The danger of announcing things in advance

23Mar09

If you live in Chicago, you probably know that the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has been doing construction on the train lines north of downtown for what seems like years. Typically, this has meant fewer, more crowded trains, along with longer travel times. With this in mind, I was very pleased to see a prominent sign on a Brown Line train this weekend, proclaiming that construction was complete and thanking the riders for being patient.

Well, the sign spoke too soon. Our northbound trip went smoothly, but the southbound return leg was slow and crowded. As the conductor told us during one of the delays, the construction was still taking place. And because I just saw a sign that proclaimed construction was done, I was much more annoyed than usual.

Clearly, someone at the CTA messed up, and posted the signs too soon. Or, perhaps they were only referring to the northbound work being complete. Either way, the message was that service was back to normal, but the reality is that construction and delays are still taking place. And riders are probably getting even more annoyed by the delays, since they fly in the face of what the signs say.

At least we can learn a lesson here: don’t put up an important announcement until you’re sure the underlying work has been completed and customers can see and experience the changes. Otherwise, you’re inviting people to scrutinize a work-in-progress. Unless you have an unusually forgiving customer base, they’re going to be very unhappy when they learn that things are quite a bit different than what you promised.



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