It’s not a task, it’s a mindset

I was on a flight the other day when I experienced an example of what I believe is the key problem with customer service today.

Let me describe the scenario.  It was a bad weather day.  Snow was blanketing the northeast and flights were being cancelled and delayed left and right.  The flight I was on was delayed three and a half hours before I finally boarded.

Anyway, there was a woman sitting next to me who was visibly unnerved as she had a connection to her final stop and time was running short to make it.  As we sat waiting for the plane to move, the pilot came on to announce that we would get underway once the “weight balance” was complete.

Now I am a very experienced traveler and know that part of the pre-flight routine is for the baggage handlers to move the baggage and freight around in the hold to reach a certain balance so the plane will be balanced for flight.  This procedure however is not something most casual travelers know so my neighbor was obviously confused.  Once the announcement was complete, she immediately hit her flight attendant call button.  I am sure she wanted to get more details on this “balancing” as well as to get some consolation about making her connection.

When the flight attendant came to her, she promptly asked about the weight balancing.  His quick, curt response was that there was nothing he could do about it and she would have to wait patiently.  She then said that she understood but had never heard of weight balancing.  This is when he said the thing that shocked me, “just because you haven’t heard of it, doesn’t mean it’s not real.”  My eyes got big and my jaw dropped.  I couldn’t believe he could be so rude and unfeeling.  He just didn’t care.  It seemed as if he needed to clarify his superiority and position.  I could hear his mind whirling…“sit tight passenger, you know nothing, we have things under control, you will get there when everything is right.”

Once he walked away leaving my neighbor in a funk, I turned to her and politely explained what weight balancing was and then broke the news that I doubted she would make her connection.  I did however share some ideas for what to do when she arrived in order to get the next flight.

Now, if I could do that, why couldn’t the flight attendant?  Why couldn’t he be nice and simply explain what was happening and offer suggestions for her in dealing with missing her connection?  Instead, he got defensive and offered nothing but a snippy comment.

This example highlights what I believe to be the true problem in service today.  This employee demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of what the true business of business is.  You see, business is not in the business of making money; it is in the business of helping people.  I’ll say it again, business IS NOT in the business of making money, it is in the business of helping people, period.  Making money is the reward for doing a great job at it.

I am sure this flight attendant has been through all of the requisite customer service training where he was taught to smile, say certain things, and not drop drinks on passengers, however, this kind of training is pointless unless an employee’s thinking is right.  If they do not have a mindset that is focused on the principle that serving people is what business is all about, all of that task-based training will fail.  Without a foundation of thinking, these tasks will simply be a robotic action.  In other words, you can’t walk the talk when there is no talk.  Without the talk (or more to the point, the thinking), there is no reason to walk it.

If business owners want to solve the problem of bad service, they need to stop training the tasks and begin training the thinking, a thinking that has customers at the center.

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