Some members of the Sunfu Solutions team just got back from New York city to attend to meetings, and incidentally to listen to talks of innovators like Ed Catmul (PIXAR) and Sophia Amoruso (Nasty Gal); Paul Offit (co-inventor of the retrovirus vaccine) and Angie McAllister (instructional designer). Out of curiosity about an anime film (The Wind Rises by legendary Hayao Miyazki), the group went to Chelsea Clearview Cinema on West 23rd Street. It is, so far, the highest grossing film, ever, in Japan. The film, fictionalized, is about an actual engineer /designer of planes that were used by the Japanese Empire in World War II. This blog entry is not a film review, though we loved the film when we eventually saw it: but at that time in New York, after checking the internet of the cinema that it was showing that day in the said theater, we found out it had been cancelled due to the Tribecca Film Festival, and no doubt, due as well to low ticket sales. Americans, like Filipinos, are notoriously averse to watching anything that requires reading the translation of a foreign-language dialogue. Without any prodding, the movie theater manager pulled out four complimentary tickets that we can use in any of their theaters to make up for the inconvenience we encountered going out of the way to see a movie that should have been there, announced as there in their website. We left and just took a walk around the City, feeling sad, even disappointed, but not at all angry.
Two weeks later, the same guy who took us to the Chelsea Clearview Cinema checked the Ayala Malls Cinema website, and clearly it said The Grand Budapest Hotel was still showing in their theaters, with the schedules posted there for our convenience. At the long line, we could already tell from the billboard that only Spiderman was showing in all its theaters. For the second time the group was going to see a movie, in a span of just two weeks, we once again meet a failure to update the company website and an unexpected cancellation of a movie. Talk about the website or internet not being able to catch up fast enough with reality. We asked the woman in the ticket booth about the movie, and she said it was already cancelled. She didn’t even look at us when she answered. The youngest member of our group said: “Wow, free tickets.” To which our company General Manager said: “This is not New York city.” The experience also tells us a lot, we think, about capitalism USA where, in spite of its incredible problems (at the same level of the problems here in the Philippines, only differences in emphasis as to where the problems are prevalent or deadly), competition and litigation and, yes, maybe education, have made many companies much more customer and service-oriented. Imagine, the Manila theater is owned by Ayala Corporation, certainly one of the biggest companies in the Philippines, no doubt a Goliath compared to the Chelsea Clearview Cinema (currently owned by a family in the stage/theater business for four generations already). Ayala could not even have a policy of having those manning their ticketing booths apologize for the incredible inconvenience they caused us, as we had to brave traffic from our Ortigas office to Makati.
Yet, when we went down to the mall’s concierge to ask if there are any other theaters nearby, the photo below says it all (click photo): since closing time is near, 9PM, the people at the desk hurriedly left with only one still manning the place as she fixes her hair, but ready to run off as soon as possible. Look closely at the telephone on the table: I asked the woman if they always left the phone hanging when closing time was near, so that there would no longer be any incoming calls. She just gave me a big smile, no answer, and she literally walked off hurriedly out of the place. Ayala, until the rise of the SM group, had a monopoly of high end shopping in the Philippines, and now PureGold, is challenging SM in its monopoly in the supermarket chain part of the business. PureGold is described by some in business circles as squeezing suppliers dry, but many are still thankful someone is finally challenging SM. Much as ruthless competition kills, monopolies no doubt can be equally deadly. We have been critical of Ayala due to our experience with BPI (banking) and Globe (telecommunications), and we implied that on our blog post on what we think of Harvard Business School and management gurus (we however did not mention BPI by name in that blog entry), but this time, at the risk of earning the ire of a few Ayala executives, we call them out to improve their sense of service, and not just rely on their massive war chest to compete on the basis of size, glitz, and glib. It is still the best way to retain customer loyalty. Sunfu Solutions, Inc. must learn from this experience, and be reminded of this experience every day: that the user (UX) or customer experience is largely, still, what it’s all about.