Jet-Airplanes-in-sky-imagesSo I’m in the USA and the most different thing I experience when here is the customer service. I’ve written before about this and reflected my endorsement (in theory at least) of the Starbucks experience of having my name written on my cup in the UK. Whilst I have visited Starbucks here (and not had my name taken and also experienced very British style of service) it is not my coffee experience I want to reflect on. It is my flight experience.

I have now taken a number of internal flights in the US. This is a very different experience to the UK. The whole security process seems to have many more layers and be more bureaucratic and officious than the UK. No customer orientation here. Well that’s fairly familiar to anyone who’s been to Gatwick or Heathrow and quite familiar even in UK regional airports. Interestingly though it is worse in the US with staff not clear or consistent over the rules and not being particularly interested in the customer experience.

Yet other flight experiences here are generally very customer oriented. Check in staff are polite and friendly (perhaps the British accent helps). The flight attendants are too. Compared to the UK approach of tell you nothing about delays you get regular updates and a sense of urgency to get things moving. There is a genuine sense that they want you as a customer to enjoy your flight and to get to your destination on time. Twice the flights have been delayed for me and twice the pilots have flown recklessly fast beating the flight time by a full 30 minutes. This simply does not happen in the UK.

The really interesting thing is the way that the safety briefings are brief and sparse, the luggage rules and electronic devices rules barely followed and general flying style is much more risk taking (including some interesting landings). I wondered if the rules-based culture one usually expects in the US is more about appearing to do things than actually doing them?

So if electronic devices are dangerous, why not really check that they are switched off (as in the UK)? In the US there seems to be a recognition that this is not acceptable to customers and thus customer orientation has de facto overruled delivery of the control. All of this is fascinating. A non compliant side of the US I’ve never seen.

I wonder from an audit perspective whether having the controls as designed has become more important than the controls  as operated. This talks to the IIA’s rely on the risk management system once tested and then believe in it when doing less testing. I believe this approach is flawed. Just as my flight, welcomely speedy as it was, did seriously make me wonder about the risk I was being asked to run, so an internal audit that does not taste the sausage arising from the sausage machine risks audit failure.

I trust but verify, not because I don’t believe in control systems in theory, but because I realise humans are not scientific machines and will, whether bending airline rules or others, be ‘human’. It is this humanity, complex, messy and social as it is, that really drives control. Values and culture drive real control and risk mitigation. You can ask flight attendants to ensure all mobile electronic devices are off, but unless they, and the passengers truly believe this to be a risk, it will never happen. After all, we all fly all of the time, this risk will never happen to me…