The Horrible Thing That Happens When Systems Sabotage People

Which is more important, computers or people?

Anyone with brains would say people. But you wouldn’t know it from the way many businesses are structured.

A client of mine just experienced a “the system won’t let me help you ” experience that boggles my mind.

He was returning from an out of town college football game. He’d pre-booked a room at the Hampton Inn 30 miles away from the stadium thinking that he could spend the night after the game, and then make the six-hour drive home to Virginia early the next day. He expected to arrive around midnight.

But the game went long; it was a down to the wire slugfest. Not a single fan left early, Vacancy Signwith 60,000 people all exiting at the same time, traffic was horrible. He didn’t make it to the hotel until 3 a.m. As he straggled into the lobby, all he could think about was getting a room and getting into bed. His team had lost in the last few minutes, so he was not only exhausted from the traffic and the late night, he’d spent 4 hours on the edge of his seat, cheering at the top of his lungs, only to watch his team go down in flames to one of their biggest rivals.

Imagine his delight when he was told by the front desk clerk, “We can’t check you in because we’re doing a system audit.”

He responded, “Just give me a room, I’ll leave my credit card here and you can check me in in the morning.”

Now here comes the really good (awful) part.

“Sorry sir, we can’t do that because the system is down. We’re doing an audit, so we Wrench and Screwdrivercan’t check anyone in for another 3 hours. Sorry.”

This is the part when the Hampton Inn Executive reading this begins to hyperventilate and steam comes out of her ears.

For the record, I’ve stayed at Hamptons. I find them to be universally pleasant, clean, consistent, and a great value. But even the best organizations have moments when systems collide with humans. Sadly, when the system wins, common sense fails to enter the equation.

I feel fully confident that not a single executive from Hampton Inn would ever want an employee to tell a customer he couldn’t get his room because of a system audit.  But because management neglected to put a sign on top of every computer that says – People first, systems second – the employees, or at least the employees at that location, felt more alliance to the system, than they did the real live person standing in front of them.

The story only gets better (worse).

After trying to talk the clerk into bypassing the system, my client, now even more exhausted, gave up, left the lobby and went out to sleep in his car.  Four hours later, he woke up stiff and sore and drove home. He’s waiting to see if he gets charged as a no show.

I hope the system audit was VERY successful. Who knew that when the employees chose the system over a person that they were turning away a VP of Sales who manages a national team of traveling salespeople, salespeople who choose hotels every night, and who got an email from their boss when he was sleeping in his car. Who knew he would tell a consultant who would write about it?