Tuesday, April 25, 2017

United Airlines Dragging Incident: Rules vs. Guidelines

We've all seen the video of the doctor, who didn't want to be bumped from a UA flight, being dragged and bloodied by security.

It was a public relations disaster for United Airlines, and drew a strong reaction from the public.

It didn't help that, before the incident, United didn't have much goodwill banked with flyers, because of their reputation for poor customer service.

There were several points during the chain of events where this incident could have been prevented:

1. United knew that the crew to be transported to Louisville was in route to the airport before they boarded.  They could have gotten volunteers to give up their seats before boarding.  Instead, they let passengers board and didn't try to bump anyone off until the crew actually reached the gate.

2. Why didn't they offer more money until someone gave up their seat.

3. When they randomly picked the doctor, he was ready to go until he found out there were no more flights that day.  He then said he didn't want to give up his seat because he had patients to see the next day.  At that point, why did they not pick someone else randomly.  Doctors deal with life and death cases–they should have just assumed he had a good reason.

I think it comes down to a training issue: Rules vs. Guidelines

Airlines are very much into rules, which spell out exactly what to do.  No interpretation or judgement.  Now, this is very important for airline safety.  For example, it is good that even experienced pilots use a checklist, so they do not miss any steps.

But, for customer service, well-thought out guidelines should supersede blind obedience to rules.
The difference between a rule and a guideline is that rules apply to one situation, while a guideline can be applied as a template to many situations.

Thus, to run a business only using rules, management needs to anticipate all occurrences in advance.  But, with a guideline, they can trust that employees can apply the guideline to any unforeseen incidents.

In this case, a good guideline for United employees: Pretend you were one of the passengers.  From a passenger's point of view, how would you have wanted the bumping process to have unfolded?

Marketing and Branding–When Less Is More: Harvard Business Journal Study Shows Importance of "Decision Simplicity"

Two issues (one belief, one fact) with marketing today:

Belief:  Customers are less brand loyal.

Fact:  With the internet, mobile, and social media, there are many more ways for brands to interact with consumers.

What if exploiting the fact is creating a vicious cycle that is making the belief more true?  That just might be what's happening today.

According to a 2012 Harvard Business Journal study entitled "To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple",  the increase in marketing messages "isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage."

The authors analyzed surveys and interview with thousands of consumers and hundreds of marketing experts to figure out what makes consumers "sticky"–i.e. "likely to follow through on an intended purchase, buy the product repeatedly, and recommend it to others."

The authors looked at over 40 variables, including pricing, brand perceptions, etc. and concluded that the biggest driver of stickiness was "decision simplicity".

Decision simplicity has three parts:

1. Ease of gathering information.  Ideally web navigation will figure out where the consumer is in the buying decision, and only show him info relevant to the stage he or she is at.

2. Easy to determine trust.  The best way is by giving access to user-generated reviews.  Consumers put a lot of weight over peer reviews, versus expert, celebrity, or technical  information.

3. Ease of comparison.  It should be easy to see side-by-side comparisons and trade-offs between different products and options.

Decision simplicity is one of the four types of strategic simplicity that I assist clients with.

Income Tax Simplicity

As a management consultant specializing in strategic simplicity, I know that one of the biggest fields that is plagued by complexity is politics / government.

And, within government, much of the complexity damage is caused by the Federal tax code.  If the purpose of the tax code was primarily to collect revenue, then it could easily be made more simpler.

Instead, politicians derive their power from tax complexity.  It allows them to exploit a giant (and lucrative) ecosystem of lobbyists who press for the opening of new loopholes–as well as avoiding the closing of existing ones.

According to Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes Magazine (and former presidential candidate who ran on a flat tax),  U.S. citizens spent more than $400 billion a year complying with the federal income tax code.  We also spend more than 6 billion hours a year filling out tax forms.

Nina Olsen, who has served as the national tax payer advocate since 2001, agrees with me that, not only is complexity the #1 serious issue with taxation, but that creeping complexity is something that requires constant vigilance.

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled "Complexity Is the Root of All Evil (at Least in the Tax Code)", she made the case that Congress needs to focus on simplifying our monstrous tax code.  She stated "If I had to distill everything I've learned into one sentence, it would be this: The root of all evil is the complexity of the tax code."

She offers six core principles that she believes Congress should follow in overhauling the tax code:

1. The tax system should not be so complex as to create traps for the unwary.

2. The tax laws should be simple enough so that most Americans can prepare their own tax returns on a single page, and simple enough so that the IRS's customer service reps can easily answer questions over the phone.

3. The laws should anticipate the largest areas of noncompliance and minimize them.

4. Tax laws should provide some choices, but not too many so as to confuse tax payers–or lead to errors.

5. When tax laws provide for refundable tax credits, they must make it easy to claim and administer.

6. There should be a required periodic review of the tax code to serve as a sanity check against creeping complexity.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Buckminster Fuller Quote on Thinking

“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”

- Buckminster Fuller

Monday, April 10, 2017

Simple Messaging and Communications Quotes from Cam Barber

Don’t deliver your information by the barrel, serve it by the glass." - Barber, Cam

"When it comes to communication, people want quality, not quantity." - Cam Barber

And Their Fridge Was Running Wi-fi...

Last Friday, I waa at friends house, and I tried to make a phone call, but I couldn't, and then I found that my phone was connected to their REFRIDGERATOR's wi-fi!

As the expert in strategic simplicity, I work with companies to make sure that complexity isn't interfering with the core success of their business.

A fridge that runs wifi, but prevents you from making a simple phone call–that's not strategically simple!