Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Car That Hated Vanilla Ice Cream.

Here’s an interesting article I found on the web that gives a wonderful example of how open-minded and creative thinking can help you find solutions in even the most bizarre situations. This is a brilliant example for customer service reps that shows how even when a customer makes an outrageous complaint there may be a grain of truth in it.

The great part is that although it took logical and rational thinking to solve the problem, it also took a willingness to suspend disbelief to find the truth of the situation.

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

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 skeptical 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 neighborhood. 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 flavor. Why? The answer was in the layout of the store. Vanilla, being the most popular flavor, 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 flavor.

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 flavors 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.

What a gift flexible thinking and an open mind can be! Next time you have a problem that seems to have no solution, remember this story and look at it again. There’s an answer there somewhere, if you know how to look.

To help you creatively solve your problems read the wonderful book “A Whack on the Side of the Head,” by Roger von Oech, and check out his web site here. This book made a huge difference in my thinking, and its 25th anniversary edition is coming out in May 2008. I’d also like to thank Naveen’s Journal where this great article originated.


jen x said...

I LOVE "Whack on the Side of the Head." A friend gave me von Oech's "Creative Whack Pack" (the cards) a few years ago; I use them whenever I get stuck on a problem or a situation. Plus I like that when one click's Roger's photo on the web site, it reveals a creative whack from the deck :-). BTW, I posted on the other blog too: I finally got around to posting my Thursday 13 Things for blogs I like, including yours of course. It's at Daily Mitzvah. Keep up the good work!

funspirit said...

Thanks Jen!
I love that book - it really changed my way of thinking. I made my own "Whack Pack" by copying his creative whacks on to different colors of paper and putting it into a folder as my own personal creativity book. It works great!