Friday, July 10, 2009

Back Home - Back in Thailand

I arrived back home - here in Thailand three days ago - finally - home to my wife - home to the life that I have chosen.

During the month that I was away, the Isaan farmers have been busy setting out the new rice crop into the recently flooded fields. Flying over Thailand, the sun reflected off of the many rice fields creating an astonishing mosaic. There is a sense of continuity with the planting of the new crop - one year to another. Life moves on in harmony with the seasons and the rhythm of the required farm activities.

Yesterday was spent getting Yahoo Voice Messenger back on line. Some how in the two days that I spent travelling from California to Udonthani, my version of the software became incompatible with the system. I could call out and hear people but they were unable to hear me. The problem was resolved relatively quickly and very efficiently using On-Line Chat with a representative named "Hugo". He walked me through removing my old version and reinstalling a newer version. The solution worked the first try and I am back in contact with the outside world.

Why does this matter? Why do I even bother to write about it?

I believe that it is important - important to all of us. It is about the power and benefits of people helping people. It is about service. It is about people connecting to people. This incident is tied to some of my observations and experiences back in the USA over the past month.

United Airlines in an apparent effort to reduce their costs has eliminated many "Airline Representatives" at their check in counters at US airports and replaced them with electronic kiosks. To summarize my experience with the electronic self check-in - of my 6 flights, I was successful in using the kiosk twice. The four other flights for various reasons, none of which were my personal incompetence, required the assistance of a real person.

I was not alone in my frustration and contempt for the electronic self check-in system that has eliminated jobs. I would to have loved to have taken a sledge hammer to the machines. I am confident that had I started to destroy the machines others would have joined me. I was careful to not to express a desire to blow them up. The USA is still at Security Threat Level "Orange" - the next to highest level in their system. After so many years of war, thousands of deaths and billions of taxpayer dollars spent, the perceived threat remains the same. I did not want to add to anyone's paranoia by mentioning bombs or explosives.

It seemed ironic to me that in today's troubled economy, jobs have been eliminated at the cost of poorer customer service for the consumer. I personally would be willing to pay $5 or $10 more for each airline ticket to ensure I received personal service in checking in at the airport. Here in South East Asia customer service and assistance is still provided by real people and is expected as part of a company's services to its clients. This connects people to people, provides employment, and improves the consumer's experience.

A similar situation exists related to luggage carts at US airports. For domestic flights, a traveller must pay to use a luggage cart. In South East Asia the carts are readily available for free at all luggage carousels at airports and airport entrances irregardless of domestic or international flights. How much more convenient would it be for all travellers to have free and readily available luggage carts at all airport locations in the USA? Again the $4 fees could be added to the price of each ticket to cover the costs of managing and distributing the carts. Once again this is related to connecting people to people, creating jobs, and providing a higher quality of service to the consumer.

How many times have you become unsnarled in a company's electronic switchboard? As you listen to the electronic "elevator music" and go through the selection of "Press 1 now", "Press 2 now" it becomes evident and painfully clear that your situation is unique and has not been anticipated or perhaps was ignored in development of the automated switchboard. No matter what combination of numbers that you press, your problem will not be resolved or even addressed. You need to speak to a real person - a person who can listen, think, and act responsively to your situation. There have been times where I have given up and hung up the phone in trying to speak to a real person.

This is another situation where jobs have been eliminated to reduce costs at the expense of customer service. We the consumers are partly to blame for this situation. We blindly and complacently accept corporate America's efforts in eliminating jobs and reducing services. Perhaps we wrongly believe that the cost savings are being passed along. Our neighbors are put out on the street and we end up with less as well as poorer service.

We may or not be our brother's keeper but by advocating for better service we can help others as well as work to improve our life.

The job you save could very well be your own.

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