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You're not special: The value of customer service

In today’s world of advanced technology, personal touch or the human component of business is neglected in some situations. Demonstrated by my nickname, “the Road Warrior,” airlines are a big part of my life. After over 8,000,000 miles traveled in the wild blue yonder, I thought I had seen everything air travel could bring. Well, maybe not!

As a frequent flyer who desires maximum flexibility, I value the ability to gate-check my luggage. When you collect your gate-checked luggage, often the procedure is to stand at the gate, just off the airplane, and wait to present your tagged receipt. After a home-bound flight back to the small airport in Roanoke, Virginia, I watched as fellow passengers methodically picked up their luggage and disappeared out of the gate. As I stood there watching and waiting, no more luggage arrived. Well, where was my bag? Was it lost? This was a major concern as I had a quick turnaround and was scheduled to fly out again the next day.

I walked to the gate and showing my checked receipt, I politely asked the new supervisor for help in locating my luggage. Wow! I ended up in a customer service vortex. Dismissively, the new supervisor indicated she did not have time for me and directed me to baggage claim. I then expressed my concern that my luggage could be lost rather than at the baggage claim. Her response was, “You’re not special. Get out of the gate area.” Of course, this response was overheard by other employees working at the gate as well as another frequent flyer boarding an outbound flight, who is somewhat notorious for a slightly volatile personality.

Well, I did my best not to make a display although my thoughts turned to the retired, infamous basketball coach, Bob Knight, throwing a chair across the court. Eventually, the other employees retrieved my luggage and offered profuse apologies.

This dilemma highlights the importance of customer service for all people. Too often, the focus is solely on price. It seems the good old-fashioned “As and Ps” of customer service are sometimes forgotten. Specifically, that is being available with time, exhibiting an amenable personality with a good attitude, while showing persistence and patience in a polite manner. Extending compassion and caring for a fellow human being can truly turn a bad situation around. Of course, a good attitude requires emotional intelligence, which is often not taught, despite its value. Actually, although underutilized, extending a simple “thank you” can make anyone feel special.

Unfortunately, human interaction is often an overlooked skill. Whether it is a farmer, rancher, lender, supplier or agribusiness professional, the art of one-on-one interactions can be a competitive advantage. In many cases, those that represent a business to the public, or “front-line” employees such as customer service become the face of that business. As such, those employees can quickly elevate or deteriorate the success of the company. In the midst of numbers and strategies, do not overlook the value each employee and customer holds for your business.

To finish my story, I called the airline and within 24 hours it was discovered that this particular representative had repeated problematic interactions with both passengers and employees. Appropriate action was taken to avoid any similar problems in the future. Of course, my time in the wild blue yonder continues, but I pay more attention to who is behind the customer service desk!


P.S. The employee was not fired. She apologized to the other employees and has been a model customer service representative with me. Everyone deserves a second chance! 

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