Division of labour

I recently had the unpleasant experience of missing a scheduled flight and standing in line to be rebooked. Although it was a costly extra 30 minutes of sleep I am attempting to profit from it somewhat by sharing some observations.

The first – division of labor. The airline in question had several lines – bag drop off, check-in, business class, and ticket sales. I stood in line for 30 minutes before I got to the front. The customer service rep (CSR) at the check-in / drop-off counter was able to tell me that most subsequent flights to my destination were full, save for one business class seat. I asked her how much it was, but she told me she wasn’t “ticket qualified” and therefore unable to tell me how much the seat cost, much less actually process the upgrade. Well, anyone with a smartphone can check the ticket prices on the website (Which I did) so to have an airline agent tell you she neither tell you the price nor process your upgrade is well – frustrating.

I was then asked to stand in a separate ticketing line where I was for another 30 minutes. My companions in the line told me they’d already been through the other line twice, and had been in the ticketing line for an hour. Clearly the one person at the ticket desk was the only one able to make decisions with respect to money, and all the other agents were basically there to handle routine checkins, bag drops, and basic inquiries. Such a strict division of responsibilities is longer possible today. Competition is everywhere. Each person needs to be employed to the maximum of their abilities.

So what we had was 5 “ticket unqualified” agents standing around chatting, being paid to do jobs machines can mostly cover, and one ticket qualified agent dealing with a line of 10 people, which doesn’t seem like a big deal until you notice that everyone in the ticket line has a serious problem that takes 10, 15 minutes to process. If you’re last in line, that’s an hour right there.

The net result you have 5 persons worth of wasted wages and 10 extremely pissed off customers who will probably never fly with you again, or at a minimum tell 10 friends about this horror story.

Maybe this is what the innovation crisis is about.

As a business analyst the other thing I noticed was the effect on software design on the customer experience. Everyone knows that focus on user experience has made Apple the world’s most valuable company but I think corporations need really take ease of use into strong consideration when procuring their own “internal” enterprise systems. No system is really “internal” because it’s customers that are standing over the counter, growing increasingly impatient as your trained CSR uses an improbably high number of keystrokes to figure out what seems to be a basic inquiry.

In fact, how many times have you heard – “I’m sorry, I’d really like to help you, but my system can’t do that?”

The woman ahead of me waited for an hour in line just to find out that “the system” cannot process partial refunds and so she would have to take the flight, and then subsequently go home, log onto the airline website, and submit her request for a refund there. You know what she was thinking – “I’ve been in this damn line for an hour, and I finally speak to a human being, and now you’re telling me I have to log onto to a website at home?!”


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