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I went into a nationally known computer store recently. I had been there many times before and had already decided that whomever was running the store was incompetent, but alas, they happen to be the only people in town who had what I wanted at the time. Would I go back? Like many customers, ONLY because of price, product, and the fact they are the only ones in town with an equal selection. Certainly not because they offer great service, customer help, concern, or any thing beyond the actual product itself. This particular evening, as I entered, there was an older employee sitting at the door watching people as they came and went. I think he was there to make sure no one walked out carrying anything without a receipt and to also “mark” the receipt, thus preventing someone from coming back and using the same receipt to walk out with a second something of the same type. I would think a simple register time/date stamp would also solve that problem, but whatever. There were several employees in the store talking with each other, messing with stock, or just generally walking around. I ONLY needed to pick up a box of DVD’s and be on my way. Although there were more than five registers for check-out, only ONE was manned. It had a line of five people, and the single check-out clerk was on the phone trying to work out some problem with the fact that the credit card verification process for the customer at the counter was not working properly. After standing there for five minutes and noticing that the line had not decreased by a single person, I left my purchase on the counter and walked out.

The next day I tried to contact the home office, and even further, the executive offices. By the second day, I was still unable to make contact with anyone beyond an operator.  Every request for the President’s office was intercepted by voice mail with an assistant’s name.   Basically, it was impossible to get a real person (except that operator) on the phone and all she could do was route me to people who never answered their own phones but offered the option to leave voice mail. It was as if none of these people to whom I was routed were ever at their desk. Probably they were all attending executive meetings. Did you know that corporate America actually thinks that the voice mail system increases their telephone efficiency?   Is it any wonder why people are turning to mail order and the Internet to shop? In a good mail-order operation, you still get a PERSON, hopefully after MINIMAL button-press routing questions. That person answers any questions, addresses any hesitations you may have, assures you that if not satisfied you can send it back, (often at their expense) and then takes your order. They often do this at a lower price than some local store that treats you as I have described earlier. Quite often, the very next day, the item is delivered to your house! Why would anyone want to go out in traffic and waste their time fighting the store system to get items that are easily and readily available and are delivered to their door the next day without such a hassle?

Looking at that day in the computer store, common sense should dictate to management that if they have five checkout stations, then they should have at least that many people in the “standing around group of employees” trained and motivated to operate another register and help those customers in line by “closing the sales”! Certainly more than just ONE! Having lots of computer literate nerds running around the store to help customers does not offset the loss of customer’s not being able to actually get out the door with merchandise. It did not surprise me when that store closed operations in my city within the year following my visit.

I encountered another example of C-S-I-U (Common Sense Is Uncommon) recently at an airline counter. Anyone who has to travel a lot by air knows that the fare structures were established by people lacking common sense. The airlines say they charge the lower fares for booking in advance so they can fill the flights in advance thereby assuring profitability. Yet the business travelers, who happen to be the majority of their customer base, are charged more when they often times have to purchase a ticket on short notice. I’ve wondered how many times a seat went unsold on a flight because some last minute potential traveler decided to not travel that week and re-scheduled for later because he was being gouged for his last-minute purchase and would certainly be angered by sitting next to some grand-mother who only flies once a year to visit family but is paying one third the rate to fly on the same flight.

During the summer of 2001 the airlines were complaining that business was off and they were being forced to cut the number of flights. The network newscaster reporting this story went on to say that business fliers were the ones who had cut their travel lately and that the airlines were now cutting rates and making special offers until they could get the business fliers back and raise prices. Do you find anything interesting about that analogy?  The indication being that they are giving special prices to the tourist and occasional fliers until their primary customer base returns and they can start gouging again! Didn’t you hear that? The airline’s basic problem might just be that they are looking ONLY at the dollars, and not at what they can do to better serve their primary customer base of business travelers. Maybe if their first concern was to better serve their business fliers, they would not have such problems. What happened to the business plan that says if we give our customers the best possible service and constantly strive to improve both service and product value, that we’ll sell more and have more loyalty from our customers?

Back to my original airline counter encounter. I finished business early one week in Atlanta. I was scheduled for a flight home on Friday, one of the busiest travel days of the week. It was Thursday and I figured I’d just go to the airport and standby for a vacant and unsold seat on an earlier flight. I was told by the ticket agent that I could not stand-by for ANY flight because my ticket was for the next day and good ONLY for THAT day. I tried to reason with the agent that if the airplane was going today with an empty seat, the airline would be the one to benefit by letting me take that empty seat today, and that they just might even be able to sell my unused seat tomorrow! “These are the rules”, he said “and they can’t be broken.” The only way he could offer to get me home early was to sell me a one way-ticket, at that “no advance” exorbitant rate, and give me a minimal credit, less penalty, for my present return ticket. Common sense was just non existent on this day with this airline agent and the rules. I will say that a call the next day to their executive offices resulted in them refunding the extra fare I had paid to get home that day in the previously unsold seat. Wow! A management person with common sense and a grasp of customer service, I could not help but wonder where they found him. Probably once a salesman!

I have speculated that the airline fare structures and many of the rules, are the result of the fact that all of the management-level people in the airline industry, who probably have twenty plus years service in that profession, before getting to executive level, were never actually a regular customer of their own service and industry. Since the day they went to work in the industry, neither they, nor any of their immediate family ever had to actually purchase tickets, because they fly on passes and may even get first class seating if the seat is not sold. I would imagine that the actual executives themselves always get first class seating reserved in advance. Common sense would indicate that maybe the reason they can’t seem to relate to their customers is that they’ve never been a customer for their own product?

How about rental cars? Their rules make about as much sense as the airline’s. I wanted to rent a car the other day instead of driving my own vehicle for a 2000 mile trip. I checked with several providers, from large to small. All had rates in the $600 to $700 range for 12-days, unlimited mileage. The part I didn’t understand was that if I had made a reservation 7-days in advance I could have the same car, same days, and mileage offer for $368?  I was calling 6-days before I needed the car, it was available, but the rate difference forced me to give it up and drive my own. I guess I don’t understand them losing the $389 over a day’s difference in making a reservation. This car may not have even rented at all during that time I would have had it The daily rate they were trying to get was $65, which means they would have to rent the car for six days to recover the “bird in hand” they had with me but, chose to lose by their inability to show any common sense.

Go figure!