We learn when things go wrong

One of the things about a customer focussed organisation is that they are constantly evaluating their performance. They look for improvements, they look for modifications, they look to ensure that every customer is treated as well as every other one. They delight in calling out issues and changing practices. The converse, is the organisation that is resistant to change, that had ingrained systems that are more important than the customer and has practices that suit organisational ease rather than customer delight.

Over the last week I managed to watch a little bit of both in operation, a small but fascinating insight in to the organisation that learns and adapts, and the organisation that reacts and closes ranks. Unfortunately, in order to do so, I had to undergo a period of somewhat arduous fieldwork beside the Indian ocean. Now I know what you’re thinking, but every now and then you need to take one for the team. You can thank me later.

Example one started in the hotel. This was a hotel that prided itself on its customer service, if I’m honest it was almost intrusive at times, but there was no doubt that they were there to serve. Midway through the fieldwork period, we witnessed a tropical storm (see I told you I was taking one for the team) which came in late one day and lasted overnight. The result was that everyone took the sensible decision to stay in bed and arrive for breakfast at the very last-minute. And in the name of science, clearly we had to be there to witness events unfold. The normally serene and organised dining room lost it a little as orders bombed in from left and right. Our order for coffee somehow got lost, not once, not twice, but three times.

These things happen, I get that. But I raised it in a polite, but clear manner. Like I can.

Over the coming days, I was amazed at the number of staff who apologised or mentioned the issue. People kept asking how things were, whether everything was ok. It wasn’t just in the dining room, it was by the pool, by the beach, in the other restaurant. There had been a breakdown of service and people wanted to make it right. To the point that I almost greeted the cleaning lady with,”YES I got the effing coffee okay?” It wasn’t as if I’d ordered a pink flamingo on toast…..

Example two takes place on the plane back from the field trip. Cattle class, in case you ask, exploration budgets aren’t what they were you know….. When my co-researcher told me the seats for the flight back, I sigh and respond that this will mean two of us won’t get a choice of meals, they’ll be run out by the time they get to us and we’ll only get offered fish. And, guess what, that’s exactly what happened. I’m I gifted? Not at all, I just watched what happened on the earlier flight out when we were sat in the row behind. History repeats itself and all that.

We are in the middle four seats, the co-researcher, me and the two lab rats. The way they start with the meal service means that one side gets served before the other and twenty minutes later when they get to the other side, guess what. The popular meals have gone. For info, field research shows chicken beats fish hands, beaks, fins down every time (which begs the question, why not have more chicken meals and give your customers what they want – but that’s another story). There is a zone, from about row 37 to 34, seats E,F,G and H which every time loses out. FACT.

If you sit in these seats, you are more than odds on to have no meal choice. But, to my knowledge, the cost of a seat in this unhappy zone is just as expensive as the golden triangle of 36 to 40 which guarantees first choice of meals, which can’t be right. The system was set up to deliver bad customer to those in the unhappy zone.

Now I know you’re now thinking, “get a life Morrison….there are more important things” and yes there are. But two things I’d say, firstly if your organisation is set up to systemically give better customer service to some customers than others, just because of random factors such as seat numbers you’ve got a problem brewing. And secondly, it was a goddamn long flight and only so many books a boy can read before going google eyed.

So I raised the issue, in a polite but clear manner, like I can.

The response was that I got to choose my lunch, so I shouldn’t quibble about getting no choice for dinner. When I pressed and pointed out that whilst they served in the way that they did, this would always be a problem, I was given a customer suggestion form and told to fill it out. They then went on to pass some snide remarks about me, unfortunately picking the only other language on this planet that I happen to be fluent in. Later in a conversation, the senior stewardess confided that I could make the suggestion but she didn’t seem to have much hope anyone would listen. The impression I was given was, that’s the system, we have no choice, just like you the customer we have to like it or lump it.

Sadly, this is the approach too many organisations take both internally and externally. The system rules the brain. The customer or employee is the recipient of the system, not the driver. That’s just the way it is. I know we can’t always get things right first time, I know that things will go wrong. But hiding behind the system, explaining away problems and ignoring poor service won’t help us learn and develop. It also won’t help us get things right. Treating people like humans, explaining the problems and checking how to make things better on the other hand, might just improve things for everyone – both customers and employees alike.

Now wouldn’t that be cool.


  1. pubdonna · November 6, 2013

    Reblogged this on pubdonna and commented:
    Love this!

  2. Josh · November 10, 2013

    The less airplane food i need to eat, the better.

    • Neil · December 1, 2013

      This is true…..this is true….

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