Whose Problem Are You Solving?

Last week, Mark and I took a long weekend in the Florida Keys and basked in the sun. It wasn’t crazy-hot, so our few days were terrific. We’re back and it’s crazy-cold in Boston now. (Oh well!)

We flew an airline I hadn’t experienced in several years. The most recent time I flew that airline, it was fine. I hadn’t thought about it one way or the other. This time, my experience was quite different.

This airline waits until the last possible second for someone to man the gate desk. That means by the time the person arrives, there are people in line,  creating a pent-up demand for the person’s services. People are on standby, people need to gate-check items (I always gate-check my rollator), and some passengers want to change seats. In addition, since most flights are full, the desk people often announce their request to check rollaboards to the passengers’ final destination in the hopes of leaving on time.

Because there is pent-up demand for this person’s services, the passengers become nervous. If you’re a parent and you’re traveling with two small children and the airline just changed your seats so you’re no longer sitting together, you might even feel as if you have a right to be nervous. (I would be.) There were several of those kinds of problems on our flights.

In addition, when I gate-checked my rollator, I explained that I was one of the people who needed more time. When I said that to the desk person, she asked, “Oh, we don’t announce for people who need more time. You should stand up here before we call the flight.”

Well, okay. I can do that. It turned out that the first class people did not understand why I was standing there, but they realized soon enough when she saw me and said, “Okay, I forgot about you. Let’s get you boarded.”

This airline is not solving passengers’ problems. I suspect they are solving the problems of quick turnaround at the gate (revenue), not having too many people at the desk (fixed cost) and making sure they have as many people on the plane as possible (revenue).

I might not like it, but I can understand it. I can choose not to fly them again.

Instead, my preferred airline makes the gate experience just as nice as being on the plane. There are people at the gate in time to manage all the requests and no one feels rushed. The people at the desk smile at us, the customers. And, from what I can tell, they have a policy of seating families together, as opposed to “you get what you get.”

At first I thought this was about customers and customer service. Then, I realized it’s really about the problems you decide to solve.

The first airline solves their problems, with not much regard for the customers. The second airline solves the customer problems, assuming that will help solve their problems. That works for me.

I won’t take that first airline again. I will continue to fly my preferred airline, even if it’s just a tad inconvenient. That’s because the experience of flying, for me, involves more than the speed of the flight. You, of course, will make your own decision.

That is the question this week: Whose problem are you solving?

3 thoughts on “Whose Problem Are You Solving?

  1. Jim Grey

    This is why interactions with the government are often so unpleasant. Government agencies are often so large and unwieldy that they see no choice other than to optimize around their own realities.

    Here in Indiana our Bureau of Motor Vehicles underwent a major overhaul about ten years ago. Before that going to the BMV was right up there with having a limb amputated. Today it’s at least a neutral, and at times a tentatively pleasant, experience because they’ve shifted their optimizations more toward the customer. It’s not perfect, but it’s far better than it was.

    1. johanna Post author

      Jim, ah, I had not thought of government, also. That makes a ton of sense. I think the Mass DMV (Dept of Motor Vehicles) did something similar. When I had to apply for my handicapped placard, it was easy. I even get a new one in the mail without having to ask for it when the old one expires.

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