Are business school values bad for business?

Look around your own organization, or the businesses you interact with most, and ask yourself: has this gone too far? arebusiness school values becoming a hazard to your business? your industry? your country?

Several months ago I tried to buy the Solaris 10 media kit from the Sun web store but it refused to complete the sale because I'm Canadian. So I tried calling the 800 number for what used to be Sun Canada's sales desk. That didn't turn out well; in fact, things really started to go downhill about the second or third time I had to explain to yet another non English speaker that Yes, Solaris is a Sun product - and that was after getting past some people who thought a three-week credit review a requirement for a $50 VISA purchase.

A couple of weeks ago, however, Sun announced a global special offer - the full CD/DVD media kit for Solaris 10. So I ordered it using their handy on-line form.

After paying for the product, you're asked to complete an "entitlement" page - I've no idea what that's about, but I did try to complete the thing only to discover: first, that it manages to combine almost every element of bad design known; second, that it's incomplete; and third, that it fails to process.

In two notes to them I pointed out that:

  1. the form would not complete;
  2. one question requires that the user put a "0" in fields that don't apply;
  3. the error message did not fit the apparent problem.

In addition I pointed out that their list of "States and Provinces" didn't include the Canadian provinces and provided a list with abbreviations.

So what did I get back?


Dear Sun customer,

You have reached the department that handles order status and other general inquiries regarding the Sun Download Center. Complaints and suggestions for improvement should be submitted via the "Contact Us" Web page located at the following URL:

This will ensure that your comments are directed to the appropriate department and that any needed changes may be implemented.


Sun Customer Service Specialist

After getting over my first reaction at being sent a canned FO and D message for trying to be helpful, I realized something: "Kay" is probably an over stressed call center employee in some third world country who doesn't work for Sun and feels exactly the loyalty to Sun that the company deserves for outsourcing the role.

And that's a very widespread problem. Take almost any business, do your classic MBA-style, nickel-and-dime focused analysis on it, and the customer service component that distinguishes value delivery from order fulfillment takes it in the neck.

Go to Denny's and you get exactly what you pay for, but that doesn't include either good food or community. What you get is acceptable food, with acceptable service, in acceptably clean surroundings -- and you can't tell a Denny's in Calgary from one in Dallas. On the positive side, they'll never serve you a bad cup of coffee -- but you'll never get a good one either. Sometimes I think professionalism in management is measured by how close you can come to sustained mediocrity without losing all of your customers.

Go the La Vielle Auberge in Rockwood, The Mill in Edmonton, or any of thousands of owner-managed restaurants around the country and what you get is the exact opposite -- personal service, unpredictable (but usually high) quality, and a strong sense of community.

Talk to the people on Sun's R&D side and you see pride, commitment, integrity, and a sense of community at work - the way things ought to be. Talk to much of their customer-facing organization and what you get is what's left after someone has cranked the numbers to hire people with limited skills, no commitment, and no sense of community to deliver the most proceduralized "service" possible.

Look around your own organization, or the businesses you interact with most, and ask yourself: Has this gone too far? Are business school values becoming a hazard to your business? Your industry? Your country?