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How Service Employees React to Holiday Stress and What a Customer Service Assessment Test Can Change

December 20, 2011
We are in the final stretch – the holidays fast approaching and the to-do list so long you wonder how you’ll get everything done.  Trust me, I’m there!

Along with all of the hustle and bustle, comes the hectic-ness, frayed nerves, impatience, and sometimes ugly behavior of humanity that make those is the service sector wonder why they ever took that type of job in the first place.

I had to travel to JFK recently, for business.  I was scheduled to fly in early in the day, complete my presentation, and then fly back the same evening.  The flight in was uneventful until we got to JFK – it was really foggy, and the pilot was not sure they would be allowed to land the plane.  Luckily, they were able to land, and the remainder of the day went just fine.  As I was headed to the airport, I noticed it was really foggy again – it was really dark and only 4:00 in the afternoon.

I arrived at the airport and I went in search of a fight departure screen.  There was a person with a little sign that read something like “Need Information?  Ask me!”  And so I did.  She looked at the flight number and said, “I think your flight was cancelled due to weather.”    Hmmm…anyone who travels a lot knows those are words can strike fear in the hearts of man.  Up to that point, I had not received any notification of the delay.

I went to the counter, and the agent informed me that they rebooked me on a later flight.  It went through Detroit and on to Pittsburgh.  The cancelled flight was a direct flight home, but I guess I had no other choice.  While I waited for her to print the new boarding passes, I started to notice what was going on around me.  My flight was clearly not the only one cancelled, and it is very interesting to see how people react in this type of situation.  There was a foreign gentleman next to me who was very clearly concerned about his luggage making it home with him given the changes.   His English was not very good, and he was very agitated.  The agent remained calm, and patiently explained to the gentleman several times that his luggage was scheduled to be on the same flight as him.   I was pretty impressed!  My agent was having difficulty with the rebooking – and was having difficulty printing the boarding passes.  The flight I was rebooked on was actually earlier than my original flight by about an hour, but there was still a reasonable amount of time to get through security and to my gate.  She must have apologized 5 times – and never once lost her cool.

Finally, I made it to my gate…only to find out that this flight was now delayed by about 25 minutes.  That would make it perilously tight to catch the connecting flight, but still doable.  I went to the gate, and enroute heard of the cancellation of about 5 more flights.  I had some time to kill while waiting for my flight, so I watched as angry, frustrated passengers would yell at the agents as if it were the fault of that specific agent that the flight was delayed.  NEVER ONCE did I see an agent lose their cool, in fact, it was quite the opposite.  There was a kind elderly gentleman passing out drinks and snacks to the people in line.  There was another person “directing” people to different lines and kiosks in order for them to get served more quickly.  Each agent greeted us with a smile, and a demeanor that showed their sense of urgency, while at the same time, doing their best to make sure we made it home.

My flight ended up being delayed by 40 minutes – the exact amount of time between my current flight and the connecting flight in Detroit.  We arrived in Detroit to a beautiful blanket of fresh snow, a light snowfall, and the sight of my flight home pulling back from the gate as we approached our gate.

Well, that was the last flight out that night.  I was rebooked for the first flight out the next morning,  so I looked for a semi-quiet place to wait until morning.  There were several people stranded from our flight, and we all “bonded” in the circumstance.

We found a nice quiet area, where there were a couple of gates that were closing down for the night.  There was a gate agent getting ready to go home, but before he did, he asked me, “are you all stranded here tonight?”  He left for a few minutes, and came back with little travel pillows and blankets so we could at least have some comfort in the situation.

To some of us, this is the travel nightmare that is reality when you fly a lot.  For others, like me, it was an opportunity to watch both the good and bad, and watch several people who  clearly were the face of their airline to us, show some kindness and compassion amidst turmoil.  Their customer service skills were remarkable, and I walked away thinking very highly of the airline that instilled this in their people.

Many companies say they provide great service, but it is during the difficult times – Black Friday shopping, cancelled flights, lost shipments, etc. where true superstars have the chance to shine.  If you are a service provider, and spend the time necessary to select and train the right people, it will pay back dividends you would not even expect.   I am just one person that happened to notice.  And thanks to all you service superstars out there – you make a difference for your company and for the people you touch.

Happy Holidays!

Carolyn Cosco