A Hard Look at Customer Service

September 4, 2014 - 5:18pm

Having just returned from a week-long business trip, I had the opportunity to experience customer service from a different point of view.  As the customer.  And it was eye-opening.   Returning home on the plane, I had time to reflect on just exactly what and why it was that made me think about the treatment I had received.   What stood out?   How was it different from what I, or my colleagues, or the businesses in my area provide?   What I discovered on that trip has made a difference in the way I perceive 'customer service', both from a provider and a customer perspective.

Firstly, I love to fly.   I don't care where the destination is, I love being in the plane.   Take-off and landing are my favorite parts, without a doubt.  Turbulence doesn't bother me, as long as my beverage remains in my glass, and not on my clothing.  I actually LIKE the little cookies that Delta offers as a snack.  I find the flight attendants to be generally courteous and helpful, and I like it when the captain takes the opportunity to mention points of interest that we are flying over.   Yes, I like absolutely everything about the plane and flying.    

Secondly, my love of flying does not extend to going through the gates at the airport, and the TSA checkpoints.  I also do not like to change flights.  In fact, I really don't like anything about it.  There is always the chance you might miss your flight, lose your luggage or have it delayed, have to go on standby, etc.   Each of those scenarios causes stress and heart palpitations for me.  Just the thought of something not going smoothly in my travel plans makes me feel anxious and dizzy, and little beads of sweat begin to pop out on my forehead.   

So as you may guess, each of those things happened to me on my last trip.   Keep in mind, this is not a rant against the airline, or really a rant against anyone.   It is, however, a discourse on customer service.  I could just say that the Delta ticketing agent, the check-in clerk and manager on duty at the hotel, the bellman, etc., were all fine and helpful and leave it at that.  But there was more, which is what prompted me to think about it.   They weren't just nice.  Or just helpful.  Or just knowledgeable.   Each of them went above and beyond our general idea of 'customer service' in an almost imperceptible way, but still noticeable.

The Delta ticketing agent?   After running through 20+ gates to get to my gate on time, I missed my connection.  Which wasn't the flight I wanted to be on, anyway.   Was I "worked up"?  You betcha.   The Atlanta airport was warm to begin with, I had been running, I was anxious, and probably a little testy.   As I stood at her counter, trying to connect with the next flight, she informed me there were already 14 people on standby for it.  I could feel the heat coming up from my collar.   I stood there fanning myself rapidly with my passport, trying to remain calm.  As she took my passport to check it, she simultaneously handed me a pad of paper to use as a fan, and smiled.   A caring, "I understand", kind of smile.  I could actually take a deep breath, and could feel myself slowly cooling down. She put me on standby, and kindly directed me to the gate where I would wait for the plane, not knowing whether I would be able to board or not.

The Delta gate agents?  There were 3 ladies working the gate.  I introduced myself, told them my situation, handed them the form the ticketing agent had given me, and took my seat.   They all were kind, and I felt as if they had actually listened to me when I spoke.   They managed to get me on the plane - wonderful!   I thanked them as I boarded, and they seemed genuinely happy to have helped.  Really, genuinely happy.   And if you travel, you know that doesn't happen much.

The check-in clerk and manager on duty?  Of course, there was an issue at check-in which required the manager's assistance. It was late, I was in another country, (Canada), and I just wanted to get in my room and relax.   All of my business associates were there, and I was beginning to feel the creeping heat under the collar thing again.    The check-in clerk used my name just enough, made just enough eye contact, and reassuringly explained each step she had to take to get to the bottom of the problem.   The manager on duty was the same, only better.   He came out of his office with a smile directed at me instead of the usual frown that appears when there is a problem.  He seemed to enjoy solving the issue, his eyes lighting up once he figured out a resolution.  He was HAPPY, I tell you! Of course, my luggage was delayed due to the missed connection.   He promised to send it up as soon as it appeared, no matter the time of night, and gave me the Delta phone number to call and track it. Ten minutes after I was in my room, the manager called to make sure my room was acceptable, and that I was comfortable.  I'm sure he could see that I was tired, disappointed, and generally out of sorts.

The bellman?   After the long and decidedly not fun day of travel, I needed sleep, and in a bad way.  The bed was comfy, and I slept like a rock.   Waking at 6 am, I was panicked because no one had called about my luggage.   I had no toothbrush, no hair brush, no moisturizer, and God forbid, no hairspray!   This was enough to start the nuclear meltdown for me.    I hurriedly called the front desk, who said they had not seen my bags yet.   Pacing the room, I tried to figure out what to do, as I needed to get ready for the business day ahead.   Within a minute, the bellman knocked at the door.  Announcing himself, he said "I have your luggage".   Oh heavenly day!   As I opened the door, he beamed a sweet smile and said, "they arrived at about 3:30 this morning, but I thought you probably needed some uninterrupted sleep. I was on my way up with them when the front desk just called me.  I hope you weren't inconvenienced".    How right he was about the much needed rest!   And how considerate.  The hotel staff had worked as a team, and had obviously communicated with each other to make sure I got into my room as smoothly as possible, they realized I was worn out, and they allowed me to rest nicely before waking me with my luggage.

Throughout my stay in Toronto, I made it a point to observe the level of customer service.   And believe me, they could teach us all a lesson.   As a culturally diverse city, they are accustomed to diverse needs and expectations.  Nothing throws them off their game.  No request is too big, too small, or too weird.  Their training was evident.    But in each case, it is that small, little 'extra' they gave that made the difference.   Instead of saying "you're welcome", they say, "you're welcome, it's my pleasure", and the accompanying smile leads you you to believe that it really WAS their pleasure to help!   Perhaps it's the exceptional manners that they used when speaking that made the difference.   The real difference is that they anticipated my needs, and attended to them before I had to ask.   Believe me, they are on it!   Unfortunately, I haven't found this to be the case in all of my travels, but with a little effort by all of us in the people business, it could be!   I'm planning to start today - be more aware of my tone of voice and how I answer my customers; be in tune with their needs and exceed their expectations; remember to always be happy to help, no matter what the problem may be; and make sure my customer knows it IS my pleasure to help.

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Branson Online, Ticket Sales Events, Branson, MO