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Empower Your Team Through Compelling Service Offerings

CC image courtesy of twm1340 via Flickr

Make your service offering something that your employees can really be proud of.  Wow, re-reading this first sentence, I realize there isn’t anything really revolutionary there.  However, I think it is really important for management to really dig down to the core of a company’s service offering and figure out if their offering is something that their staff is going to enjoy selling/supporting, etc.

If not, it is going to show and the end consumer is going to be disappointed in what they are purchasing and not only sales will decrease in the long run, but your team is going to be alienated as well.

I had already written a lot of this post before the holiday, but yesterday I was with the family watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (for probably the 40th time in my life), and Clark’s boss Mr. Frank Shirley couldn’t have summed up my thoughts on the topic any better.

After being kidnapped by Uncle Eddie and learning how powerful an effect a business decision had on his employee Clark, Mr. Shirley (played by Brian Doyle-Murray) states:

“Sometimes things look good on paper, but lose their luster when you see how it affects real folks. I guess a healthy bottom line doesn’t mean much if to get it, you have to hurt the ones you depend on. It’s people that make the difference.”

I recently traveled to a destination wedding from Austin, TX through Denver, CO to Salt Lake City, UT and back. I traveled on one of the smaller airlines that has a major presence in the Denver area. This was my first time flying this carrier and there were two distinct service tactics that left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

The worst part is that it was obvious from the tone of voice and body language of their service staff and flight attendants that they didn’t really buy-in to what they were offering or how they were operating either.

Service Offering 1: This carrier has a strict carry-on policy. But this was unclear during the check-in process. Its obvious now with some carriers that you are going to be paying extra for almost anything you take on the plane, but this carrier couldn’t have been less clear.

Basically at the gate, they made an announcement that if your didn’t have a “carry-on” stamp on your ticket you couldn’t carry anything on that didn’t fit in that standard luggage sizing contraption that sits at the gate of nearly every major airline.

Now most of us know, that almost no carry-on’s fit in that thing, but in general it is not an issue and if a piece of luggage doesn’t fit in the sizing tool…no worries, it usually fits in the overhead compartment anyways and if not, they will check the bag.

The gate attendants were forced to measure every bag and there was some mild amusement that ensued as a travelling companion in our group had to remove items from his carry-on to get them to fit, to avoid paying an additional fee.

He subsequently re-packed those items after “passing” inspection. There were however several travelers whose bags were an inch or two too long and had to pay an additional fee (I think it was around $25).

This happened at almost every leg of our flight and every time, the passengers were distraught and didn’t hesitate to give this airline’s employees an earful. They were met with lots of shoulder shrugs, “it’s our policy”, and “you’ll have to bring that up with a manager” type of responses.

For each leg of our flight, when this song and dance started you could see that the airlines workers knew what was coming.  I can only imagine them repeating this process 10-15 times each day for all of the flights they move through the airport.  Nobody likes getting verbally abused as a standard part of their job.

These employees were essentially hand-cuffed by management’s decision to enact a new policy that was clearly there to drive bottom line results but deteriorated the overall customer experience and didn’t allow their service team to effectively leave the customer happy.

Service Offering 2: We were unbelievably “lucky” on every single one of our flights on this trip.  On all four legs we were “randomly” selected to a credit card offering from the carrier. The carrier pitched a credit card for their airline for what seemed like 10 minutes on each of these flights.

If only we signed up on the flight, we’d get an additional 40,000 frequent flyer miles.  I felt bad for the flight attendants in this case.  I’m sure they didn’t sign up to sling credit cards to passengers that generally have no interest in their offering.

It was almost comical every time they started their pitch as they tried to convey the enthusiasm for our flight being lucky enough to have been selected for the limited offer.

I bring all this up, because we work in an industry that is fraught with challenges for our employees. They work with imperfect information on a daily basis to try and get a perfect result for our customers.  Whether that be in an on-time delivery, a freight claim approved, or clarification on a billing discrepancy.

We’ve battled these challenges primarily in two ways. We’ve focused on building an internal culture of teamwork and support. And secondly, we’ve focused on developing a freight service offering that all of us can be proud of.

Our employees are not just going through the motions when talking about what we’re going to do or offer our customers. They believe in the processes and systems that they themselves largely helped to create and know that our solutions will be of real value to the customer and keep them satisfied and a return customer to us.

If management had some hair-brained idea that only tried to drive profits (like the airline that is charging for marginally large carry-ons at the gate), but didn’t fit our culture and lowered the overall experience for not only our customers, but also our employees, then they are empowered to point this out quickly and identify the need for change.

My experience with this airline only solidified the idea that every system and process we roll out, not only has to have a business function, but a function that works within the expectation that our freight customer’s expect and backed by the buy-in from our employee base that it fits our team culture and is something that will allow them to continue to proudly deliver the best freight solutions possible.

The only possible way to do this is to get input from every level during the development of a new service or process and figure out if a solution will truly work for all the key stakeholders involved. Otherwise, there will be a disconnect, whether from your employees or your customers, and you’ll have a bunch of unhappy flyers, like me, looking to choose another airline next time around.


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