On a recent plane trip, my husband and I had two examples of customer service, one which was excellent service, and the other poor. Same airline, same day, two different flights, two different stewards. I continue to be amazed at how the policies of companies (American airlines, in this case) are enforced, or not, by the staff. I have come to the conclusion that the difference has nothing to do with the company or the exact policy, and has everything to do with the caring, or lack of it, of the staff.
On the first leg of this trip, the steward was friendly, engaging, and showed that she cared about our experience. Her tone of voice, smiles, and paying attention to us the customers, were all examples of her caring. She seemed just as pleased as I was that the airline is now serving half and half for coffee, which is a very welcome change from the powered creamer they previously provided. Not knowing about this change I had brought my own half and half, and asked for only a stirrer for my coffee. The steward noticed this, and commented on the fact that I brought my own half and half, so I must not know that the airline now provided it. She seemed genuinely pleased at this change, commenting that it was well received by the customers. It was obvious she cared about the customers and their experience.
On the second leg of the trip it was obvious that the steward cared more about the policy of the airline than the customers and their experience. Mike is an executive platinum flyer on American Airlines, and as such receives certain amenities, such as snacks. He and I fly together frequently, and on all other flights the steward has provided snacks for him and for me, never once even mentioning the policy of those being only for the executive platinum member, not those accompanying him. This time when Mike tried to get the attention of the steward, she responded in a rude manner. A few minutes later he asked her for snacks for me when she offered him snacks, and she invoked the policy! Mike replied that he had never heard of that policy before. She was unbending. It wasn’t the policy per se that we found problematic, but the way that she discussed it, in a rude and uncaring manner. Never once did she apologize that she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do what it should have been clear to her others had done, or that the customer was requesting/expecting. She just invoked the policy, and it did not seem to matter to her that she may be the only one who does so! She was a classic example of the know-it-all bureaucrat; whose mission is to tell the customer what she can’t/won’t do. You know the type; we have all experienced it.
This isn’t really about the policy marm; it is about showing caring. Caring is the most basic of customer service behaviors, the one behavior that supersedes all others. It trumps knowledge, experience, and overall competence. It is the quality that will endear you to others, and the quality that when it is lacking, no other qualities matter.
And by the way, don’t think of this as just related to the customers served by businesses. Every interaction we have with another person we have the opportunity to show caring, or not.
Show caring to everyone. You will be amazed at how it is returned, ten fold.