Last week I wrote a post which has had an overwhelming response (see: The loss of our family dog and my WestJet experience). First let me thank everyone for your responses.  It’s been overwhelming in terms of the support and I’m amazed how news of Hunter has spread so quickly. It’s a fitting tribute to such a incredible soul … he was everyone’s best friend!  I can assure you he would have been your friend too. Our family misses him. However he’s not really the focus of this post.

I want to focus on my WestJet experience. I think there are significant lessons to be learned from my story. The lesson applies to all of us regardless of what we do for a living. I think there are innumerable companies out there who need to learn this lesson as well. The lesson is this …

Delivering something valuable to your customer is why your company exists and why you have a job.

That’s it. It’s that simple in my mind.  The problem is the prospect of delivering high value is not so simple. Here’s some thoughts which have surfaced for me as a result of my recent experiences:

You cannot always put a price tag on customer value

The most valuable things I received that day were the hugs at the ticket counter and the time the flight attendant spent talking with me. I know some of the comments on my post bash Air Canada, but I think it’s a more general problem. In this busy world there are so many companies which focus on the all-mighty dollars and their share values. Sometimes it’s the little things which actually give the highest value.  In this case simply caring about me as a person … not a source of revenue.

Customer value is not a static target with a one-sized fits all answer.

What if the WestJet people pulled out the ‘Big book of air travel rules’ on that day?  I would have had to take the 10am flight I was booked on. Assuming I arrived before the flight closed out, they would have likely charged me a change fee to be on the earlier flight. I would have been seated somewhere further back in the plane (it was a premium seat I was in by sitting in the front row). Sometimes the right thing is to not follow the book in such a black and white manner. Use your heart, soul and common sense.

Delivering high customer value sometimes requires small adjustments or sacrifices on your side

I believe the flight actually departed a few minutes late (for obvious reasons I wasn’t overly focused on keeping track that day). I can only assume it’s because they needed to wait for me to board the plane. What was the impact to the airline and other passengers — nothing.  The flight still arrived in Toronto on time, and given it had a 90 minute wait for it’s departure to Vancouver it created no issues to wait for me.  So in this case although they knew I was likely going to cause a small delay … the value was huge.

Although I believe this thinking applies to all types of companies, let me bring this back to the world I work with. Approaching software development using waterfall means you’re trying to define value once at the start of your project. If you then spend months working with this static definition of value what is the likelihood their world will not shift. When it does shift on your customer what in your waterfall approach makes it easy to adjust the definition of value? The bureaucracy we put them through does not translate to easy. Finding an approach allowing you to respond to change quickly is needed.

There are so many companies out there focused on a static definition of customer value. Their biggest worry is the share price of the company. So how are they doing in this tough economy?  WestJet on the other hand continues to be one of the most (and few) profitable airlines in the world today. Perhaps they figured out the right thing to focus on is customer value and not share value. I’m sure it’s not always such a rosy story for WestJet but I can tell you they responded well to deliver high value for me.

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