Walk a mile (or just stand and wait) in your customer’s moccasins


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SueWhoever is responsible for the Chicago O’Hare International Airport TSA clearance should be forced to endure the gauntlet himself. This may be the only way for him to fully appreciate the utter frustration, chaos, and absurdity that I (and thousands of others) experienced on Oct. 20, 2014.

While en route to Denver, I passed through the United Airlines Premiere lane at O’Hare. With my drivers license scanned and boarding pass stamped, I was then forced to enter a circuitous line that merged with a second line where passengers took turns joining a third and final line (containing both Premiere and non-Premiere passengers) toward one of two TSA baggage scanning checkpoints; the final hurdle separating travelers from Terminal B – and their flights.

I recognize that, at some point, United’s territory stops and the TSA’s starts. Still, how does United Airlines respond to customers who paid $1,400 for a First Class ticket, paid $39 to obtain Premiere access, or who earned the benefit of speedy security clearance by flying two or more weeks out of every month for the past 12 months or more?

I waited in this labyrinth, stamped boarding pass in hand, for 25 minutes as it inched toward the final checkpoint. (At one point, it occurred to me that I was moving no faster than Sue, the stationary T-Rex replica in Terminal B.) Tensions between passengers escalated at the juncture where the two lines merged. While most passengers understood the situation and allowed others to merge in the main line, other passengers behaved poorly – practically groping the traveler ahead of them to close the gap needed for others to join the final line.

When I was within about 20 passengers of the final checkpoint, a TSA officer opened another newly staffed checkpoint. Instead of manually directing passengers from the final line (most of whom had been waiting for 25 minutes or more) to the newly opened lane, the TSA rep casually assumed his previous post on the terminal side of the checkpoint. Chaos ensued as passengers who had just cleared the boarding pass checkpoint immediately headed to the newly opened lane, displacing passengers who’d cleared the same checkpoint 25 minutes earlier.

I don’t blame the passengers for this chaos; I blame the process or service model that’s in place to enable O’Hare airline passengers to pass efficiently from the main terminal to the secured portions of the airport. I also blame the inadequate training or protocol that guided the actions of a seemingly aloof TSA rep who conveyed indifference toward the plight (and schedules) of his “customers.”

The best way to test the effectiveness of a particular process is to experience it firsthand as a customer. And I don’t mean observe it from a comfortable distance, jotting down notes, while sipping a holiday drink from Starbucks. As the American Indian proverb suggests, in order to genuinely appreciate the experience of another, “walk a mile in his moccasins.”

This is great advice. I guarantee that whoever is in charge of the TSA clearance process at O’Hare would come up with plenty of efficiencies as he crept along from one line to the next.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


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