By Frank J. Rich
Years ago Eddie Rickenbacker’s airline experiment in shuttle service seemed a hit. Eastern Airlines, followed by Delta, initiated shuttle service between New York, Boston, and Washington DC. No reservations were needed; flights left every hour on the half-hour. And, if you showed up to a full plane you had only to wait an hour for the next. That is, unless there were enough travelers to fill a plane; at which point another of their Turbo Prop Lockheed Electras was rolled out to fill the need.
But Rickenbacker’s bonanza had even more currency than making commuters of those who needed to be in nearby cities for only a day. His airline boasted such customer service for the short trip, usually an hour, that it coined the phrase: “We have to earn our wings everyday.”
Ball players and business folks can relate. While the argument ensues over whether biology or reason is responsible for Eastern’s chant, the math in each has begun to form, making lighter reading and more enjoyable practice.
Using the mechanism of “duration neglect,” that bias of the memory that counts momentary events as more significant than the accumulation of antipodal experience, say pleasure or good driving, we can see Rickenbacker’s experience in imagining the value in his corporate cheer.
Imagine you are driving down the highway on a trip that usually takes 30 minutes. On the same road for the entire trip you travel 30 miles at 60MPH. But traffic is heavier and lighter at various access and exit points along the way, so you end up driving for 45 minutes to complete the 30-mile trip. In the process you relax your driving vigil and when the traffic eases you speed up, only to discover flashing lights behind you and the traffic police insisting that you pull over.
A summons for speeding results, which you accept apologetically, but you begin to think about what just happened as you arrive at your destination, now delayed another 15 minutes. For the 45 minutes it took you to travel 30-miles you averaged 45MPH, or 15MPH below the speed limit. How could you get a ticket for speeding at 70MPH if your average speed was roughly 45MPH?
In this case the traffic cop is giving the good and the bad parts of your driving experience equal weight, a clear example of what is called “duration neglect.” This principle of memory decision-making sees the mechanisms as different between the purpose of the traffic cop and the driver, resulting in a decision that is not aligned with the experience. In effect you were not speeding when the duration of the experience is considered. Since it was not – in this case the traffic cop was yielding to another memory principle, that of the “peak-end rule,” in which his experience was limited to the moment that you were speeding despite the fact that you were below the speed limit for the overwhelming duration of your drive. Perhaps, this is what Rickenbacker was thinking when he captained another ship, after his career as an Army Air Ace.
Interestingly, you are likely to remember the moment in which you were declared a “speeder” longer and more intensely than you consider the casual drive you enjoyed that day. Our rational, biological mind has strong preferences for the length of the pleasure and pain we experience, but more often represents the most intense moment of an experience (the peak), when our feelings about the experience are at an end.
What does this have to do with the business of business? If you’ll allow, customers have a way of driving us to peak moments in the expectation of them, either remembering it as you experience it, or forgetting it as you hope. We are too often desperately trying to protect a life of achievement, which is at risk by a single experience.
Good people, hard-working people open daily the doors to their shops and local businesses, large and small, with expectant hearts and a quick step to the customer’s needs. It is altogether fitting that we do so. At times, we hope more than less, we enjoy the exchange in an effort to satisfy the wants, needs, and buying habits of our customers. Sometimes it just doesn’t go that way. Most times it does. Dealing with local businesses can be as most enjoyable experience. Few large companies can match the pure instinct and viscera of the exchange between real people, the advantage over big business.
If we would take encouragement from the science in our craft, just as the baseball player must as he manages his last “at bat” in a continuum that hopefully leads him to a 300 batting average-one hit in every 3-plus “at bats,” we might straighten the curve that is duration neglect, or even talk a traffic cop out of a ticket.