The Process of Caring

Vance left a really good comment on the recent Travel Tales post. He said, in part:

Having worked in the airline business, it’s really a matter of having employees that CARE (most due to their own pride, not by management) We many times had weather and mis-connected passengers to deal with. It only took a few minutes of extra time to send a message to the destination station and let them know what to expect or which passenger was going to be disappointed to not get their bag. Today’s situation is exacerbated by under-staffing, stressed employees, passengers with sometimes unrealistic expectations, checked bag fees, etc it’s ugly and very little relief in sight.

He brings up some really interesting points. In most of the airline industry, like most industry in general, “caring” is thought of as something the people have to do.

“The employees don’t care” or even “management doesn’t care” are pretty common statements.

Let’s turn it around.

How was the original process designed?

Continuing on the theme from the original post, I would speculate that most players in the airline industry see themselves as providing transportation to people and their stuff.

The process design is, logically, going to center on what things have to happen to get people and their stuff from their point of entry into the system through to their point of exit at baggage claim. (the fact that the trip doesn’t actually end at baggage claim is another topic – one which has been discussed by Jim Womack in Lean Thinking, among other places.)

In traditional thinking, improvements in that process will involve making those things happen cheaper, usually by doing less.

What if, though, we start with a different question:

“What experience do we want the customer to have?”

Describe, first and foremost, the things the customer has to do to get herself and her stuff from the point of departure to (sadly) baggage claim. (Bonus points if beyond, but let’s not stretch the fantasy too far.)

Even better, act it out. Simulate it. Try it on. Work out the kinks, from the customer’s perspective.

Next, design the interface between your customer and your process. What does the customer-touching part of your process have to look like to deliver that experience?

(I often wonder if airline executives ever see their own web reservation systems.)

Now, only when you know what the “on stage” part of your process looks like can you design the rest of it – the back stage parts that make it all happen.

Economics come into play at this last stage. This is where you have to get creative. If the solution is too expensive, work on the back-stage part to make it cleaner and more streamlined. The customer facing part of the process is the target condition. Your problem solving works to deliver that experience in continuously better ways.

What does this have to do with “caring?”

Remember, this is from the customer’s perspective. When we say “our employees care” do we not really mean “our customer’s feel cared-about?” Since we started with the customer’s experience, if that is what is desired, it was built into the process specification from the beginning.

Once there is a process that we predict will result in customer’s feeling that people care about them, then your market surveys make sense. You are not soliciting complaints about things to fix, you are validating (or refuting) your design assumptions. Every bit of customer feedback will be a learning experience.

Don’t forget Murphy.

In a complex business like airline travel, sometimes luggage doesn’t get to baggage claim at the same time as the customer. It happens. But this is the time to really apply the above process design. What do you want the customer to experience when things go wrong?

Ironically, in the customer satisfaction world, a spectacular and surprising recovery actually generates more loyalty than flawless delivery of service. This is the moment for your company to shine.

Whatever happens, though, make sure it is something you would do on purpose rather than relying on chance or a random team member’s disposition. Build “caring” into the process itself, and you will embed it into the culture.

4 Replies to “The Process of Caring”

  1. The customer should always be the focal point of the process. That’s a fundamental part of pull systems. It’s sad that so many companies, especially those in so called service industries, seem to have forgotten this basic fact.

  2. “Ironically, in the customer satisfaction world, a spectacular and surprising recovery actually generates more loyalty than flawless delivery of service. This is the moment for your company to shine.”

    Most people agree that this is what can be attributed to the immediate success of the Lexus brand. The way they responded to recalls is what launched the brand. If they had made a perfect product without defects, it would not be as strong of a company as it is.

    The way people feel about the service they get from Lexus is much more important then the quality of the car.

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