Tel: 800-253-2350

Everyone’s trying to do more with less these days. Yet great chefs always taste their food before sending it into the dining room. Can today’s companies make decisions for the real world, not just spreadsheets?

When companies ask customers to buy products designed from pure spreadsheet formulas, they are bound to fail. That’s happening more and more these days, as the recession forces companies to operate by financial formulas alone. It’s also why they’re losing good employees, loyal customers and market share. Here’s a example.

Recently I bought a full-fare first class ticket on Delta airlines. I selected Delta for three reasons: They offered a direct flight between Boston and Atlanta. They offered WiFi service so I could check email after a busy day with clients. And their first class fare was only about $125 more than coach each way. The early boarding and extra legroom is worth it to those of us who fly multiple times a week.

Once airborne, the usual occurred. I put my laptop on my lap and headphones in my ears. All around me, the seats started going back. I was sitting in seat 2C on an Airbus 320. Suddenly, 1C reclined back so far, my laptop closed itself and my knees were crushed.

It was worse than coach.

After snatching my laptop out of harms way, I twisted to save my knees. Politely asking the lady in front to incline her seat was useless; The only thing worse than airline service is fellow travelers’ manners these days. But that’s the topic of a different blog.

The flight attendant immediately commiserated. Others around me were having the same problem (with seats and fellow travelers). None of us could take out our tray tables, laptops couldn’t be opened, and getting out to go to the bathroom was like climbing out of a rabbit’s hole. In a conspiratorial voice, the flight attendant told me that Delta recently added another row of seats to first class.

So it was inconvenience by design.

A design made on a spreadsheet, by a bean counter somewhere in the accounting bowels of Delta Airlines. Somebody – who probably hates to fly – decided to squeeze another $400 per flight by cramming four more seats into an old A320. They knew business flyers would fill them, considering how grim they’ve made sitting in coach. It was a perfect plan, on paper.

Except that what makes sense on paper – a spreadsheet, a flip chart, a memo – rarely makes sense in real life. What makes first class attractive to travelers – the ability to cross your legs, take out your laptop and put a cup of coffee on your tray table – disappears when you focus only on Column C of a spreadsheet. The real meal becomes meaningless if you can’t even take out your tray table.

Delta isn’t alone. Too many companies have converted to spreadsheet- during the recession. They have forgotten the master chef’s lesson: Taste your meal before sending it out to dining room.

It’s everywhere: Hoteliers who never try reading a book by the ghastly light of their flourescent bulbs. Smartphone manufacturers who don’t try their phones for a normal work day, and see the poor battery life. Cable networks who bundle the classic movie channel with the sports package, never imagining the two audiences are entirely different.

Business by spreadsheet is ruining companies everywhere. Decisions made based upon what looks good in cell A23 causes HR departments to lay off employees who know how things work. They shave-off the little extras that added joy extra to their products. The bean counters are gutting the message of the marketers. All seeking a better bottom line.

Yet healthy bottom lines don’t come from formulas alone. They require real life consumers to buy your real life products or services. And all too often, spreadsheet-decisions ruin those products or services.

Business by spreadsheet tells customers they can’t cross their legs, when that’s exactly what customers thought they were buying.

Look at successful companies: They focus on the customer experience first, only to find the customer will pay for what will make the spreadsheet a success as well. Apple simply gives you a new iPhone when you bring your broken one to the store. Ritz-Carlton has incandescent lamps with dimmer switches, focusing on ambience before electric bills. Richard Branson built an airline whose mission statement is, “To build a profitable airline where people love to fly and where people love to work.”

Being profitable is the result of creating an airline where people love to fly; not the number of seats you can cram into first class.

Ironically, Delta Airlines appears to be hampered by two pieces of paper: their spreadsheet and their mission statement. It’s a nonsensical hodgepodge of political correctness: “We—Delta’s employees, customers, and community partners together form a force for positive local and global change, dedicated to bettering standards of living and the environment where we and our customers live and work.”

Maybe it would make more sense for Delta to focus less on being a force for change where its customers live and work, and more on how they actually travel to work. They could start by getting their bean counters to take a trip on flight DL 1100 in first class.

Eat your own soup, chef. Sleep in your own bed, hotel. Fly in your own seats, airlines. No matter what business you’re in, if you want someone else to pay for your offering, make sure you’d pay for it yourself, first.



Postscript: Me, being me, and wifi being available on the plane, I tweeted the problem to Delta while en route. Here’s the log:

mfcompany: @Delta Sitting on DL1100; First class. Paid full fare. Seat in front of me reclines INTO my lap. Can’t even take out TRAY. #EPICFAIL

DeltaAssist: @mfcompany  I truly apologize for the inconvenience. Please follow & DM @DeltaAssist with your confirmation number for assistance

(I did; the following was the private message exchange.)

DeltaAssist: Again my apologies. Please accept 1,000 Skymiles or a $25 voucher for the inconvenience.

mfcompany: I know your options are limited, but would have preferred a message that says, “We’ll have engineer look at seats and make better for future”