We’ve all experienced it. You need to get something done and the customer service person you are relying on says, “I can’t help”. The solution requires a little bit of empathy, perhaps some creativity and a lot of common sense. Although the clerk may be smart, efficient and good at their job, they fail to show any of the three requirements. There is no empathy, little creatively and certainly no evidence of common sense.
It happened to me recently on a flight from San Diego to Toronto. I was running late for my 11:30 am flight – the only one of the day by that airline. I ran up to the ticket counter. I had checked in on-line and all I needed to do was drop my bag. As I jogged up to the counter, I was relieved to see that there was only one person in front of me – a family checking in bags presumably for the same flight.
As I stood at the front of the line puffing, but otherwise quietly waiting my turn, the ticket agent looked up from her work and asked over the shoulders of the family she was serving, “Going to Toronto?” “Yes, thanks,” I replied. “If you’re checking that bag, you will have to go without it. You’re six minutes past the cut-off time.”
My facial expression must have communicated the question that was formulating in my head because before I could say another word, she explained that the people she was currently checking through had arrived at the desk on time so she was able to process their bags even though it was past the arbitrary cut-off.
So, here I was in an airport, hoping to go home on the only flight that airline had that day, but unable to check my bag because of an arbitrary cut-off time. And, to add insult to injury, the ticket agent was processing bags for the same flight, right before my eyes. Apparently, the only reason she would not process me was not because she couldn’t, but that I was six minutes past the cut-off time.
By now the agent had finished processing the family and was able to dedicate full time to “helping” me. “Is there nothing you can do for me?” She shook her head. “So what do I do?” “Well, you can get rid of the bag and get on this flight or take the next one,” she replied. “When is the next one?” “Tomorrow, same time,” she replied. I am sure she exhibited a small grin. I was stuck and she knew it.
The next 20 minutes was a wild frenzy as I arranged to have my bag taken care of. Fortunately, I had a business acquaintance who was staying an extra day at the conference and he willingly agreed to bring my bag back to Toronto. I put my bag on a taxi bound for the hotel and headed back to the ticket counter. As I reached the counter, the ticket agent greeted me with a smile and the same question she had for me 20 minutes earlier – “Going to Toronto?”
Argggh! I understand that there are guidelines and that I was outside of them. The agent was simply doing her job. What annoyed me was her lack of the three critical components of dealing with a sticky situation.
Empathy – I had no feeling that the ticket agent had any concern for my welfare at all. In fact, I think she enjoyed being in the position to be able to say “no”.
Creativity – She made no effort whatsoever to see if she could help me. I am still convinced that she could have assisted me if she wanted to. She could have made a quick phone call to see if they could make an exception in this case. Even if the answer was still “no”, at least I would have felt she tried.
Common Sense – It is common sense not to inflame an already charged situation. Pointing out that I was six minutes late, making off-hand comments about having to leave my bag behind and later asking me the second time if I was going to Toronto were not helpful and certainly did not endear me to the agent or the company she represented.
But I have to thank her. There is a valuable lesson here. This agent probably does a pretty good job of processing people through the airport when things are as they should be. However, when things go out of the norm, she obviously does not have the skills or the knowledge to handle those exceptions effectively.
How about your customer facing staff? Are they prepared to handle difficult situations? Do they show empathy and use creativity and common sense to try to diffuse and ultimately correct the situation? Or, do they act in a manner that sends your customers packing?
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“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”
– Zig Ziglar