Over the course of the next several months as we get busier and busier, I am going to send some reminder notes about what we believe as an organization, how we should be interacting with each other and how we should be treating our customers. The majority of our team is in direct contact with clients every day and it’s important that we all remember the principles and culture of our organization so that when quick decisions need to be made we continually do what is right.
I recently chastised one of our team members for referring to themselves as “only a coordinator.” I reminded her that our customer service staff is the life blood of our company in every service line we have. I know from my own experience that the people we have in that role make huge decisions that impact our customers every hour of every day.
When I came into this industry 29 years ago (yes I am older than dirt), the thing I liked most about being a coordinator was the fact that I got to run a business on my desk every day. I talked with transferring families and agents all over the world and I got to make decisions on how to handle both. One of the things that I discovered very quickly was that everything doesn’t always go perfectly, and how you react to situations makes all the difference to the customer, to the financial impact on the company, and even on how I ultimately felt about the job I did.
Because of that experience of being on the front lines and knowing the impact that I could have in making a difference, I am very sensitive to it when I see it in action (or not in action) from the other side as a customer. I recently needed to go from Denver to Prague to meet with a prospective client that wanted to visit our team there. Since this client was someone that I had met previously I thought it was important for me to be present. On fairly short notice, we made reservations that had me leaving the office late in the afternoon to catch a flight to Frankfurt and then connect on to Prague.
Since this was a short notice trip, I was pleasantly surprised when I checked in and I was able to get an exit row seat for the 12 hour overnight flight to Frankfurt. At 6’4” (1.9 meters) I am always appreciative for the leg room because it usually allows for some sleep and makes the next day a lot more productive. As I was doing some last minute emails at the gate, I heard my name called over the loudspeaker by the gate agent. As I went up to the gate I was thinking “Boy this is my lucky day, they are calling me up to bump me from coach to business class!” Unfortunately, the conversation didn’t really go the way I had hoped:
Helga the gate agent – “Mr. Petzel when you checked in the system made an error.”
Jim – “Oh really, the system made an error?”
Helga the gate agent – “Yes, you see someone was already assigned to the seat you have. Some changes were being made in the system for the person in that seat and you cannot have it because it is theirs.”
Jim – “Well I didn’t steal it from them the gate agent gave it to me.”
Helga the gate agent – “But you cannot have it.”
Jim – “I understand that. Where can you put me? Can you put me back in my original seat?
Helga the gate agent – “I am afraid that this seat is now taken as well.”
Jim – “So you are going to take me out of the emergency row because it is someone else’s but you can’t put me back in my seat because now it is someone else’s as well?”
Helga the gate agent – “This is what we must do. I have another seat for you.”
Jim – “Oh really, is it in business class?”
Helga the gate agent – “Oh no sir, you have not purchased a business class ticket.”
Jim – “I understand that but you have given away my seat.”
Helga the gate agent – “But we have another seat for you.”
Jim – “What seat is that?”
Helga the gate agent – “It is in the same section of the plane.”
Jim – “Really?”
Helga the gate agent – “I am afraid it is a center seat.”
Jim – “Of course it is. And I am sure you really can’t do anything else?”
Helga the gate agent – “I am afraid not (hands me my new ticket). . . . auf wiedersehen” (in the first happy tone I got from her).
As I grumbled and left her desk I began the long march to my new seat. I was unfortunately joined in my row by two large German fellas that gave us a combined height in our row of 19 feet and a combined weight of well over 700 lbs. (I was the skinny one!)
The frustrating part about the flight and the overall experience was not the fact that I felt like a T-Rex trying to work on my computer while my knees pinned the person in front of me from even thinking about reclining their chair into my lap, nor the guy next to me trying to drink his way into a loud, snoring nights rest. The crazy part was the view I had through the crack in the curtain a few rows up that gave me a look into the business class cabin that sat largely unused!
Helga totally hosed me! She had the capability of changing my world well past the 12 hours of the flight and chose to stick me with the two guys that needed a shower badly. As I sat in my seat, however, I came to the realization that I really couldn’t blame Helga, I blame the company she represents for not encouraging her to take action and make things right. With the mess that was created, moving me to business class would have sent me over the moon with joy! Leaving me fume for 12 hours with paradise only a few feet away will keep me from ever flying with them again. Doing what was right would have cost them nothing. Doing what was wrong cost them an international traveler for life!
A few principles for us all to follow when things go bad:
1. Own the problem rather than hide from it. Systems don’t make mistakes. People do. Own the problem even if it really wasn’t your fault.
2. Determine what the customer wants. “What do you need? How can I help?”
3. Do your best to assess both the short term and long term costs of making it right.
4. Then act and do what is right. Knowing what is right should be instinctive for anyone in our company.
5. Know that you will make mistakes but not taking decisive action is almost always wrong.
6. Know that what you do makes a difference – Be a difference maker!
7. DON’T BE A HELGA!
I am going to attempt to send these notes out every month to remind everyone why we are here and what our mission is. As you “catch” people on our team doing what is right I would appreciate hearing about those stories as well so that we can thank our team members that are making a difference.
Thanks for all you do!
Ps- For those of you of German descent please know that my story is focused on how we should service clients and is in no way meant to portray my attitude towards any group of people (other than stupid people that choose not to take care of their customers!) My Grandpa Petzel immigrated from Germany to the US through Ellis Island almost 100 years ago and I am extremely proud of his courage and of my German heritage!