlook add-ins, printer driver updates, data converter programs.

The tweaks just ain’t worth it. Dependability is worth it.

We are well past the invention of major new categories. We are into the ability to trust things like we used to trust dial-tone. That is to say, we want 99.9% dependability.  But too many developers still think selling mediocrity-in-progress is OK!

The new killer app isn’t email.  It’s dependability.  Software producers, you’re on notice.  I’m quite happy to pay full retail for a working product; I’m not falling for anymore “get it first” or shareware-priced new software.

I want software I can trust. Software that works.  I’ll pay good money for it.

But I’m done paying you money for the privilege of debugging your marginally-interesting flakeware.

Do your own damn beta.  It’s not OK by me anymore.