You have it easy


I’m getting tired of people making up lame excuses for why they can’t deliver a functional product or service. It seems like it’s always someone else’s fault: the customer failed to read the disclaimer, or the subcontractor forgot the supplies, or UPS dropped the box in shipping. Frankly, it’s all a load of crap. No matter what you do, there’s somebody else dealing with a scenario that’s ten times more difficult, yet somehow delivering much more consistently than you are.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is a great example. CTA gets a lot of bad press, but I would contend that the consistency of their rail service is better than virtually any commercial business I deal with. CTA is saddled with all sorts of funding problems and a history of poor management, their train cars and tracks are decades old, and the environmental conditions can be incredibly harsh. Yet despite all this, the trains are almost always running, even during torrential rain and snow.

I don’t know how CTA manages to be this reliable when there are so many factors stacked against them. Maybe it’s because huge numbers of people count on the trains to be running. On second thought, that can’t be the only factor: many companies with a big customer base let their systems fail regularly — and never seem to fix the core problems. For instance, RIM has a problem with its BlackBerry service every few months, disabling mobile connectivity for millions of corporate and government users. So the sheer size of the customer base can’t be the deciding factor.

In CTA’s case, my best guess is that the front line people — the ones who actually keep the trains running and the tracks free of obstructions — happen to work really hard and care about their customers. This is no easy task, for sure. But if they can keep things going in the worst of circumstances, I think that sends a message to the rest of us. While it may be easy to blame customers or channel partners or external events when you can’t deliver what you promised, the best approach is to just accept responsibility and find a way to keep things running like your customers expect them to.