Slamming the Door in Your Customer’s Face

Getting to the airport early is the first rule of travel, right? That, at least, is what the TSA pounds into our heads. Wanting to do right by the federal employees who have the authority to pat me down when I don’t want that particular experience, I always get there with plenty of time to spare. It’s important that they have time to count and scrutinize my three-ounce bottles. Last week was no different, and I had lots of time to sit, watch and listen.

If you have ever been in the Westchester County Airport (NY), you know that it is small. When waiting, travelers are sitting just feet from the gates, leaving lots of opportunity to observe airline employee behavior. Here is what happened.

Airline Gate Agent (talking into two-way radio, annoyed and impatient): “I need to close out this flight. Is the passenger almost through security?”

Voice on the Radio: “Yes, she is almost done, but she is kind of snotty.”

AGA (picking up and talking on telephone): “Go ahead and close the doors. I’m not letting her on. She is snotty and giving TSA a hard time.”

Seconds later, I could see the cargo door on the commuter jet closing. Ms. Snotty Passenger arrives after her 20 second, 30 yard journey from security screening. She quietly asks, “Am I on time to get on this flight?”

AGA, taking the opportunity to deliver a lecture, lets her have it. “Ma’am, you gave up your seat on this flight as you did not get here 10 minutes before departure time. We had to give your seat away. Please sit down and you will be on the next flight in three hours. Remember in the future that you must get here at least 10 minutes before departure.”

Ms. Not-so-Snotty Passenger accepted this answer, turned and sought out the seat that she would fill for a good portion of that afternoon. She would never know that her delay was so heavily determined by this single airline employee. Her seat had not been filled; the agent simply did not want her in it.

So what’s the point? If you own or manage a business that employs people, your best efforts at advertising and systematic customer service excellence can be snuffed out by your AGAs. What are the values that you work to teach and demonstrate, hoping that your team will make the right choices?

If you work in a service role yourself, you decide how you will behave, the actions you will take and the service you will provide. Think about what that gate agent could have done for the passenger and her company’s reputation had she said, “Ms. Passenger, please hurry. I told them to keep the door open for you so you could make it to your destination on time. In the future, be sure to get here earlier.”

Whether you work solo or in a large organization, finding ways to stretch and serve internal and external customers can make the difference between success and failure. That decision to slam the door on that one passenger was more than an inconvenience. It was a demonstration of the culture of that airline, something that will not be undone by advertising and other efforts to tell me how great that airline is. One person can make all the difference. Yes, come on board, or no, go sit down and wait.

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