It begins with a little unimportant event. I was at Washington Ronald Reagan airport, having a Delta flight to Boston.
Being a Air France platinium, I used to have access to the lounge in the US, Delta being a member of sky team. I therefore thought that I could step in, even with my french card.
The lady at the entrance swipes my card, and the computer refuses the access. The reason being that I must be either on an international flight, or on a domestic flight connecting the same day to an international flight. Rules have changed since last time I flew on a US domestic flight, at that time they would let me in the lounge.
As I did not know, I started being angry, telling them that the rules are in contradiction with the french web site, eventually asking to see the manager. An old lady arrives.
The lady swipes the card, looks at the computer, and says “sorry sir, you cannot access”. Nothing new.
Then happens a series of “funny” exchanges.
“Your computer is in contradiction with Airfrance” say I
“I do not care” says the lady, “I follow what my computer says”
“If you follow the computer, what is your added value” I ask
“Sir, I must follow the computer”
“If you say this, it means that you have no intelligence, no sensitivity. You just repeat what the computer says, you then are a machine”
“Sir, I am not a machine”
“Then let me in”
“So, you prefer to follow the machine rather than making a customer happy ?”
“I want to make all my customer happy”
“So let me in”
“No Sir, I am sorry”
“You are not sorry, you just pretend; your words sound fake”
“Sir I am sorry”
Etc… I was suddendly even not sure she was the manager, she may have been a comedian just hired to manage situation with angry french customer !
Of course, this poor lady was a machine. But it was not her fault, I can even imagine she was not happy to react the way she had to. I realized she had a hierarchy above her who priviledge the rules rather than customer satisfaction, and that she had to strictly obey the rules. Even worst, she could have been trapped by her manager into a double bind : “make your customer happy, but follow the rules”. But I was also thinking how employees at Apple store have much more liberty to manage customer relationship.
The industrial world has rationalized the production, by creating assembly lines, where everyone had to follow the process, and follow the rules, period.
Then came the age of knowledge workers. But the traditional managment applied the same method, whether you are a knowledge worker or not. And it leads to such situations. Everybody who needs to talk with with the hotline of telecommunication operator, an airline, a bank, knows it : customer service is just awfull, inhuman, based on process, machine. This is not normal at the age of the Internet
What should Delta, or any big corporate do ? Undo strict complicated rules. Keep simple ones : “everybody who has a gold or platinium may enter the lounge”. Period. And give the local knowledge worker the ability and the tools to manage any situation. Give them freedom to think, and act. Treat them as human, not as machines.
What sort of tools do those knowledge worker need ? Any information sharing tool, all the one that Internet provides. By doing so, local worker have the capacity to regulate the flux of people in the lounge. How ? Simple. Everyone in a lounge is waiting for an airplane, and Delta know this very accurately. So let the workers, and also the customers, have the information about the estimated amount of people in the lounge every 15 minutes, for the next three hours. Let the customer even regulate themself, in peer to peer mode.
By imposing its employees to just follow the rules, Delta is staying in an old type economy, the one of the XIXth century world. Consequence is that they make their employees unhappy, and therefore their customer who face them unhappy as well.
By changing its internal governance, by allowing them to take more local decision, based on accurate information managment tools, Delta would then really be in the 2.0 world.
Corporate companies need a huge amount of energy to do this. But they must.
By the way, I humbly suggest Delta to think about this :