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We’re Not Always Asking for Discretionary Effort

You’ll find models of employee engagement that define it as a measure of the discretionary effort an employee will invest in executing their role in an organization.  However in some instances asking for discretionary effort is clearly a lofty goal when it’s obvious that the level of commitment and dedication from a workforce is so low that the most basic customer service expectations cannot be met.

This all came to surface earlier this month when it took the power of social media for a senior Air Canada executive to resolve a problem that numerous Air Canada employees were given ample opportunity to diffuse during the week prior.

This link will take you to a Facebook page that chronicles Ron Tite’s painful experience trying to track down his lost luggage through the normal Air Canada customer service channels. After seven days of frustration, exasperated by numerous broken promises and false redirects to Air Canada’s third-party courier service, Ron finally reached out to Air Canada’s Chief Operating Officer to bring the issue to his attention and share with him the social media following that had begun to rally around the cause.

Within 30 minutes of making that call, Ron’s luggage was at his front door. I must admit that I am surprised that a COO of such a large organization can create such an immediate sense of urgency, resulting in the bag being found and transported with such expediency. But what’s most stunning is the number of Air Canada employees throughout the process that had the opportunity to avoid this entire, colossal, brand deteriorating experience from ever happening. How many employees were presented with how many moments of truth, when they could have taken a simple action that would have resulted in a solution for this customer, and put a stop to an escalating public outcry?  Most of the time, we’re not asking for discretionary effort. We’re asking for the most basic, good service behaviour, a commitment to your purpose in the organization that is probably documented as an expectation in each of the job descriptions involved. I expect that there were at least 30 Air Canada employees who were presented with an opportunity, at some point in Ron’s journey, to make sure his luggage got to him. That’s all it would have taken to convert him to a satisfied (and loyal!) customer who appreciates that, although mistakes happen, Air Canada is an organization that cares about its passengers and will do everything it can to right its wrongs. Unfortunately, what I suspect is a culture of complacency and entitlement sets a limitation on the level of commitment, accountability and pride-in-purpose that we can expect from this employee community.

This is an organization that needs to realize that their employees present an opportunity to gain competitive advantage. In this case, Air Canada’s two domestic rivals have already made that known, as shown by the brand positioning and marketing campaigns presented by both WestJet and Porter. Each time these two firms reach out to the market they focus their message on their employees’ commitment to delivering a superior travel experience for their customers. It doesn’t take discretionary effort on behalf of employees to win customers’ discretionary dollars; most of the time all we’re asking is fair value and good service. For business leaders, investing in a customer-centric culture pays off with employees proud to make each customer’s experience a great one.

Read all about Ron’s experience with Air Canada posted on Facebook.

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