Saturday, October 15, 2005

The "No Bullshit" Line

I have a class this semester on "Service Management", which is maybe one or two evolutionary steps higher than the kind of pablum BS that we had to learn in Management Theory. (Management Theory was the class where we learned how to... talk to people.) There are at least some marginally useful concepts in this class, like how to make lines move quicker.

Now that would be useful to society, wouldn't it? Making lines move quicker. I'm fully on board with that goal. The class is all about automating tasks, upgrading software, taking care of customer's needs at home via computer so that they don't even have to come into the bank, etc.

That's all well and good, but it doesn't get at the root of the real problem that keeps most lines long and glacially paced. It's the idiots, the bewildered and confused, the assholes, the non-English speaking people and their stuttering nephew interpreters, and the conversation-starved elderly. That's the problem.

You're at the post office. You're there to do one of a few quick tasks. Maybe buy a roll of stamps. Maybe have a package weighed and posted. Maybe you got a slip in the mail and you're there to pick up your parcel. Quick and painless. Nothing big. You're maybe fifth in line. But why is it that the line isn't moving? Why has that one woman been at the window since you came in, ten minutes ago? What postal transaction could possibly be taking so long?

Or maybe you're snaking your way through a long airport check-in line. And you just happen to notice that one of the 3 available check-in desks has had the same family standing there talking with the agent the WHOLE time you've been on the line. The whole time. What, like 20 minutes? Why? Isn't the idea that you just step up, present your e-ticket, confirm your flight, check your bag, and take your boarding pass? It's a 2 minute procedure. What else is there?

One more. You live in Las Vegas. You have a $25 casino chip that you want to cash out. You go to the cage. There's a line. The man currently being helped seems to have ID Cards, documents in triplicate, a passport, a credit history, and a paystub out and he's involved in some fiendishly complex negotiation with the cashier. What the fuck is going on?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present my solution: The NO BULLSHIT Line. This would be a dedicated separate line, with an assigned staffperson, reserved for the exclusive use of people who have a bullshit-free transaction. Oooh oooh, and even if you had a bullshit-dense transaction and the NO BULLSHIT line was free, you still couldn't use it.

This is sort of a spiritual successor to the "10 items or less" line, or the "cash only" line, only it's applicable to virtually any business environment. Imagine the scene. You enter the airport. The check-in line is enormous, and what... only 3 desks open? You'll be there forever. But wait, there's virtually nobody waiting at the No Bullshit Line. You approach it. In front of you on the No Bullshit Line is a man, his fat wife and their three, fidgeting children. The family steps up to the counter, and my, do they have a long list of problems. Can they get a seat change on the flight? Do they have enough VISA miles to get an upgrade on the return leg? Speaking of which, we need to change that return day to Sunday. Is there a fee for that? Oh, and little Timmy will be taking a connecting flight by himself next week. Can someone meet him and help him get on the plane?

The agent listens patiently, and finally cuts in. "I'm sorry sir, this line is for No Bullshit transactions only. But don't worry, they'll be able to help you at the regular check in desk."

"But we're already here!"

"I'm so sorry for the inconvenience. May I help the next passenger with a bullshit-free transaction?"

Oh, the satisfaction. The joy. The justice. The look on dad's face as he turns around and contemplates the full line. The departing of what remains of his sprit. His acceptance of the suffering ahead of him. While I step up and conduct my business in exactly one minute - thirty, dad and family trudge off to the main line and get in place behind the man with the caged dog, and the old woman whose head never stops quivering in a circular motion.

And the guy at the casino cage with a limited command of english trying to exchange pesos for dollars. And the woman at the post office who doesn't understand when the clerk says that her box needs to be secured with more tape. And the dude at the ATM who seems to be milking every last drop of functionality out of the ATM's three choices. And the old man at the bank who never likes to get down to business until he's had a 5 minute conversation with the teller. And all the other millions of permutations of people who require special treatment and special attention, they can all step aside, and wait patiently for their turn to occupy someone's time with their bullshit.

The soup nazi had it right. Give me a line where something quick and simple can just get done. Give me a fast, convenient experience - one commensurate with the simplicity of my errand. Put me and those like me on a separate track.

P.S. We could at least start by enforcing the rules we already have. How often do you see a checkout person at the supermarket actually enforce the 10-items-or-less rule? Never. Wouldn't it be nice to actually see an offender kicked out into the normal line?


Dr. Ian Clark said...

Although entirely on your side, I suspect the "No Bullshit" line suffers from one fatal flaw: no one, and I mean no one, thinks they're less full of shit than someone who's full of it up to his eyeballs. I've been on a million post office lines where the guy in front of me is sincerely - passionately - arguing over some 3 cent stamp, or that he shouldn't have to pay for some perceived inefficiency in the post office's supply chain.

This guy is gonna be the first in line for the No Bullshit line. "No bullshit? Great! This thing about the 3 cent stamp has been bugging me forever - finally they got a line for a guy like me with a working Joe's problem!"

And try telling him he's full of shit. That's just another argument unto itself. Now, instead of arguing over the 3 cent stamp, your employee is forced into savage combat with a twitchy heavy drinker who's demanding his bullshit be validated.

What you need is a "No Bullshit" floater. An employee who drifts behind the line, asking questions.

"Is there an address on that package?"
"Yes, sir."
"You have enough money to pay for it?"
"I do."
"Why don't you come see me over at the No Bullshit desk."
"Wait a sec - what are those stamps?"
"Oh, those are just some postcard stamps I bought in Haiti that I'd like to exchange for one third of a US 32 cent stamp."
"Never mind..."

That would be great! No Bullshit, and the bullshitter doesn't get to choose if he's full of shit or not.

Rowsdower said...

Yes, that's true. Everyone would assume that their problem is bullshit-free. The clerks and counter people would have to be given the authority to make that call, and we'd have to agree to stand by their decisions.

I would think though that after a little trial and error people would start to get the idea and stay out of the line unless they knew they qualified.