Training to Prevent Customer Service Disasters–Whose Fault is It Anyway?

Sections of this topic

    We all know the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is engaged in the important work of preventing disasters involving extreme loss of life, and because its job is so important to us, the TSA as the big dog in charge, has been getting the brunt of the criticism for any appalling incident involving airport security.

    The administration even gets blamed for the headache-painful changes to our travel routines that have nothing to do with security–except we have to go through it at some point.

    This is not yet another TSA bashing, but an article about the need for effective customer service.

    There is a problem lurking about that can impact that very critical job performed by the TSA. I’m talking about customer service disasters that involve, (the same ones the TSA is getting the brunt of criticism for) that are really the fault, not only of the TSA, but of the airports and the airlines as well. These minor disasters can distract TSA employees from the more serious application of their due diligence.

    While I don’t believe the customer service disasters are all the administration’s fault just because a situation involves security, it does bear some responsibility as an organization to treat customers with respect, as do those it is partnered with—the airlines and airports.

    On a recent trip over the holidays, my family and I were treated with TSA employee “hospitality” as we expected. Naturally, we didn’t like the invasion of our privacy and dignity, but we understood its necessity. And, there is no denying that we were treated politely by TSA staff. However, our vacation “disaster” needn’t have happened at all had all the partners involved done their respective jobs with proper respect that should be accorded any customer.

    This article is about a terrific opportunity for trainers to offer airports and airlines training in something they seemed to have forgotten.

    Airports and airlines, once noted for fine customer service, seem to have lost the respect of their customers. Why else would the airport not be prepared to bring handicapped passengers through security–or do what they must to assist customers who need extra help, thereby making the experience more pleasant for those who don’t need assistance but still have to stand in lines?

    Fort Lauderdale does a lot of vacation business, and has a large aged population, so you would think people in wheelchairs and walkers, and small children, must be regular customers in the Fort Lauderdale Airport. That being said, the airport and those who work there should know their aged and handicapped customers well. This was not my experience.

    What I witnessed was that, when faced with the fact that “these people” travel, too, airport employees treated them with disdain because they hold up the lines. Let’s not forget to growl and hiss at the children who also find Florida with their parents a fine vacation spot, or jumping off spot to activities in the Caribbean. While we’re at it, let’s disparage the TSA employees, blaming them as well as customers for delays.

    While the TSA employees were as pleasant as they could be, with a little help from airport or airline personnel in the environment where they must do the important job of security, they could have done that job much better.

    Procedures should be in place by the airport to bring people who need assistance through security, not pass them by, but assist them to smooth the process. How about a separate line for children? With someone who can talk to children without scolding or scowling (maybe some TSA), but the airport could help.

    My 82-year-old mother-in-law in a portable walker/wheelchair combination was placed in a small boxing ring box, while security figured out how to make a woman stand who couldn’t stand without being in extreme pain, and the rest of us looked on embarrassed for her, hoping her incontinence would not take the opportunity to make itself obvious. Two TSA security guards were needed to make sure she didn’t run away. Do I need to mention how ridiculous that is? I suppose she could have been faking it. While we were on the cruise, she had to be playing the slots and running around the ship while we were sleeping. All the other times we wheeled her around the ship, the airport and anywhere else she wanted to go.

    I’m sure customer service training is needed. There has got to be another way.

    Making matters worse, we were sent to the furthest terminal—the wrong terminal and almost missed our flight because no one thought assistance was needed after we passed the evil TSA post. Mercifully, they held the plane and transported us via the carts to the proper terminal; the one we started in. Grit teeth. It’ll be over soon and we’ll be on vacation.

    In Philadelphia, Mom was put in a bulkhead seat where she had a little more leg room. In Fort Lauderdale, we were on our own, despite much calling weeks ahead and trying to work out a solution. She sat in an aisle seat and cried silently in pain. Nobody seemed to care. She has a lot of trouble bending one leg. I suppose the airline’s attitude is “if you can’t manage the cramped quarters, let them eat first class.” Obese people beware. We’ve already seen how you might have to buy two seats. What if your size was the norm? I guess the airlines would have to adjust or no one would fly. But unless you can hire a private jet, you’re stuck with the only game in town. Money talks if you are disadvantaged, too.

    Guess the economy has made the airlines numb when it comes to passenger comfort. Gone are the days of flying the “friendly skies;” my friends are on the ground. Coming home we waited until everyone else got off first–except for a couple with small baby, who had brought a carrier to sit in the seat. We didn’t want to hold anyone up. Nor did the airline attendants come to assist, taking bags down or moving them to the front of the aircraft. Not in their job description. Maybe it should be.

    Trainers, please make sure that airline personnel are not tactless enough to remark in front of passengers, “Gee, I just don’t know what is taking them (us, the passengers) so long to disembark.” Actually, she said, “leave,” with all the vehemence of “get lost.”

    Finally, we disembarked, struggling to push Mom up the steep ramp to the terminal by ourselves, to hear the insensitive comment. We asked as soon as we arrived if we could have a cart to take us to baggage claim. We know we need assistance even if no one else does.

    Three carts passed us by as we were obviously waiting for something and finally, in frustration, I chased down a manager who confronted the cart drivers stopped not 30 feet away. Much argument–excuses really– about, “it’s not my job.” And, “I came by and no one was here.” Really? Where could we go and not stand out—a family of six with a red wheelchair? One comes back after obviously being chewed out and wants to see our boarding passes for some unknown reason; we are after all leaving the airport. We should have taken his number, but all we wanted to do was go home. Top it off, the cart couldn’t take us out of the terminal so without a word he drove us about 20 yards and stopped. We were on our own again.

    A long post, I admit. I write a lot when I’m steamed, and I’ve had time to calm down. I saw here, not a situation unique to us, but an experience that need not have happened to us or any other family had three organizations, partners in a multi-billion dollar business, provide adequate customer service training to anticipate and resolve the simplest of issues.

    I’ll bet the airports would like to figure out how to re-direct people who have gone through security back to the restaurants and other vendors at the front of the airport. If people are like me, they want to get to their gate first and then if they have time to shop or eat… If money talks, maybe that is way to get the airports, at least, to take a serious look at customer service with the airlines and TSA, and how to achieve that goal of getting people back through security to the main vendors and back again with little hassle and time spent. If airlines did their part to help, more us might like to fly the “friendly skies” again.

    For more resources about training, see the Training library.

    As always I look forward to your comments, especially those related to training and development. On those and related issues, involving communication and training, contact me through my website: http://www.actingsmarts.weebly.com.