Customer experience expert Patricia Seybold recently told the story of a young Web designer named Dustin Curtis, who got so aggravated trying to book a flight on American Airlines’ website that he took matters into his own hands.
Instead of complaining, he did what any savvy, ambitious young designer would do. He designed a brand-new home page for the airline, posted it online and asked for their opinion.
Curtis’s quickie redesign is everything the official AA.com site is not: clean, clear, uncrowded, easy to navigate.
A member of the airline’s design team responded in a comment on Curtis’s blog. The unnamed employee basically agreed with the criticism, with an explanation that was very revealing about how complicated things get inside huge global enterprises.
Many, many people touch the AA website, the employee explained. At least 200, spanning multiple departments and divisions, including QA, product planning, business analysis, code development, site operations, project planning, and user experience.
He added (I’m paraphrasing slightly):
“Any new features on the site should be designed or vetted by us. However, there are (many) exceptions. For example, our Interactive Marketing group doesn’t go through us. The Publishing group pushes content without much interaction with us. The AAdvantage team, for some reason, runs its own little corner of the site. The international sites also have a lot of autonomy in how their domains are run.
“Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that AA.com is a huge corporate undertaking with a lot of tentacles that reach into a lot of interests. It’s not small, by any means.”
Not exactly inflammatory rhetoric. And anyone who has ever worked in a large corporation will no doubt recognize the feeling of wrestling-with-an-octopus, and how insurmountable it can seem to try and implement the needed changes in a global enterprise.
So what did happen? Did AA reduce the friction between departments? Streamline its internal workflow? Did it consolidate Web operations in a single department?
Of course not. It simply fired the employee as soon as his reply became public. There! Problem solved.
Seybold, an expert in customer-inspired innovation, said the episode “exposes the sad truth about corporate inertia” and urges companies to install visionaries to keep from ruining the Customer Experience. As awful as dealing with mega-corporations can be, Seybold reveals why it could be a lot worse.
It’s a good read. Check it out.