The Definition of Just a Few Minutes Seems To Vary

The plane pulls back from the gate about 10 minutes late. It's a Delta 757, with the narrow aisle and 42 rows that takes forever to load, especially when the overhead bins fill up.

We slowly taxi to the runway, and then taxi right on past it and onto the deicing pad. Seeing that it is late August in Detroit, this tells me something is going on.

After a couple of minutes of sitting, the pilot comes on and says

"We're going to be delayed just a few minutes. There are some weather delays in Atlanta but we will be getting underway shortly. We are still expecting an on-time arrival in Atlanta."

My definition of "just a few minutes" is 5 minutes. The pilot's definition was more like 20 minutes and by the way we are going to be 20 minutes late.

And I think to myself that this isn't the first time I've encountered this difference in definition. Pilots always says "just a few minutes" and it always winds up being a lot more than 5 minutes.

Why can't they just tell it like it is. I'm much more patient when I know it is going to be 20 minutes than when I'm thinking it is going to be 5 minutes and it stretches out further.

This gets me thinking. Delta, the vendor, and I, the customer, and I have a very different definition of the meaning of a key piece of information. Delta is kind of a big company, with lots of systems, marketing professionals, you name it, and they can't get this piece of communication right. I'm a partner in an eight person firm. Are we getting our communications to our customers right? Delta can't. Am I sunk? I don't have the same resources.

I've come to the conclusion that I can get it right, and I try to get it right. Part of that is by making sure I communicate clearly to our customers and get an understanding of their expectations. That is one reason we bill fixed fees on almost everything we do (and we do a lot of auditing). No surprises to the customer. Because you know what happens when you send out an engagement letter that says "our fee estimate is $6,000 - $10,000." The customer see $6,000, and the CPA firm sees $10,000 with the possibility of overages.

My lesson for the day: Communicate to your customers (and vendors and everyone else you deal with) clearly. Everyone comes out happier.

p.s. I'm writing from 30,000 feet on Delta 1175 Detroit to Atlanta; I connect from there to Sarasota and then a short drive to Venice. Back to Detroit tomorrow night. I know you wanted to know that. 

p.p.s. TripIt says we are going to be 30 minutes late, but the pilots haven't told us yet.

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Joel M. Ungar, CPA is a lifelong resident of the Detroit area and a graduate of The University of Michigan. He is a principal with Silberstein Ungar, PLLC, a Top 15 auditor of SEC public reporting companies. Joel writes observations on different matters and especially on working with and using LinkedIn. He thinks he has a sense of humor.

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