Gaming the system

Everyone wants to optimize the system. Perhaps to improve throughput, to eliminate waste or to target the message to precisely the right audience. In the push to optimize emphasis is on what is commonest, what can be defined most clearly, results in edge cases falling outside the optimized boundary.

Last night I arrived at my hotel to be told there was no room for me. A room I had secured weeks before at a hotel chain where I have the highest status. It turned out that the hotel had overbooked, a common practice knowing there will be no shows, and that a single corporate client had reserved all the other rooms for the rest of the week for their employee event at a nearby convention center. This put me on the outside of the optimized boundary, only one night, not an employee of the corporate client and not at the convention.

Our optimization of our inventory, resources, time, hotel rooms, requires constant fine tuning to maximize revenue and minimize costs. Along the way we may end up reading commitments made to our customers. The question is what obligation do we have to those commitments? Ethically we should honor the promise of the service we offered but the shareholders demand that every cent of profit be squeezed out.

In the end I shamed the hotel into giving me my room but it left me in a foul mood and a broken relationship with my preferred hotel chain. Perhaps we need the same kind of league tables for corporations we have for airlines on-time departures listing how frequently they keep their promises. An organization with integrity is more likely to get my business than one that will trade my loyalty and customer for a few dollars.

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