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Kiss my Turbine: What Electronics Firms Can Learn from the Doomed Airline Industry

Mon, 01/13/2014 - 4:39pm
Randy C. Hice

Randy Hice: I recently decided to transmute a languid old Dell Studio XPS into a screaming gaming machine for my youngest son. Think of a garden variety Toyota Camry that you rip out the four-lung power plant and replace with the 600 HP heart of a new Corvette.Ah, 30,000 feet and some old Dire Straits on the headphones, and waiting for my warm Heineken.

Perfect.

Though I enjoy lambasting companies that get it wrong, I’m also quick to stomp my feet and clap my hands when companies get it right. And I’ll do that, I promise, but allow me my fun first.

Airlines — sheesh. Need I say more? What I see is a slow, inevitable encroachment that has followed a relentless pattern for years. Take more from your customer base, see if others will follow to mute the competitive advantage — if they do follow, and the customers don’t defect, never, ever give up that hard-won hallowed ground. If no other airline replicates your strategy, abandon it and say “never mind”.

Despite the marketing glitter, mergers of airlines are never good for the consumer. Period.

Airlines combine in what resembles a headlong car crash resulting in an accordion-shaped hunk of mismanaged assets and jaded employees with more seniority than manners. Routes are eliminated, planes are packed, and true creativity manifests itself not as innovations provided to the customer base, rather, creative energy is directed towards vampire activities: sucking small, yet increasing sums of money from customers.

Things can improve, but it takes capital and imagination. Look back at FedEx. They proved decades ago that mail could in fact travel overnight. The U.S. Postal Service followed suit, eventually reminding us that the magic was always there, but there wasn’t a reason in Hell to put it on display.

Extend that argument to airline meals in coach. Oh my, the wicked amalgam of turkey, monosodium phosphate, and gelatinous lard passes as an insulting parody of a sandwich. Then, some wiseacre came up with the idea of charging for food, and suddenly that polymerization of unlikely ingredients was replaced by a Tuscan focaccia with sundried tomatoes, imported olive oil, jicama slaw, and free-range hen.

You mean they could have done that all along?

So, those exit row seats — wait, what? You mean we can charge for those? Ka-ching. Hey boys and girls, what if we prey upon our own miserable inabilities to handle luggage and charge people to board early so THEIR bags won’t be dragged off the plane in a parade of shame and embarrassment — to be reunited with them an hour after the plane pulls into the gate? Wait, what? You mean we can charge people to check their stupid bags? They have to bring bags, right? Ah, what the Hell, let’s try it. Besides, the folks down in the baggage handling area can punt them around to stem the boredom from their cloistered existence in the bowels of the airport. Nothing more satisfying than abusing a Gucci duffle bag as though it was a corpse being readied for a dip in the East River.

Darn — people are now lugging more “carry on” bags than ever on the plane. What to do? Hey! Why not charge them if they bring anything other than a single personal item? Go for it!

Snack boxes, peanuts, chips — Ka-ching. Pillows? Gone. Blankets — gone.

Now, we (speaking as an airline) don’t really care about the occasional traveler — heck, we’ve infuriated them for years. Let’s target the business traveler. First, because we have fewer flights and carriers, we have many more super-elite travelers…let the mere “Gold” level fliers sink to number 37 on the upgrade list when there are only four seats in Business Class left. Heck, why allow those paltry 50,000+ mile hobos access to the “extra leg room” seats of Economy Plus when they buy their tickets? Off with their heads (and knees). Make ‘em wait until 24 hours before the flight. They can learn to love the view of the dancing head lice on the person’s skull four inches from their nose.

Wait, what? You mean to tell me that we just GIVE AWAY frequent flier miles because they travel? Why don’t we insist that they must buy the most expensive tickets? We can’t have people paying discounted fares getting the same amount of miles in return as the corporate whale traveler. You know, there are still companies that allow employees to go hog-wild with their travel arrangements — let’s go after them!

OK, well, clearly I could devote another two or three thousand words to this. Why not hand out some attaboys?

Nordic Track. I have a BowFlex unit and high-tech dumbbells from NT and, when they break, they don’t screw around. You don’t want weights plopping down on someone’s mouth and relegating them to a lifetime of Slurpees? BowFlex rods have almost limitless potential energy stored in them, so when bolts loosen and straps fray, hand out new ones, no questions asked. Don’t want someone taking on whiplash from a bow like Moe snapping a ripsaw on Curly’s forehead.

I like Briggs and Riley luggage as well. When they say lifetime guarantee, that means replacement parts, or entire pieces, will arrive at their shipping and handling expense a few days after a call. Ah, don’t bother sending in the broken part — we trust you.

I have a hidden talent I’ve never shared with you. I can fix toilets like a neurosurgeon tying into an aneurism. I have pressure-assisted units I could flush a baby buffalo down, if need be, and a host of gravity units that require care and feeding. But, if a native part from Kohler fails, ka-bam, it’s on my front porch in three or four days.

So, where does this all lead us?

I recently decided to transmute a languid old Dell Studio XPS into a screaming gaming machine for my youngest son. Think of a garden variety Toyota Camry that you rip out the four-lung power plant and replace with the 600 HP heart of a new Corvette.

The video card I yanked from the old beast was a six-inch piece of scrap that cooled its processer with a miniscule fan. The new unit is a 14-inch super-powered behemoth with a fan capable of cooling off the Pepsi Center arena in Denver where the Nuggets and Avalanche play. The new CPU runs a few degrees hotter than the bright side of the planet Mercury, and the new motherboard serves as the stabilizing unifying platform for all of this technological wizardry.

My son’s mouth bounced off the floor like Wiley E. Coyote’s after the Roadrunner ditched him in a cloud of dust. The somewhat blurry background on one of his games transformed into individual blades of grass wafting in the wind. The rivers twinkle as the facets of the ripples reflect ever-changing sunlight conditions. Shooting stars cross the night sky. Of course, the blood from head wounds is now rendered so faithfully, you can almost count the strands of DNA in the red corpuscles.

But, I could have purchased these components from a plethora of suppliers, but I chose to research the kangaroo court of public opinion and only buy those receiving the highest ratings from the battle-tested consumers. Those factors not only include the quality of the components, but the return policies of the vendors.

Should we accept less? I think not. If companies decide to decrease their customer satisfaction asymptotically then they deserve their unblinking harsh perp-walk to the trash heap, and none of us should care.

At the end of the day, a United 777 flies as fast as one from American. Now, when I choose flights, I don’t give a rat’s rear what airline is doling out frequent flier miles. If I’m going to get ripped off equally by all airlines, then my criteria is reduced to time in the air: shortest route wins, and I don’t really care what insignia is on the pilot’s breast pocket.

Computers also have been reduced to commodities, and customer support is one hell of a lot more critical than features that few of us will ever care about. Think of it: maybe 95 percent of home use computers are relegated to word processing, e-mail, spreadsheets, and a whole raft of Internet surfing. When something goes awry, we want the vendor to quickly respond with a live person: if you think you convinced us that trying to shuffle us off to your Web site for tech support is anything more than a cost-saving measure for you that will never be returned to us, ah, we figured that out.

So, go ahead — put me on hold. Ask for a credit card for a tech support incident, or maybe browbeat me with some goat bleeting “Most answers to your questions can be found on our web site”…but what if the damned thing won’t even TURN ON? Better yet, give me the greenest tech support person looking up from the bottom of your food chain. Yes, that’s it! Give me someone who can read from the same Web site as I could, but can do so with an intriguing accent.

Make my day. Make everyone’s day. Screw over your customer base and your future is decided. Don’t ever think we lack options.

OK, with that off my chest, time to sip six bucks worth of Heineken that tastes the same as one buck’s worth from Sam’s Club.

Randy Hice is Director, Strategic Consulting at STARLIMS, and the author of the thriller novel Agbero. He may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.

 

Agbero - Randy C. HiceAgbero

Randy C. Hice  |  May 29, 2013  |  Kindle Price:  $4.99  |  Available on Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and several other ebook outlets.

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