This is Gary Klugiewicz making an observation about a customer service moment that I think could have been handled better. I was in a long Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security line at a busy airport when I saw a young woman attempting to skip in line. She was asking permission from each passenger to see if she could skip forward because she said that she was in danger of missing her flight. Several people said yes before a couple said no because they were also late and in danger of missing their own flight. The young woman then turned to a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) monitoring the line and asked if she could skip in line because she was going to miss her flight.
The officer said that she couldn’t skip in line because she would get in trouble (with her supervisor) if this was allowed. Although the officer’s response was politely given, answered the question, and ended the conversation, it bothered me for some reason. Later, thinking about the conversation, I realized what bothered me.
Instead of explaining that the mission of the TSA is to safely and efficiently expedite the travel of 100,000’s of people every day and that many people in this line were probably in the same situation that the young woman was experiencing and that skipping in line would raise tension in the line with other people in the same situation, the officer focused on what would personally affect the TSO – getting in trouble.
This type of excuse is used in a wide range of customer service situations and really is not helpful. To paraphrase what was said, “Let me make sure I understand what you just said. You said that the fact that you would get in trouble is more important than me making my flight. True?”
We all know is this in not what the TSO meant but it is what the TSO said.
What the TSO did was to throw the TSA security policies & procedures, as well as, her supervisors under the proverbial bus. In other words, it’s not my fault you can’t skip in line, it the fault of TSA policies & procedures and my supervisors fault that you may miss your plane.
Perhaps a better way of answering the question would have been, “Good morning. My name is _____________. I am a Transportation Security Officer with Transportation Security Administration. While I would like to help you make your flight, having you skip in line would not be helpful. There are literally scores of persons in this line, just like you, trying to make their flights. Your skipping in line would likely cause tension with other people waiting in line in front of you. This is a busy airport. In the future, you may want to schedule additional time and get here earlier. I do hope you make your flight.
There are a couple of takeaways that could be taken from this incident. One takeaway from this blog entry might be that getting in trouble with your supervisor may be true if you take certain actions but this fact is really not important to the customer. A better answer would be to know why the rule, policy, or law exists and explaining this to the customer. Your personal wants and needs are really not important to a customer while explaining the reason for your answer may be.
Another takeaway is that throwing your organization or your supervisor under the bus is not a way to increase your authority or professionalism while taking responsibility for your actions and explaining them often tends to strengthen your image.
In closing, learning ways to improve our professional image in front of our customers is important to all of us. Remember that explaining why we do, what we do, when possible, is a great way to decrease tension and generate voluntary compliance, cooperation, and collaboration.
I look forward to your feedback.