Hidden charges and less comfort – The new airline business

Lets cut to the chase – instead of slowly reducing the quality of airline travel, why not remove all the seats , and put in cattle pens today. And instead of charging a fare that has absolutely no relation to the final charge of air travel, we should just give the airlines direct access to our bank accounts and our house keys, and just let them take it all. It’s getting to that point anyway, so why don’t we just bend over and drop out trousers today.

As you might suspect, I’ve just come off a flight, and the injustice is still very fresh. It’s reached the point where the airport staff and onboard attendants are actually embarrassed by the charges and low quality of service.

We’re all used to (but still affronted by) the charges for excess baggage. But Continental (who are now United) now charge $25 per bag for the first checked back, each way for flights. If the bag is overweight, or if you want to carry a second bag, I believe the changes are dramatically higher. Twenty five bucks may not seem a lot, but it has two huge knock-on effects.

Yes Please

Firstly it means that every passenger now has to spend about ten minutes checking in, as these credit card transactions are done in airline coding systems, and so require a megabyte of codes to be entered to process. So queues now go much slower, requiring much larger cattle pens to hold the potential passengers.

But the second issue makes the whole process so much worse. To avoid having to check bags people are maxing out that carry-on allowance, with maximum-sized carryon bags, and maximum sized handbags or laptop bags as well. So now the process of boarding is three times as long as there is never enough storage space on the plane for the luggage.

When you eventually make your way up the aisle, found a space for your bags, have squeezed into the incredibly tiny seat (which invariably creaks or has a broken reclining mechanism, which either doesn’t recline or reclines automatically every time you lean back), You then find there is a TV in front of you that requires a credit card, and since the airlines now charge for food, the people to the side of you have brought their own lunch, which smells like it is two weeks old and made of rotting cabbage and garlic.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I love to see the world, I’d tell the airlines to stick it.

But here’s the thing, there are some wonderful airlines out there, and I may have to start to choose where to travel just by the airline. If a good airline doesn’t go from here to there, maybe there isn’t worth seeing.

Listen up mayors and tourist boards of the world, you need to fight crappy airline service, if you want to keep people coming, or you might just find yourself pulling an Iceland level financial crisis.

He had the right idea
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The horror of helpdesks and the calamity of call centers.

The other day I needed to rent a car in France, and as I needed it for greater than 31 days, none of the websites would let me do it online. I had to call the service center.

So based on the information on the aggregator websites (Priceline, kayak, Travelocity etc.) I found the best deals available and proceeded to call the first company who seemed to offer the right package.

I don’t want name the company, as I suspect this story is equally applicable to all of them. I called the free phone number for Budg$t (see I clearly hid the company name). And here’s how the call went:

Rep: Good afternoon sir, how can I help you (imagine this with a very pleasant Indian accent)?

Me: Hello, I’d like to rent a car in France please.

Rep: Certainly sir, can you please tell me what State that is in.

Me: Err no France is a country in Europe.

Rep: Yes sir, but what state is that in.

After several iterations of this, I asked to speak to one of his colleagues that maybe had a better grasp of world geography. I was put through to their resident geographical guru, and the conversation continued.

Me: hello again, I’d like to rent a car in France please.

Rep2: certainly sir, what state is that in?

Me: okay listen France is a country, its part of the European union, and while I believe France has states in it, it’s not actually in a state. France is a country in it’s own right, had an empire once, and still has a foreign legion.

Rep2: okay sir, I understand, what city in France to you wants to rent a car from.

Me: great, the city is called Nice.

Rep2: very good sir, Nice, okay, and what is the zip code of Nice.

Me: seriously, you know that Nice is a city in France. How about this, I want to rent the car from Nice Airport, does that work for you.

Rep2: oh jolly good sir, I have it now. When do you want to rent the car from and for how long?

Me: I want to from when I arrive for 35 days.

Rep2: oh I’m sorry sir we cannot rent cars for more than 31 days, you will have to return it to the rental office and re-rent it for the remainder.

Me: you cannot be serious, how about I just call you and extend it.

Rep2: oh no sir you have to bring it back to us.

Me: well that will not work, forget it goodbye.

Now I was very proud of myself during this call, I didn’t rip the reps head of and crap all over him verbally (as I felt like doing), but instead went to the next company on the list and called again.

Me: hi there, I’d like to rent a car in France please.

Newrep: okay sir, can you please tell me what state France is in….

This is the issue with service centers, helpdesks and their entire ilk, they are only as good as the scripts the reps are given. And no script can be all-inclusive. The people you speak to on the phone when you speak to call centers are generally very nice, but have absolutely no idea how to solve any issue that hasn’t been already thought through.

And lets face it, in this day and age you will try absolutely anything to avoid having to call a call center and be told “your business is very important to us” and “our options have changed so please listen carefully”.

You would have gone to their website, asked your friends on facebook and even visited product help groups and reviews online. So the chances of you calling for something that they can help you with have been greatly diminished.

So why are they still so crap?

BTW, if you haven’t seen it, I recommend the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, I really lovely film, and it talks to this rant.

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We all hate spam, so why is it everywhere?

Every day I must receive between fifty and a hundred emails from businesses trying to sell me things. And I’m not talking about the Viagra sales pitches, the offers to extend my manhood, the pleading letters from Nigerians who want to give me all their millions or the other clearly understood scams that the spam filters place straight in the junk folder.

I’m talking about legitimate businesses that think that sending us unsolicited email is a good way to get us to purchase their products or service. It seems virtually every company thinks that filling my inbox with crap is a good thing, and I’m here to explain to them (via you) that it is not.

I (like nearly everyone) never intentionally even opens these emails. And I absolutely never consider purchasing anything because of them.

Every now and again by pure accident I will open one of these emails, either because I’ll thumbing through my email box and my finger slips or because I press next when reviewing an email, and the next one happens to be one of these business emails. The key thing is it just mis-fingering, I didn’t mean to open it.

But to the people who are using spam as a marketing tool, they see this finger fuckup as a positive response to their campaign. And I really want them to know that it was not!

A whole industry has emerged of people who sell distribution lists to companies, so that can email out their next campaign. And many shops today tell their sales staff to always ask for your zip code (postcode) when you checkout. This isn’t to validate your credit card, this is much worse than that. They ask for a personal piece of information so that they can add you to their mailing list, it’s a governance rule that their legal department makes them follow. Of course they are supposed to ask you if you want to be on their mailing list, but the marketing departments have worked out that most people would say no. So they just have the sales people collect a piece of personal information and they just add you to their marketing database.

Once you give them your zip code, email address or any other piece of personal information you are added. And you will then receive garbage from them either in the post, via phone (normally from India during dinner) or via email.

Some of these companies then sell these “agree to be marketed to” lists to distribution list aggregators who them sell the lists on to other businesses. It’s a huge industry, and filling your inbox with crap and disturbing your dinner is their end game.

Why do they do it, if it’s so annoying and useless? Well it’s simple they are asked by their sales teams to create leads, and they have targets. So even though you are not likely to want to purchase just because they fill you inbox with colorful crap, they don’t care, just so long as the marketing team can report to the sales team and their managers that they sent 120,000 emails out this week and had an open rate of 1.2% they are happy, they are meeting their goals.

Smart marketing means truly understanding your customers, and that is a lot harder, and frankly isn’t a course that is taught on most marketing degrees. But marketing is supposed to be hard, that’s why it takes professionals.

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I hate the culture of indecision

I’m a big believer in the power of doing stuff. Doing anything is good, if it turns out in doing something you made a mistake, well then you do something else to fix it and move on, with increased knowledge.

When you do something the worst that can happen is that it turns out to be the wrong thing, and so you have to work a bit harder to fix it, and then do the right thing. But you did it, whatever it was and the world kept on turning and (generally) no one died in the process.

Of course I’ve making a generalization here, but I believe people have the best intentions when they do something, pretty much anything, and when guided by your common sense and knowledge of a situation, the chances are you are doing the right thing.

In most situations where there are two (or more) choices the worst thing you can do in nothing. It’s of course entirely possible that doing nothing was the right choice, but in my experience., doing nothing is only the right choice in a very small percentage of times. But it’s the choice taken far too often.

In business and in most personal and decision making situations people who are scared of their own shadows tend to want to analyze a situation continually, as a way of avoiding decisions.

There is an old saying “look before you leap”, but there is equally another saying “he who hesitates is lost”. The ability to make a decision before absolutely every possible choice has eroded over time is the mark of a leader. Being able to take a calculated risk, is what separates those who life a valuable and full rewarding life from those who do not.

All of the greatest world leaders, business leaders, visionaries and successful people have known and act this way. It’s okay to make a mistake; it’s generally not okay to not do anything.

Without risk, despots would never have been defeated, amazing feats of engineering would never have been achieved, and the most creative businesses and geniuses would never have reached their highest levels of success.

Winston Churchill’s life was full of decisions that he made that proved to be wrong, from which he learnt his greatest lessons in humility, leadership and eventual greatness.

Many mistakes were made politically and scientifically before a man made it to the moon and back, and the lessons that were learnt lead to decades of amazing advancement in all the fields of science.
I had the honor of sitting down with each of the two founders of Hewlett Packard many years ago, and Dave Packard told me that the secret of their success lay in the simple idea of trying several really big things at a time, with the full knowledge that some of them would fail. But he was confident that the ones that would work would pay for all the research they have invest in and all the projects that had failed as well.

And he knew that the people who worked on the things that failed would be the experience that would make the successes for their company in the future. For decades HP was a company that thrived on leading the technology of the world into new areas. It was only after Bill and Dave became too old to run the company that this model slowly changed. And their company became very risk averse. They still made amazing technology, but then it was just iterations and improvements on what everyone else is doing.

They have tried many times since then to reignite the flame of innovative risk, and I truly hope they succeed.

Whenever a business chooses to eliminate all risk entirely they are forced to stop innovating and instead focus purely on efficiency.

In the paraphrased words of Peter Drucker (one of the most amazing management consultants the world has ever seen) “the role of a company is to create and keep customers, only once they can do this well, should they look at creating and keeping customers efficiently and effectively”

The bottom line is you need to truly understand why you do what you do before you worry about doing it well. If you limit what you do to just focusing on something well, you will never be able to do anything new.

If you are driving your car on the highway, and the road splits in two, you need to make a decision and make it before you hit the barrier. That’s taking a calculated risk. If you turn left and it turns out that right was the right answer, well you take the next exit come back and do it again. But if you keep going down the middle line and don’t make a decision you will crash. It happens.

In life and in business if you see people who are unable to make any form of decision, and use every technique possible to avoid looking like they are unable to make a decision, then you are looking at someone with very low self-esteem. I call the inability to make a decision “making an indecision”.

Not everyone is able to make decisions, some people work best as followers, and that’s fine, so long as they are not in positions where making indecisions effects others.

Know indecision makers for what they are!

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The Bridge Burn Conundrum

Is it ever OK to burn a bridge with someone (or some firm) in business?  With an uncertain job market and numerous incompetents and assholes (aka prime bridge-burn targets), continuing to both evade being exposed and being able to switch companies and get senior-management jobs with hiring authority, is it wise?  

The reflex answer for many (including virtually every job market “expert”), is of course, “No!”  It is “No!” mainly because it can come back to bite you later.  Flaming an employer or boss on Facebook, LinkedIn or any other public forum is rightly discouraged, as recruiters and potential future employers will see it and consider you a “bad seed” or at least a malcontent who is a higher risk candidate.  So, burning a bridge publicly with your employer = bad, right?  Don’t be the “average angry bridge burner,” right?

But that’s exactly what Greg Smith did when he announced his departure from Goldman Sachs via an op-ed piece called “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs.”  Rather than torch his company and boss/es just in person, by phone or via email he went a little more public; he decided to tell the millions of NY Times readers that the leaders of his company (CEO Lloyd Blankfein and President Gary Cohn), had deliberately fostered a toxic culture in which bleeding extra cash out of their clients has replaced servicing the needs and best interests of those clients.   From what I’ve read Mr. Smith still seems pretty happy about what he did; he also likely sleeps pretty well having burned that bridge and doing it may even help correct the bad behavior of his former bosses so that must help him feel good about it (the 6-figure book deal he got plus the millions he made while at the firm doesn’t hurt either).

OK, so he’s an exception.  Now what about the rest of us?  Flaming posts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo Message Boards, etc. to make it clear what an incompetent ass your former boss was or how badly your former division or company was managed?  Nah; too limiting for your future and you’re spending time and effort getting a message to people who aren’t your real target audience.

Now if you’ve very carefully thought it over and really need to make a statement for your own sanity and for the good of the employees there, the firm itself (and mankind), I believe there is a better way.  Go to and immediately around the source.  Make it clear to the offending person/s, and to the people who can do something about it, what you think of their management style, tactics, etc. and expose them for the asshole non-leaders you know them to be (and yes, “The No Asshole Rule” is one of my favorite books).  Then stick to your guns and don’t accept their LinkedIn connection request when it eventually comes and don’t hide your opinion of them when asked by a 3rd party.  Keep it personal and commit to incinerating that specific bridge for all eternity.

For some reason I often think back to a scene from one of my favorite films, The Longest Yard, the original one… (and yes kids there were good movies made B.A.S. (before Adam Sandler)); anyway the scene goes like this:

QB Paul Crewe: Hey Pop, the time you hit (Warden) Hazen in the mouth, was it worth 30 years? 

Pop: For me it was.

QB Paul Crewe: Then give me my damn shoe!

So, is it ever OK to burn a bridge in business?  Done the right way, for some people, you’re damn right it is!  Be sure it’s what you want and then do it and do it right.  You’ll likely sleep much better and you may help prevent an incompetent asshole from turning more good people into “angries” who hate their jobs.

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