I wish you a very happy 2012 as you make progress in your journey of operational excellence.

I am sure many of you must have traveled during the holiday week. On a recent trip I took to Orlando to attend the Annual Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) conference, a very common occurrence got me thinking. We all know how first-class and business-class members get the preferential treatment of boarding the flight before economy class passengers. In terms of customer service, that makes sense. They pay more and get to board earlier. 

What I find extremely ridiculous is that they get to walk on a small piece of carpet when they board the plane, while economy class passengers are diverted to a separate passage that bypasses the carpet. But only one entrance leads to the plane. As you can see in the picture, the airline managed to create a fake sense of “specialness” for first- and business-class passengers.

We see the same thing in hospital waiting rooms and other service operations. Excellent customer service would be no wait at all but service industries use the band-aid approach for the problem. They build Zen gardens and embellish the walls with beautiful artwork in waiting rooms to distract customers. Instead of improving the processes to reduce redundancies and waste, they focus on the perception of customers regarding wait times. If wait times increase beyond a certain time because of “unavoidable” circumstances, customers are given freebies in the form of free parking passes or gift certificates.

The key is to attack inefficiencies in the processes and give customers what they came for. If you went to a grocery store looking for your favorite box of cereal and had to spend a half-hour hunting, guess where you’d go next time? A competitor.

Customers can’t be fooled by superficial embellishments. Give them what they want. Improve the process, not the ambience. That’s true customer service.



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