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 Feature
3 February 2011 | Ian Clayton Blog
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Mooning Amtrak
This week Ian discusses the best practice of 'mooning' as a last resort to filing a customer complaint, and how outside-in thinking helps decompose the experience and enable truly customer focused service management...

  Ian Clayton

Every second Saturday in July for more than thirty years, thousands of people gather along a fence by the railway track in Laguna Niguel California, to expose their rears to passing trains.   The practice is known as ‘mooning’. This July I’ll be joining them, but not for the same reason as most of my fellow mooners.

The trains are operated by Amtrak, an independent public government corporation, entirely owned and funded by the United States government (to the consternation of US taxpayers). Over the past couple of years it has turned into much more then just a mooning, and now operates on a scale similar to a Mardi Gras Celebration.

Some believe the event began as a result of frustration and dissatisfaction with the quality of services offered by Amtrak.  The following extract from the Amtrak customer complaints blog may illustrate why,

“Amtrak now features a variety of cuisines from whatever was nuked in the microwave while leaving you an assortment of flat-water-like sodas and champagnes to your liking. Other snacks can be obtained from station trashcans and absent passengers' trays. Overnight passengers receive a complementary bale of hay. All seating has been perfumed with the aroma of livestock.”

In fact, the roots of the odd ritual are quite different and originate from a bar room bet (don't they all) at the nearby Mugs Away Saloon.  Where, on a fateful night in 1979, a drinker said he would buy a drink for anyone who would flash their bottom at a passing train. In 2006, a Maryland state circuit court judge determined mooning is a form of artistic expression, and therefore protected by the United States constitutional right of freedom of speech.

My reason for wanting to moon Amtrak has nothing to do with a bar room bet, or festival spirit, but instead as a last resort to express my angst and dissatisfaction of the customer experience our family had using their services late last year. 

It started out as a simple need – to get my wife, who is medically disabled, to the side of our daughter-in-law to help her recuperate from brain surgery, a journey that by car typically takes 3-4 hours on a good day, with all the risks of navigating Los Angeles traffic.  I was unable to travel due to other family commitments.

Almost every possible stage of the customer experience with Amtrak failed; to the extent it is now a case study in my outside-in service management training program.

As many of you may know, the first stage of outside-in thinking is for the service provider – in this case Amtrak, to think from the customer, the passenger’s perspective, and to understand their business is not running trains, but moving passengers from A to B.  It also involves their management of a passenger reservation as a request for a service they offer, a ‘service request’.

The reservation, or service request to move a passenger from A to B, should have a designed pathway through their organization, include both a customer and the provider view of the journey through the pathway.  Embedded in the pathway are numerous contacts points, or interactions.  Termed ‘moments of truth’, some of the more critical interactions are co-designed with customers to help measure, manage, and assure satisfaction. 

The entire episode of interacting with the service organization is termed the ‘service encounter’, spanning finding the reservation website, completing the reservation, traveling to the train station, and the train journey itself.   Outside-In methods help decompose and unbundle the service encounter into its constituent parts, and thereby enabling true visibility and management control of the service offered, contracted, and provided.  

Let’s take a quick look at how Amtrak did, and in doing so, recognize that they, like all service providers, may only have jurisdiction and control over parts of the encounter. Throughout, support for the service request was provided by the ‘reservations and customer service’ function.  

Reservation to Payment (A): Excellent, easy to use website, simple booking process, even able to enter request special assistance for disabled passenger (for an extra fee).

Travel from Home to Station (N/A):  Excluded, as provider has no jurisdiction.

Arrival to Parking (E):  No parking available, maintenance truck parked in disabled space, no assistance with baggage, had to park 400 yards away in shopping center.

Check-In to Boarding (F):  Gruff counter clerk, required proof of disability in addition to State certificate, could not find reservation in system, no seat reserved, not familiar with special assistance service, queried travel with service dog (who had separate ticket), continually interrupted process by taking phone calls, sent us to wrong place to board train.

Seating to Baggage Storage (F):  No assistance to board, family not allowed to help board or to find reserved seat, conductor demanded wife put baggage in overhead storage herself, despite explanation she was disabled and unable to move arms above her head, made her cry.

Train Journey Start to Destination (B):  Train left and arrived on time, relatively clean and tidy, wife advised by conductor she is in wrong seat, reserved seat eventually located, but wife had to relocate her own luggage.

Baggage Unload to Off Load from Train (E):  Family members not allowed to board train to assist with offloading of luggage and passenger.  Conductor did not offer any assistance and stressed need for train to depart on time.

Customer Service (F):  Travel was on a Sunday.  Phone system put caller on hold without mentioning support was only offered on weekdays.  Weekday caller queried why complaint was not entered using website at the time it occurred.  No escalation, no arbitration, no formal complaint procedure against employees.  Complaint logged, no next steps.

Needless to say, it’s nice to know that at least in the US, when all else fails, you still can ‘moon’ your service provider as a form of complaint!  Frankly, I just cannot see how service management initiatives succeed without the inclusion of outside-in thinking and its methods to map, inspect and improve the customer experience.   

Any feedback and comments are always welcome!! 

 

Ian Clayton is the author of the universal service management body of knowledge (USMBOK) and applies outside-in and lean thinking to service organization transformation efforts.   He helps rescue failing or failed IT Service Management and ITIL® initiatives by establishing customer relevant self-funding continuous improvement programs, and specializes in helping assess and integrate Cloud Computing strategies into service management practices. 

If you are interested in more information on how the outside-in thinking and the Outside-In Service Management™ program may help your service management transformation, or news on the planned training scheduled for the UK, please contact Ian directly at ian@servicemanagement101.com.


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