Wrong Visual Controls and a Lack of Problem Solving


    My travel adventures continued… lack of lean concepts abound. The only highlight in my travel was that former Cowboy great and Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach was on my flight. We landed in the K gate area of OHare (American Airlines). I folllowed the signs for “Shuttle Bus Center” figuring that's where I would find the shuttle for National rental car.

    After a long walk, I got out into the hot muggy 95-degree day and stood under this sign, clearly saying “Rental Car Shuttle” (see the sun-drenched picture to the left). The sign is a “visual control”, in lean parlance. It seemed obvious to me as a visitor. That's a good test of lean visual controls — are they obvious and can they be followed by an outsider?

    Well, it seemed obvious until 5 minutes went by and no rental car bus came by. I don't mean that the National bus didn't make an appearance, but NOBODY's shuttle came (Avis, Hertz, etc.) This seemed odd for a busy airport, especially O'Hare at 4:30 PM.

    I called National's “customer service” number that's on my Emerald Aisle card. I explained the situation and the phone rep and she said, I guess trying to make a joke, “Maybe they all went on strike while you were standing there.” Since she was unfunny and unhelpful, I eventually got the local National office on the phone, where it got interesting.

    I told her where I was standing, by the airport and across from the Hilton, and how no buses were going by. She says, “You're standing in the wrong spot.”

    Hmmm. Nice visual controls. I told her I was under a sign that clearly said “Rental Car Shuttle” and she got very argumentative and yelled “It's not OUR fault that the sign is there, other companies put it there, the buses don't come down there.”

    I argued that yes it WAS their fault, that other customers were standing here confused like me…. and she hung up!

    So what are the lessons here other than National's customer service being useless? I think of the idea of lean problem solving… what problems are happening every day and are they being fixed? I'd have to think that SOMEBODY is being confused by the signs every day and that SOMEBODY must be complaining to National (or to the airport) each and every day. Why haven't they fixed it yet? I guess once the customer has stopped complaining, the problem is “solved” at a very superficial level? I guess National (or at least the people at O'Hare) don't care if their customers have an awful experience? The bus, when I did find it, was VERY full, so I guess business is good.

    I called back to National's customer service and told them that my next 9 weeks in Illinois were going to include cars rented through Avis. What problems are plaguing YOUR customers each and every day? Are complaints being turned into change and improvements?

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. Hi Mark,

      I just came back from a 10 minute chat at the railway station where I asked for help on a Bahncard-100 (free travel on all Deutsche Bahn trains in Germany) topic. As I have a Bahncard-50 (half-price) that is valid till December and the new Bahncard-100 starts at the 1. of August I wanted to know how to return the old one.

      There is nothing said in the official brochure how to handle that (first MUDA). On my request she took the old card and almost kept it until I told her that I would need the card till the Bahncard-100 would be valid from 1. of August. (second MUDA). As I explained this she told me to come back in August in person to hand in the old card (third MUDA).

      On my suggestion to give the customer the necessary information on returning the old card right with the application of the Bahncard-100 and automatically put the refund of five months (left on the old card!) right on my given bank account she just shrugged her shoulders and told me to come back (fourth MUDA).

      It was really interesting to see that even a customer who leaves a lot of money isn’t really worth.

      Sometimes I really wonder how some businesses still survive in the market;-(

      Hopefully this attitude has a chance to being wiped out by LEAN THINKING and LEAN SOLUTIONS.

      Let’s hope for the best and get it straight;-))

      Regards from Leipzig


    2. I was in the process of booking a rental car at National for an upcoming trip through O’Hare and, on a whim, ran a search for National + O’Hare. Your informative blog entry came up. I’m now booked with Avis… ;) Regards from Switzerland, Kevin


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