PleaseTech blog

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The law of unintended consequences and customer feedback

Posted by David Cornwell on 20. September 2013 10:02

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.


So the summer is over, the kids are back at school and business has got manic again. I’m writing this blog post from Budapest airport where I’ve been on a less than 24 hour visit to give a presentation at the Lorenz user conference called UserBridge.13. About 160 people from 21 different countries attended with visitors from as far afield as Australia, South Africa, the USA, Japan and Europe.

As always with Lorenz, the conference was immaculately organised with a beautiful venue, superb food and sessions which ran more-or-less on time!

I was presenting our document collaboration maturity model which allows organizations to check whether their collaboration process actually meets with their collaboration requirements.  We're going to be talking about this a lot of the coming months, so watch this space.

On Saturday I fly out to San Francisco for Oracle World.

So, to the title of my blog – the law of unintended consequences. 

One of the things CEOs and all others who make decisions are acutely aware of is that any process, set of rules, etc. will be subject to overly rigid interpretation, misunderstandings and a complete lack of common sense.

The story gets a little complicated, so follow carefully!

So, there I was, sitting with my wife on an Easyjet flight back from Barcelona, when I observed behaviour which illustrated this perfectly.

Easyjet have recently moved to an allocated seating model which allows them to charge people extra for the emergency rows and the front of the plane. I’m sure when the idea first came up, it seemed like a really good idea and, from a business perspective, it is. More revenue from the same people on the same flight – what’s not to like about that?

This particular flight was not full, nor crucially, were the two emergency rows in the middle of the plane. In fact the entire 2nd row of emergency seats was not occupied at all. As a frequent flyer, sitting one row behind the vacant emergency row, I noted this and indicated to my wife that it would be interesting to see how they deal with this because, as we all know, you need at least one capable person sitting in the row (in case of emergency).

Now, at approximately the same time, the strapping 20 something year old in the aisle seat next to next to us asked the crew if he could sit in the emergency row and was told ‘no’, as people have to pay to be there. Fair enough.

So, the doors close and the steward makes his move. A (very) large gentleman is asked to move from the aisle seat in the first (occupied) emergency row and does so gratefully, occupying the middle seat on one side of the previously empty emergency row. Score one for the steward.

Now what to do? He still needs an able-bodied person on the other side of the aisle. There remain two couples occupying the other emergency row on opposite sides of the plane.

But, our man was on to it. Alas, instead of doing the sensible thing and ask the strapping chap next to me to move (or indeed another capable individual) he split a couple up so that one had to occupy the empty row!  Unbelievable!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m no body language expert, but given the fact that (i) she was leaning on her partner’s shoulder  with her arm around him when the steward came calling, (ii) the steward had to persuade the lady to move and kept reiterating ‘it’s only for take-off’, and (iii) given the long, dare I say, lingering kiss she gave her partner as she reluctantly moved back a row, I’d  guess that it was not how she had expected her romantic(?) weekend in Barcelona to end. Needless to say she was back next to her man the second the seat belt sign was turned off.

So, rather than a win for Easyjet: Strapping man next to me is happy as he gets an emergency row and more leg room for his long legs, aforementioned lady is happy as she gets to take off next to her nearest, I’m happy because the seat next to me is free, the, no doubt highly trained, steward managed snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

I have no doubt that no-one intended the above scenario. They assumed that the steward would take the common sense approach and move someone else.

What lessons do I take away? Simply, that, regardless of how clearly you define procedures and practices and regardless of how highly trained the staff are, you still need to rely on your staff to exhibit common sense. In this case the steward did not. Why not, we ask?

Well, of course, it may be an incorrect company policy. Perhaps he would have got into trouble if he let someone occupy a seat they hadn’t paid for. Answer, listen to client feedback such as this and re-think company policy.

Perhaps it is a misunderstanding/over rigorous understanding/interpretation of company policy and another steward would exhibit common sense. Answer: include the scenario in company training.

Perhaps he is a poor reader of body language and thought the woman needed rescuing? Answer: I’m sure that’s not the case.

In fact, I have emailed this to the CEO of Easyjet, told her I’d be including it in my blog and had a very nice response from a lady in ‘Executive Support’.

But I think that, other than the law of unintended consequences, there is another key point to emerge and that is, without customer feedback, you don’t get to know where you are going wrong or get the chance to put things right. So, I’m a great fan.  We rely heavily on customer feedback here at PleaseTech to establish development priorities so, customers, please do let me know if there are any unintended consequences from our software or, indeed, enhancements you want to see in future releases. .

Finally, I’m regularly asked ‘what mad venture are you up to next’? So, I’m pleased to announce that the answer is ‘driving sheep across London Bridge’ – I’ll bet you weren’t expecting that to be the answer!

But, it’s true.   On Sunday 29th September, in the company of the Master of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, one of the oldest Livery Companies of the City of London, my wife and I and some friends will be participating in the traditional, annual sheep drive. Costumes yet to be decided but it will be either biblical or sheppardesque. I have firmly ruled out ‘Little Bo Peep’.

Needless to say any funds raised go to charity so hopefully we can have some fun and raise a bit of cash! I’ll report back in my next blog and will post pictures as proof on our Facebook page!

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