The two vehicles were traveling at the same rate of speed. Their speed relative to each other was zero. The person manning the control of the second vehicle accelerated slowly. Not only did he have to close the distance to complete the docking procedure, he had to ensure that his craft didn’t come in too high or too low, and that his pitch and yawl were in alignment with the airlock of the larger craft, just forward of the massive carbon-fiber wing. A few sets of eyes from the pressurized cabin peered anxiously through the reinforced portal. If all went well, and the two craft were aligned properly, the complex procedure would be completed in a single adroit maneuver, and the occupants would be able to transfer safely from one vehicle to the other. It took seventeen minutes to dock the two craft.
If you didn’t know better you might have been thinking I was describing the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle. In reality, it wasn’t nearly so glamorous; just my USAIR flight and the gate jet-way. The jet-way driver’s efforts resembled those of a goat learning to operate a chainsaw. It occurred to me that the driver must have had to pass a series of interviews to land the job. It made me seriously question the qualifications of all of the applicants who were not offered the job.
If you happen to be a customer experience consultant and writer, and you happen to fly, the implications of putting the two together make your head want to explode—there are just too many things in play.
A few hours prior to the Shuttle docking, was the boarding process for USAIR. The airline has roughly 917 different levels of status for boarding passengers; special needs, wheel chair passengers, military, first class. Then there are those who have precious metal status; platinum, gold, and silver. Followed by the gemstone passengers; diamond, ruby, emerald, and so forth. Passengers of status enter through one of the cattle gates; passengers with lower status board through a lesser cattle gate, a gate separated by a thin nylon cord. The cord is there to separate valued customers from those whose status is not worthy of boarding using the lane used by the cool people. (Delta even lays a special bathmat on the ground upon which their SkyMiles Plus passengers are allowed to walk.)
Once they boarded the precious metals people, and the passengers who have a USAIR credit card, and the people who paid an additional thirty-five dollars to board sooner than they otherwise would have—about thirty seconds sooner; you can’t make this stuff up, but somebody obviously did—the gate agent was ready to board the remaining wretched refuse. I think the level of status printed on my boarding pass indicated my status level was Chalk. Chalk status did not entitle me to a flotation device or a drop-down oxygen mask.
Did I mention I hate the flying experience? Airlines used to market their service using chipper, customer-friendly slogans; ‘We love to fly and it shows,’ “Fly the friendly skies,’ ‘Delta is ready when you are.’
If there were truth in advertising their slogan would be, “You hate to fly and we hate having to fly you.”
Many health systems try to skirt the issue by saying they do not have customers; they have patients. Using that attitude, pretty soon they will have neither.