The Rate of Return on a Sandwich

I was recently reading an article that was talking about ways to cut costs that were so incremental that no one really had noticed but had a large effect on the bottom line. The article in particular said that in 1987 an airline removed 1 out of 4 olives from the salad which its first class passengers frequently enjoyed. This cost savings amounted to around $100,000 per year. This got me to think about how you could leverage business engagement activities in small ways to over a coffee or lunch to mirror this type of success.

Let’s assume for a minute that we want to improve our business relationships. One of the key things we first want to look at is how we are aligned internally as an IT unit. Are we cohesive enough to understand what activities we are performing to provide the business outcomes that our customers require. Before we get ahead of ourselves we should ensure that our own IT activities are aligned to achieve what the business outcomes are. Sometimes, but not always, IT tends to focus on the work at hand and complete tasks in their own silos which may not quite get us the entire distance.

Once we have alignment (and it’s an ongoing activity in its own right) we can really focus on how we can help the business achieve their goals. In some organizations they may have the “Top 5” goals for the year posted on a wall or a intranet site, but what we need to better understand is from the customers perspective how are we going to be able to help them do that. The answer is we ask them.

Spending time with the customers to see what is working well and what is not is key to achieving this goal. We may have made several assumptions on what we think the customer wants without even spending the time to find out from them. This activity may be as simple as quick coffee, elevator chat, visit of a team meeting, etc.

I can already hear some of the “yeah buts” so to dispel with a few I will run through the list of what typically pops up as an excuse:


  1. I am too busy
  2. Where do I start
  3. Isn’t this something senior leaders are already doing
  4. Maybe the customers are too busy


Here are some answers to the above

  1. I am too busy

Everyone is busy, but let’s suppose that without soliciting information or having customer insight you find out down the road that the requirements that you had put together or were delivering / supporting were incorrect and had to be reworked. Would that few moments in time have saved you all the rework?

  1. Where do I start?

This can be daunting, but everyone in a support role has some sort of key into the customer base. Leverage those connections to make others. Relationship building isn’t a one person activity, if your entire department takes it upon themselves to reach out to you will be able to cover off more ground than you can imagine. Document any important information about the business workings you discover and share them with your team as well. Knowledge is power they say.

  1. Isn’t this something senior leaders are already doing

They might be, but you then have to wonder if there a disconnect between IT and leadership similar to you and your customer, after all they are customer too. Talk with your IT leader to see what connections are happening and then challenge your leader to keep you as informed as you can be.

  1. Maybe the customers are too busy

Again, everyone is busy but if you engage with the business in terms of helping them to make their customer experience as positive as possible they won’t mind spending a few minutes to help you help them. Even if they are satisfied with the service, providing what is working back to your IT support team is a step in the right direction.

It would be interesting to see what initiatives are started over something as simple as a coffee or sandwich and what returns can be made on the simplest investment of time on your customer experience and bottom line.


Let me know what experiences you have had, what has worked or not so much


2 thoughts on “The Rate of Return on a Sandwich”

  1. The largest block I notice (and one you pointed out) is the disconnect between the various levels of hierarchy in an organization. Its all a very complex version of the "three's company" dynamic playing its self out.

    What I mean by this is everyone proceeds with a locked down view of what should be done which has an operational knock-on effect. Service delivery pain for the most part is caused by the lack of a comprehensive vision of service that is ultimately linked to the end benefactor (the paying customer outside the wall). If the vision is there then its not being communicated effectively enough where the ALL the contributors can see their contribution to the big picture.

    Service delivery management outside IT is typically much better in my opinion. Look at airlines and the delivery of service they provide in moving people around. Because the cost of infrastructure is so costly and the market return is relatively low they are forced to move into an operating culture of providing the best service at the lowest operating cost or they simply go out of business. But… go into their IT departments and its a completely different story with lack of alignment and lack of trust causing fiefdoms to appear which eventually lead to waste.

    If this is true across most industries and organizations (and I believe it is) then the answer lies in studying the differences between the two groups (inside and outside IT). In doing so keeping in mind that the operating culture outside is going to be the teacher and the IT culture is going to be the student.

    *An important note is that both operating groups have very different people in them. With this in mind you have to communicate to that profile of person or you won’t be heard.

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