Monday, 13 April 2015

Everyone Works in Customer Service

Every member of staff - and every contractor who faces a customer for the business - works in Customer Service. I don't care if you are a Senior Clerk, a junior associate, an accountant or a new starter in Facilities. Everyone works in Customer Services.

I started my career many (many) years ago in hotels. We were taught that everyone who came across a guest was to be polite and helpful. It's not complicated. If I was a junior receptionist on a break and saw a guest struggling with a suitcase, I was trained to help (never mind the fact that helping is the nice thing to do).

Many businesses seem to forget that. Some of my favourites are receptionists - a good receptionist can add enormous value to any business (top of my list at the moment is Judith at 2 Hare Court) and a grumpy receptionist can blow an instruction or a matter before it starts (see far too many medium sized law firms to mention).

No business has forgotten this so much as the airline industry. Flying almost anywhere nowadays is tedious lesson in patience, usually involving queues and undressing.

Just this morning I flew from a small regional French airport back to the UK, landing in Southend. It's a small airport with only two commercial flights this morning. Checking-in took nearly 20 minutes - mostly because it seemed to take two members of staff to check-in each traveller (I would, of course, have checked-in online, but notwithstanding what the airline seems to think, that's not possible). I had only one carry-on bag and no hold luggage - and it still took nearly three minutes to process me - and it involved three different printed lists which were highlighted in different colours, and a lot of typing into a computer. What on earth do they type. Surely they can scan my passport, or my ticket, find my booking and click on the "He's here" button. Thinking a little bit more about the customers' convenience rather than their (and to be fair it didn't look as if the system was much fun for the airline's staff either) would surely speed up the process and make it a little better for everyone.

Checked-in I then needed to go past French border security. Again two people checked my passport on two different computers and each man highlighted their own printed list. So far then, that's four computers and five printed lists.

On then to the joy that is modern-day airport security. Laptop out of my bag and its sleeve. iPad out and into a separate plastic container to the laptop. Bag in a third together with my belt, coat, wallet, phone, change, passport and boarding pass (why those have to go through the scanner I have no idea). I pinged the metal detector and the only-just-polite guard told me that it was the metal in the eyeholes of my shoes(!) and so I went back to strip off my shoes. This time - socks cold on the concrete floor - I successfully passed the metal detector. Amazingly a machine capable of detecting the trace metal in my shoes seemed unable to detect the metal in my watch or my glasses.

I understand that security is important, I really do. I could even cope with all this nonsense if there was any degree of conformity, but there isn't. On a single long-haul trip in November, I went through four international airports. Sometimes I kept my shoes on and sometimes I didn't. Sometimes my belt came off and sometimes not. Sometimes my laptop was fine in its bag and sometimes it had to come out. I think they make it up as they go along.

What is worse, however, this the almost-without-fail surely nature of the security staff. I know - it must be a rotten job and I'm pretty sure that it will pay minimum wage. But I have never seem a polite member of the security staff who seemed to give a damn about any traveller. After Christmas last year, I watched in horror as my 91 year-old mother-in-law was made to remove her walking stick and put it through the scanner and then take offer her shoes and cardigan. No-one helped her to walk through the scanner - or even to and from it - although there were five staff I could see standing around chatting with each other.

Budget airlines have improved a lot (in general - certainly the ones I use) in the last few years. They at least now try to be polite and helpful. It's not much to ask. They have remembered that customers are important.

My point is this. The airlines should ensure that the third-party staff who are 'processing' their customers (to use that dreadful phrase) are polite and helpful. My impression of FlyBe, Emirates, BA and any airline is partly based on the - horrible - experience in the airport.

We are all in customer service - but the airlines may have forgotten. Next time I will take the train (the security staff at St Pancras are amongst the best of a bad lot, in my opinion).

No comments:

Post a Comment