I finally settled into Seat 7D. After a two-hour delay I managed a smile as the Captain quipped apologetically that the airline hasn’t found a way to control lightning. My quiet respite in my seat was disturbed by a disgruntled posse of travelers around me. In particular, one person was squeezing in a final call before takeoff.
The flight attendant took the microphone and reminded the passengers that it was time to conclude use of cellular devices. The not-so-subtle reminder was clear. “Finish the call!” Whether it was because the announcement drew our attention to the call or the fact that the passenger was a classic “loud talker”, most of us from Row 3 to Row 23 heard the conversation.
It was a frantic call to a Rental Car Agency from a person seated in the row behind me. Our flight delay had triggered a series of unfortunate events and the caller was attempting to confirm her transportation needs at her new destination and cancel her previous reservation. Seemed like a simple task to me.
Instead of a quick answer, the customer encountered a series of transfers as each person on the other end of the call passed her along. Transfer, transfer, transfer. With each transfer, the disgruntled caller became more and more agitated. The volume of her protests increased. The airline attendant’s instructions to wrap up the call became more direct. Clearly, I wasn’t going to catch a nap any time soon.
Can I help you?
Don’t miss the sarcastic twist when someone in “Customer Service” gleefully asks, “Can I help you?” Sometimes the only appropriate response should be, “I don’t know. It depends on whether you are posing the question to yourself or to me.” Serving well presumes possession of three resources: a clear vision, sufficient information and authority. Listen carefully to those who serve on the front lines and you may hear three requests.
Help me see
The first prerequisite for efficient problem solving is clear vision. A clear organizational vision provides the benchmark for what the best “help” should provide. Therefore, it’s the basis for faster, better decisions. In fact, alignment between vision and daily decisions is a litmus test for healthy culture. Individual decisions are like individual tiles in a beautiful mosaic. In isolation, they seem insignificant. But, collectively, they create a picture. The picture tells a story. Vision is the story you want your organization to tell. Every individual in an organization contributes to the story. The clearer the vision, the easier it is to make good decisions.
Some information comes quickly. For example, when I listened to the conversation on the plane, the car rental customer provided a clear picture of the situation. She provided all of the necessary information about her reservation, her flight delay and the details of her request. From what I could tell, nothing was lacking on her end of the conversation. Yet, the car rental company repeatedly transferred her call. Perhaps the first transfer was necessary. What about the second? What about the third? At some point, it is reasonable to expect that the caller would find someone who possessed the information she needed. Healthy organizations remove the choke points that restrict the flow of information. When information that contributes to problem solving is disseminated quickly the customer experience improves. Healthy cultures are becoming more and more transparent and less protective of information that helps foster internal and external excellence.
In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek suggests a simple formula for success “Give authority to those closest to the information.” A clear vision and critical information are not enough. The best leaders share authority with those who are in the best position to solve problems quickly. Empowerment begins with a shared vision and transparency. But, the best organizations have a clear advantage when it comes to speed and effectiveness. They cultivate confidence by empowering those closest to the information to solve the problem. They learn to celebrate successes and failures through a learning process that gleans valuable information from both.