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Don't Take Power Away From Your Customers

John Van Horn

I was sitting on a plane the other day, and as the time for takeoff passed, I began to wonder what was going on. Finally, about 10 minutes after departure time, the pilot came on and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a slight problem with our starboard engine. Maintenance is looking at it. We will keep you informed of our departure time."
Another 15 minutes went by and he came back on. "Ladies and gentlemen, we don't have a report yet, but maintenance told me that they would have an update on the quarter-hour." (It was 10 minutes 'til at that time.) I looked out the window and saw the General Electric truck roll up to the engine and the cowling was off. This plane definitely wasn't going anywhere today.
What the pilot had done was taken all the power away from the passengers. We could make no decisions, we had no information, and we had no control. We were prisoners on the plane, and that was it.
What if he had said this: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem with our starboard engine and it will take at least 20 minutes to get a reading on what's happening. If you like, you may get off and stretch your legs, make a call or whatever. However, stay close to the boarding area because our departure will be announced and you will have to reboard quickly. Although we anticipate departure very soon, if you like, you can be rebooked on a later flight by our customer service representatives outside."
I would bet you that 75% of the passengers would sit right there, at least through the first 20 minutes. Those who were in a big rush would get off and be able to make calls or notify people meeting them at the other end. In every case, however, each person would be able to make the decision to go or sit. They would have control of their lives, and in the event that the flight was cancelled and they had been sitting on the plane for an hour, that would have been their decision, not the pilot's.
We get our power taken from us every day. When you are seated at a restaurant and then seemingly abandoned, minutes seem like hours as waiter after waiter walks by and you get no help. You have no control, except to walk out. What if the person seating you had said: "We have had two waiters not show up tonight, so our service is a bit slow. Let me take your drink order and we will be with you shortly." Wow, problem solved, and everyone is happy.
How does this apply to parking? I was in a "fully automated" parking facility the other day. I put my ticket in the pay-on-foot machine, and it took the ticket and nothing else happened. Now, I expect machines to break down from time to time, so that wasn't the problem. The problem was that there was no one that I could find to help me. I was trapped in the garage. I pressed the "help" button on the POF until my thumb was red but to no avail. The thing had, to use the technical term, "crapped out."
The alternative -- have a backup emergency phone near each set of POFs. You should have them anyway for security reasons. They will always be staffed, and the person on the other end can help when the parking staff can't be reached. You have given me back my power.
For those who have read Point of View for years know that my pet peeve power taker is call-waiting. You are talking to someone and they say, "Hold on a sec, someone's on the other line." And you are either listening to Barry Manilow or dead air. Let's see: You have taken my power away and at the same time told me that someone who you probably don't even know is more important than I am.
Solution? Never have call-waiting. Simply have a good voice-mail system and have all calls when you are on the phone go immediately into your VM system. People know that when it goes immediately into your VM system that you are there but on the phone. Then call 'em back promptly. That tells them that they are important (you called 'em back quickly); also the person to whom you are talking isn't left holding the phone.
Famed management consultant Tom Peters rails about taking back control. If a person is always late (a great control-taker), simply go without them. Do that a couple of times and they will be on time. Don't give up your control. On the plane, when you see the cowling come off the engine, grab your bag, walk off the plane and take the next flight. You will be at the head of the line for the next flight out.
One last thing, speaking of planes. Peters talks about details. If you find that the tray by your seat is dirty, do you ever begin to wonder about the airline's engine maintenance?
A clean, well-mannered, efficient parking cashier or attendant can do wonders when your POF breaks down, but a skuzzy abrupt employee can destroy an otherwise well-run operation.
Going to the IPI in New Orleans? We will be there. Drop by our booth and say "hi."

Article Abstract from June, 2004




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