Wednesday, May 9, 2007

As if "Service Science" was not Bad Enough!

This morning's CRM Buyer included a reprint from yesterday's Fort Worth Star-Telegram of a report by Trebor Banstetter on the latest data from the United States Department of Transportation on commercial airlines. The focus (local in flavor) was on the failure of American Airlines to improve its customer service in spite of the major initiative that began in 2004; but, going beyond "local color," the article acknowledged that American was far from alone. Even Southwest, which has long promoted itself as a model for what customer service should be, has been hurting in the data gathered from passenger surveys. While none of this was particularly surprising, the real jolt to my business-as-usual reading came in a single sentence:

Spurred by a group of travelers who were stuck on delayed airplanes for hours in recent months, Congress is considering legislation that would mandate a minimal level of service.

This is what spurred me to write at all and to choose the above title. It seems to me that the only thing worse than the misconceptions about service that are coming out of the new rush to "service science" would be the far more egregious misconceptions that would emerge in response to legislatively mandated service. This positively reeks of the old child-behavior cliché: "Company's coming. Don't forget to be nice to your kid brother/sister!" The stories of how such an injunction is counterproductive are legion; so why would turning "be nice to your customer" into a law be any more effective!

Marshall McLuhan used to make gullible jaws drop by telling his audience that the people of Bali would say, "We have no art. We do everything as best as we can." One only had to go to Bali to discover that McLuhan was having communication problems (an irony worth the indulgence). Nevertheless, there is something to be said for enculturating the idea of "doing everything as best as we can." However, if that was not really happening in Bali, it was because just about all of the Balinese were too busy living from hand to mouth, which means that they are not too far in status from the commercial airlines. If the Fundamental Law of Economics is that we share poverty but keep wealth, then the Fundamental Law of Business (which is unlikely to show up in any textbook) is:

Survival comes before quality.

Think about it. We do not hear as much about Deming Awards and quality circles these days, because it is so hard to find a business concerned with anything other than making its numbers and figuring out how many more people to lay off in the process. Now the Government is thinking about stepping into this mess and legislating quality? Perhaps they should pay more attention to the "level of service" they are currently providing to the citizens of Iraq and let the airlines take care of themselves!

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