This intriguing case study delves into a seemingly bizarre issue involving a new car, a nightly ice cream run, and an unexpected conundrum. Presented with a customer’s claim that his car refuses to start only after purchasing vanilla ice cream, General Motors faces a curious puzzle. This narrative explores the fascinating journey of investigation and problem-solving, demonstrating how correlation does not necessarily imply causation and why a strategic, data-driven approach to problem-solving is vital. I expect to uncover how a deep dive into system analysis can lead to unexpected revelations and solutions. This story is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand better the importance of critical thinking and customer service dedication in the face of puzzling circumstances. 

More importantly for us at Skyscape and anyone who deals with a product or service, this insightful tale resonates strongly with our relentless pursuit of providing the best possible customer experience. We take immense pride in enabling our clients to succeed in their passion for patient care, understanding that every challenge met is a step closer to excellence in healthcare.

The Scoop Behind the Ignition Mystery

This tale, though a touch on the whimsical side, begins with the executives at General Motors (GM) receiving a customer complaint about his newly acquired car. Wait a minute; I hear you say, “What’s up with the car companies again?” Yup. I wrote about “Faster Horses or Flying Cars: Reimagining Henry Ford’s Tryst with ChatGPT.” Indulge me again; buckle up and enjoy this ride as I shift gears from Ford to GM!

The complaint read: ‘This is the second time I have written to you, and I don’t blame you for not replying to 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. I noticed that whenever I buy a vanilla ice cream when I return from the store, my car won’t start. If I get any other flavor 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. I recently purchased a brand new Pontiac, and since then, my trips to the store have created a problem.

Looney as it may seem, this mystery was about to unfold into a lesson in persistence, analytics, and how one should never underestimate the value of a good look under the hood. The journey from a wild claim to a logical solution is as engaging as instructive. 

Shall we delve into the details?

So this customer, let’s call him Fred, haunted the GM headquarters with a peculiar problem: his car refused to start whenever he bought vanilla ice cream. As Fred tells it (and remember, this was not the Uber Eats era):

“In our family, I’m designated to buy ice cream after dinner. We vote on the flavor, and then I drive to the store. But bizarrely, if I buy vanilla, my Pontiac refuses to start. Any other flavor and it starts without a hitch. Why does my car dislike vanilla ice cream?”

Time to pause. Where should one start? What’s your educated guess? What more information would help you nail it down? But before we dig deeper, let me share why I wanted to dig up this old story in the first place and what it has to do with the Digital Age.

Scraping the Bottom of the Bucket to Get the Scoop

I recalled this ice cream story from years back, long before online forums and WhatsApp groups became a go-to for quirky tales. The memory wasn’t random; it resurfaced because it resonates deeply with our unwavering focus on customer success. At Skyscape, we don’t just provide support; we obsess over every detail, every question, every unique situation that our customers encounter. Through our ‘Buzz Concierge,’ monitored 24×7 by our dedicated multidisciplinary team, we commit ourselves to providing more than just a service. It’s a relentless pursuit of excellence, even when faced with questions that baffle the best of us. More on that later, but for now, understand that, like scraping the bottom of the ice cream bucket to get the last satisfying scoop, we dig deep to ensure our customers’ success, no matter how unconventional or challenging the path may be.

So just like the GM executives in the story, we instruct our team members to dig deeper when they encounter a situation that often feels like a ‘user error.’

Back to Fred and his Car’s Vanilla Ice Cream Allergy

They asked Fred to record his next four ice cream runs. Fred’s logs revealed that vanilla caused the car not to start, while other flavors did not.

GM further instructed Fred to track details like the time of day, fuel type, outside temperature, drive time, flavor selected, and car start status.

What’s Your Revised Theory Now?

Executives decided to persevere and dispatch an engineer to probe deeper. The engineer found that vanilla, being popular, was easily accessible at the store’s front, thus needing less time, while other flavors required a longer wait.

The discovery led to the real issue: the time it took to buy the ice cream. When Fred bought vanilla quickly, the engine was still too hot to restart due to vapor lock, a common occurrence in older cars without fuel injection. Longer waits for other flavors allowed the engine to cool down and thus start normally, solving the mystery.

Here’s the Takeaway!

Don’t jump to conclusions. Analyze, seek data, refine hypotheses, test, and either confirm the solution, else rinse and repeat.

Avoid mixing up correlation with causation. Just because buying vanilla ice cream correlated with the car not starting doesn’t mean the purchase of vanilla ice cream caused the vehicle to stall. (Note: another analogy to this would be, staying with the theme, the correlation between increased ice cream sales and drowning incidents; it doesn’t mean ice cream sales cause drownings; instead, the answer might be the hot weather, it increases both swimming and ice cream consumption!)

The “So What”

The tale of the vanilla ice cream and the unstartable car is more than a quirky anecdote. It is a powerful lesson in problem-solving, critical thinking, and customer service dedication. By refusing to dismiss a seemingly absurd claim, General Motors unraveled a genuine issue through meticulous analysis, but the crux involves chasing higher data quality

As the complexity of technology increases and AI is being thrown as a miracle to solve many problems, there is a greater need to scrub the data to get the cleanest training data possible.

And Finally, the Customer Satisfaction in Healthcare

And since we are discussing customer satisfaction, let’s not forget patient outcomes and patient satisfaction (both are correlated but do not always necessarily have a cause-effect relationship). 

Dr. W. Edwards Deming was an American engineer, statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and consultant. He was well-known for his work in quality control and management, and some of his principles speak well on how to emphasize patient satisfaction:

Systems Thinking: Patient satisfaction is not the result of isolated actions but a complex system where every part must work harmoniously. Instead of relying on individuals, the entire process must consider the interconnected organization.

Cooperation and Collaboration: Teamwork and collaboration are at the heart of Deming’s philosophy. We foster an environment where everyone, from frontline staff to leadership, works together with a shared vision. 

As I mentioned earlier, with our collaboration platform, Buzz, we don’t just preach the virtues of our product; we live them. We use Buzz internally, placing ourselves in our customer’s shoes to truly understand their experiences and needs. This hands-on approach ensures that we are not just marketing a theoretical solution but offering a tool that we know, trust, and use ourselves. It’s our way of ensuring alignment between what we promise and what we deliver, creating a cohesive and authentic experience that we are proud to offer to our customers.

In summary, approach problem-solving strategically, systematically and intelligently, and remember, the flavor of your ice cream shouldn’t affect whether your car starts or not!