Sunday, September 26, 2010

Forecasts Explained

Here's the scene.  My oldest daughter and I are in the only open check-out line at a Bob's Store.  Four items in hand.  Second in line.  One young lady behind us with one item to buy.

Customer #1, checking-out in front of us, is having trouble of some sort so another cashier appears and says, "I'll take the next in line."

The young lady behind us has the inside angle on the new cashier, steps in front of us, and drops her item on the counter.

Me, I can't let it alone.  "Excuse me," I say, "but I think we were next in line."  (Oldest daughter slightly aghast.)

Young lady: "No, I was next in line."

I call this "The Clinton Defense": Tell a complete lie with enough authority and conviction and some people will believe.  But not me.

Me: "I'm sorry.  There were three of us in line and you were third.  We were second.  That makes us 'Next in line.'"

Young lady doesn't even flinch: "But I only have one item and you have four."  Perfectly logical change of course.  Doesn't even try to defend her first lie. Continues check-out process and thinks the conversation is over.  Not a chance; we have three children and I'm onto her tricks.

Me: "So you're going to cut in front of us and check out, and then you're going to feel badly all day."  OK; not my best ploy, but all I could come up with at the time.

Cashier looks at both of us: "What do you want to do?"

Young lady, looking apologetic: "Sorry, I was just confused."

Me, resistant to being wrapped around fingers (mostly), and now bordering on the jerk: "Yes, it was a really confusing situation."  Ha.

Young lady, defeated by my superior logic and wilting sarcasm: "OK, why don't you go ahead."

Now, finally, I can be the gentleman my mother thought she raised: "That's ok," I say, "you only have one item so you go ahead."

Troops on both sides of the border stand-down.  D├ętente is restored.  Perestroika resumes.

Now for the rest of the story: The tag is missing on the young lady's item so that requires lengthy research.  Then, she cannot remember her Bob's number; she's not even sure what name it's under.  Finally, she's trying to use a coupon that the system won't accept; we locate a supervisor and discover the coupon isn't active until the next day.

By now, of course, the first cashier is open and we're called over for check-out.   We exit the store before the aforesaid young lady.

On the drive home it occurs to me that I really, truly need to chill a little.  Then it occurs to me that I have just stumbled upon: A Real Customer.

I've prepared or reviewed a million forecasts in my life and a billion spreadsheets with a zillion customers.  All of my projected customers are rational.  All of them are fair-minded.  None of them cut in line.  None of them forget their Bob's number.  None of them use their discount coupon a day early.  Not a one of them is ever confused.

That might explain some of the forecasts I've seen.