We Fairbanksans are a lucky lot. Over the next several months, thousands of people from all over the world will come to our fair burg to enjoy the beautiful city we’ve created. They will then go home, tell all their friends about us and next year their friends will come and visit us, too. The good news is that we have control over the three primary satisfiers the makes Fairbanks the destination of choice for visitors. The first satisfier is value, which gives our guests more for their money than they expected to get. The second satisfier is relational, our golden heart, the human interaction that adds value to another’s life. The third satisfier is systemic, creating in our organizations systems that sing and facilitate excellent customer service. That’s good news.
Are you ready for the bad news? You guessed it: value — people and systems that aren’t deliberately created to satisfy will more than likely work against our best business interests. Since we all learned how to be nice in kindergarten, I’d like to focus our community spotlight on the most dangerous satisfier/nonsatisfier, namely the customer service systems we put in place to keep our organizations running. Systems once established become self-perpetuating and will long out live their value unless management periodically stops and evaluates them.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
I read — true or not, it makes a good point — that the U.S. standard railroad gauge, (width between the two rails), is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and the U.S. railroads were built by English expatriates. Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used. Why did they use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons which used that wheel spacing.
OK, so why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts. So who built those old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for their legions. The roads have been used ever since. That begs the question, why were 4.5 inch ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots first formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing to accommodate the horse hind end.
When we saw a Space Shuttle, or SpaceX today, sitting on its launch pad, there are two big SRB booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. The engineers who designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit bigger and fatter, but the SRBs have to be shipped by train from the Morton-Thiokol factory in Utah to the launch site at Cape Canaveral. The railroad lines from the factory run through tunnels in the mountains. So, the major design feature (the diameter of the shuttle booster rockets) of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over 2,000 years ago because of the size of an ancient horse’s rear.
In the interest of making this coming tourist season the best Fairbanks has ever hosted, let us all become a system fanatics. Let’s look at customer service and operational systems and make sure they facilitate rather than constipate excellence.
Please email to me this week examples you have noticed (or created) of customer service systems which sing or scream, on or off key, and I’ll the more interesting true life, local examples in next week’s column.
Be sure to tune in to this space next Sunday; Inside Business should be interesting.
Charlie Dexter is a professor of applied business emeritus. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is provided as a public service by the UAF Community and Technical Colleges.