When Systemic Problems Don’t Get Solved


This past week, I stumbled through a systemic problem that might not ever be solved, namely the National Car Rental service at Terminal 3 of the Toronto Pearson International Airport.

I say a “systemic” problem, because I've seen the same frustrations (for customers and employees) twice in a month now. A co-worker reports “Oh yeah, it's always a mess there, same problems, I quit using them.” The normal routine with car rental involves minimal delay, especially as a frequent renter. If you even have to go to the counter (which you do in Toronto), it's a quick handoff of keys and off you go to your car.

Not in Toronto. Twice now, they haven't had cars ready for the customers. So, there's the line to get checked in and the separate line for people who waited up to 30 minutes to actually get a car because nothing was ready.

When I finally got a car (after about 30 minutes of the “waste of waiting”), I did my best to put on my “why?” hat and I asked the one employee, “why aren't there enough cars available?” (rather than just giving him a hard time or yelling).

Well, the employee went off on a mini-rant directed at “corporate,” how the local outlet has been complaining about being understaffed and “corporate won't do anything about it.” He encouraged me to complain through National customer service since our concerns (as customer and employee) were very much aligned.

Part of me wanted to ask, “what about improving your process so you don't need as much labor?” but I didn't have time for that… off I went. I'll assume they do need more labor. So why doesn't a problem like that get fixed? Is National waiting for all of their customers to go away? That will solve the labor crunch, eh?

I think one lesson learned is to ask why, even if you're frustrated and cranky about the situation. Don't assume that the folks at the front lines of customer service have much, if any, influence over the corporate policies that cause frustration for everyone.

If this problem has been going on for months (according to my colleague), are they unwilling to fix the problem or unable to fix it? I'm not sure which is worse…

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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.


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