I was waiting at Baggage Carousel 1 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, when a man in a vest told the crowd of us to move to Carousel 2. We eyed him suspiciously. After all, the electronic sign said the luggage from Chicago would arrive at Carousel 1. Who was more believable, the official or the official-looking sign?
He repeatedly barked that we should move to Carousel 2. But Carousel 2 was dead, luggage was pouring into Carousel 1, and the electronic sign continued to tell us Carousel 1 was a winner for us.
In frustration, the man yelled, “If you came from Chicago, move to Carousel 2!” and most of our herd reluctantly moved toward the empty carousel.
I gently said to our vested friend, “It would probably be helpful if the sign said the same thing you are saying.”
“This happens all the time!” he responded. “I can’t fix the sign! That’s the airport.”
What we have here is a system failure.
If it “happens all the time,” why hasn’t someone fixed the system? Why do weary travelers regularly have to be prodded to move, when a sign tells them to stay put?
How do your systems frustrate your customers, readers, and yourself?
- If customers repeatedly complain that they were unaware of a charge, find out where your communication breaks down.
- If email readers do not respond to your questions, examine how you are asking. How can you write differently?
- If you continually rewrite an employee’s work, stop! (Unless you want to do the employee’s job and your own.) Analyze the problem (a lack of training, awareness, or discipline?), and help the employee solve it.
When you have systems that regularly fail someone, compare the resources (time, energy, etc.) it would take to fix the problem with the resources, good will, and confidence drained day after day by the failure.
The airline official was correct, of course: Our long-awaited bags spilled from Carousel 2 like kids bursting out the school door.
Do you have systems problems that better writing would fix?