My Flight Attendant’s Coffee Kaizen
As a very frequent flyer on American Airlines, I've learned not to expect much from the company and its employees in terms of customer satisfaction (yet alone anything that would unexpectedly delight a customer). It seems like a company culture of cost cutting — especially on the backs of pilots, flight attendants, and crew. The company has a pattern of getting into financial trouble and then forcing big pay cuts on workers… and then the executives give themselves big bonuses for “saving” the company.
No wonder many flight attendants are grumpy, if not downright hostile. It's not bad people, it's the system (I try to remind myself).
But, occasionally, you might find an American employee who still has that spark that leads to service and creativity…
One thing I don't expect on a flight is good coffee. If it's hot and drinkable, that's fine. When coming back to pour refills, the flight attendant said:
“I did a little something different with this pot… tell me if you like it. I took the small in-room Starbucks pack from my hotel room this morning and I added it to the regular coffee. Tell me if it makes a difference.”
She had identified a problem (“the coffee's not very good normally, is it?”) and she implemented a classic “kaizen” style improvement — it was a small, low-cost, low-risk improvement that would benefit customers. She had a sense of pride that she was trying to do something nice, to make an improvement.
She then tested the change, at least by asking my opinion (it was better).
I wonder if she will make this part of her regular routine (at least on the first flight of the day)?
One thing that's lacking (I'm assuming) that would be part of the kaizen model is the flight attendant collaborating with her supervisor or manager on the improvement — not to get “approval” per se, but to bounce the idea back and forth in a collaborative way. A kaizen-style supervisor can help share and spread good ideas to other flight attendants, if American had a kaizen culture.
American's purchasing department is probably buying the cheapest coffee that would be barely passable by the customers (they are probably not heeding Dr. Deming's advice to “End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag alone”).
Does American have a staff suggestion program? Is there a formal way for this flight attendant to share her idea with others? Is there a way for them to recommend that American spend a tad bit more on coffee to improve quality??
I'm hesitant to say what flight I was on, because I fear American would react by punishing the flight attendant for not following procedure (our coffee might be bad, but at least it's made according to a consistent process). They might punish her for “tampering” with the coffee.
But, as a customer, I'm glad she took the initiative and, as a Kaizen promoter, I'm happy to see people taking initiative. It's too bad American can't build a culture where everybody works together instead of management starting wars with their employees, killing cooperation and any hope of improving service.
“The same management team that took hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses while the airline was losing money now wants workers to pay a high price for their mistakes.”