Should we be striving for loyalty over engagement?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big employee engagement guy. In fact I talk a lot about engagement in The Myth of Employee Burnout.  I truly do think we should be focused on engaging the hearts and minds of our employees. After all, that’s how we get the best out of people, right?

I’d like to challenge my own theory.  The other day I was thinking about guest loyalty programs. You know the ones… a special card or program companies use to get you to come back and continue using their service (i.e. create loyalty).

For example, one of the grocery stores in my town offers fuel points… the more you spend in the store, the more fuel points – i.e. discount – you get.  Makes me a loyal customer, right?

Maybe.  It certainly brings me back because I like the discount on gas, but if another grocery store has similar products, maybe offers better service, I might go there.  It might even depend on my mood.  If I can waffle back and forth that easily, I don’t think I’m that loyal.

Why? Because when you look up the definition of loyal, you get this: a strong feeling of support or allegiance.  Based on the example above, I would say that I have a moderate feeling of support or allegiance to the grocery store that offers fuel points. Why?  Because it’s transactional, not emotional.

More on that in a minute.

Back to my original theory – if we truly want employees to embrace our values and put forth their best effort, should we be concentrating on employee loyalty more than engagement? Should we be focused on creating “a strong feeling of support or allegiance” in our employees, over and above their level of engagement?  Maybe even instead of?  Or maybe loyalty creates engagement?

Here’s what I know: loyalty is powerful. Loyalty will “motivate” people to do things they may not otherwise do.  Think of the people you consider yourself “loyal” to… would you stick your neck out for them, step outside your comfort zone for their benefit?  I’m going to bet YES was the answer.

I know what you might be thinking… loyalty in the workplace went out of style like the promise of a gold watch at the end of 40 years of service.  Wrong.  Loyalty from our employees went out when we stopped being loyal to our employees.  When we got the idea in our head that they were going to jump ship for more money down the road, we stopped trying to earn their loyalty. And that’s our fault.

Earning loyalty in 2019 is going to be different than earning loyalty in 1989 or 1979, or 1959.  Many of your employees have different life situations and circumstances that lead them to your company, so we have to look at how we support them and gain their allegiance in a different way.

Is support about training?  Yes.  But it’s also about a listening ear, guidance from a trusted leader, and knowing that you have their back.

And allegiance, like we mentioned earlier, is about emotion. It’s about deeply believing in something to the point you choose it over other options. You feel so emotionally connected to to the cause, company or person that you feel compelled to take action. Probably why we pledge “allegiance” to the flag here in the USA.

When we focus on fostering support and allegiance, it is no longer about what our employees can do for us, but what can we do for our employees, which is a fundamental shift in thinking for many leaders.  It’s the upside-down triangle that puts the “top” of the organization on the bottom of the triangle, because as a leader, you are there to support the efforts of everyone else to create a successful team or company.

But before you print and hand out employee loyalty cards, remember the story of the gas points.  It’s counting transactions, which will only produce moderately loyal actions.

Contrast that with my experience with Alamo earlier this year. Long story short, they had a car for me when another rental company would not honor my reservation.  Not only that, the agent was so kind and accommodating (and could sense my urgency), I couldn’t help but feel supported and that they truly cared about me. Since then, I have pledged my allegiance to Alamo. (Full disclosure, I had been a member of their Alamo Insiders loyalty program before this, but it was this experience that truly made me LOYAL!)

Related: AttractionPros Podcast Episode 92 – Service Urgency (and more on the Alamo story)

So creating employee loyalty should not be about cards or programs. It should be about creating bonds and relationships with people so they feel supported and naturally want to pledge their allegiance to you.

Loyalty is not dead. You just have to earn it.

Thanks for reading!

Want to support a great organization AND learn some important leadership concepts at the same time??  Now you can!  A portion of all book sales in 2019 will be donated to Give Kids The World!

 

Leadership lessons from a musical legend

If you haven’t heard the name Berry Gordy, you have surely heard of the monumental musical acts he developed and launched as the head of Motown Records. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves and the list literally goes on and on. There is a great documentary out about him called “Hitsville, The Making of Motown” and it’s worth a look as much for the musical exploration as it is to get inside the head of visionary.

Image result for hitsville the making of motown

There were three things that impressed me most about Berry that I think are great lessons for any leader:

  1. Berry applied what he learned – Berry worked on the assembly line at Ford in Detroit, and realized he could use that concept to make hit records.  Find the talent, write the songs, produce the record, train the talent to represent the brand, repeat. You can argue the “artistry” of this method (as my wife and I did), but it proved to be a winning formula to make records people wanted to listen to and buy. What have you experienced that could be tweaked or modified to help you fix a current situation?  There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
  2. Berry didn’t have to be the best – Berry knew he had assembled a very talented team of writers, arrangers and musicians. And despite Berry’s own musical talent, he recognized that a lot of the people on the Motown team were more talented than he was. There were many stories in the film where Berry was outvoted on something or he stepped aside to let others shine. That’s why you may not have heard of Berry Gordy, but you HAVE heard of the Jackson 5. Who on your team is more talented than you are?  When was the last time you got out of the way so they could shine?
  3. Berry recognized when things had to change – as they gained popularity, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder both started to balk at the Motown “system”.  They were writing different types of songs and addressing different subjects (politics, Vietnam war). Berry had originally stated that Motown would not deal with those topics to keep the music accessible to all, but what he found was that times were changing and that meant that HE had to change, Motown Records had to change.  He recognized that even if you have a great system, people are still going to be people and do what they want. When what they are doing is working, don’t fight it! What change or new direction have you been fighting? Is anyone being held back because of the “system”?

Honestly, that last one can get a little sticky, because it’s a judgment call. There is no absolute right or wrong, and a leader has to know how to balance sticking with the system and letting someone express themselves. Sometimes that comes from experience, sometimes it comes from the gut.

If you’ve seen this movie, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  It also talks about a pretty amazing culture that was developed at Motown, and I think it developed through the things mentioned above… high standards and a shared goal, willingness to listen and let others shine and the ability to be agile when needed.

Sounds like a big hit to me!

Thanks for reading!

Want to support a great organization AND learn some important leadership concepts at the same time??  Now you can!  A portion of all book sales in 2019 will be donated to Give Kids The World!

 

 

Diligence, Persistence and Stick-to-it-iv-ness

A recent trip to work with the amazing leaders at Carowinds yields a lesson in diligence.

What do YOU do when employees don’t listen the first time? What is YOUR plan B?

I’d love to hear your success stories, too!  Leave a comment below or email me at matt@performanceoptimist.com.

Thanks for watching!

Want to support a great organization AND learn some important leadership concepts at the same time??  Now you can!  I will be donating a portion of the proceeds from all book sales in 2019 to Give Kids The World!

Talking blog posts

It’s true.  I’ve been writing fewer blog posts over the last year or so, but it’s not because I haven’t experienced any blog-worthy thoughts.

To the contrary, I’ve had a lot, but many of them have taken a new form!  A podcast!

Some of you know that Josh Liebman and I have joined forced to create the AttractionPros podcast, a weekly show dedicated to helping leaders and operators in the attractions industry.  Sometimes, we feature amazing guests like Jeffrey Siebert, John Anderson, Ben Story, Jennifer Berthiaume, Bill Lupfer, John Hallenbeck, Katie Bruno, Steve Amos, Shaun McKeogh, Christine Buhr, Tim Morrow and many more!

AP Podcast – Episode 80: Seamus Fitzgerald talks about aloha, kokua, kapu, ohana and lot of other Hawaiian words!

Sometimes we take a deep dive into a recent or hot topic:

AP Podcast – Episode 82: Matt and Josh dissect a delicate leadership situation that could have been avoided

Sometimes we record an episode LIVE with a studio audience:

AP Podcast Episode 64: AttractionPros LIVE from Orlando, FL!

If you want to find out more about the podcast, check us out on AttractionPros.com.  We’re also on Facebook, Twitter, iTunes and LinkedIn. Feel free to send us questions for an upcoming mailbag episode or suggestions for guests you would like us to profile.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

 

 

 

PS – In case you haven’t heard, I will be donating a portion of my book sales in 2019 to Give Kids the World. Either title, paperback or kindle, they all count!  If you’ve been waiting for a reason to pick up a few more copies, now is the time! Click here for the bookstore!

 

Slow or fast to hire? Fast or slow to fire?

If you are someone who hires people at your facility, you may have heard the following, diametrically opposed philosophies:

Slow to hire, quick to fire – OR – Quick to hire, slow to fire.

If you do a search for either phrase, you will find just as much competing evidence for which one is best and which one is nonsense.  It can be quite confusing.

For those who have hired the wrong person (and who among us hasn’t?), slow to hire – meaning taking your time to REALLY evaluate the candidate for strategic and cultural fit – makes the most sense.  The rational is that a little extra time upfront can save you headaches down the road. In fact, so many of us have made bad hiring decisions that a new industry was created, providing a bevy of tools and resources to evaluate talent – even calculators to tell you how much a bad hire will cost you.  Makes anyone afraid to utter those words, “you’re hired”.

On the other hand, quick to hire gets people in the door but gives them a chance to find their way and fit in.  And lets be honest, it feels like sometimes with our depleted applicant pool, we’ll hire anyone interested and sort ’em out later.

Sometimes, though, they don’t ever fit into your culture, or they create a negative subculture that undermines everything you do. Or, you are so desperate to keep people so you can open the funnel cake stand that you bend rules and lower your standards just to keep them “happy”. (Spoiler alert – that doesn’t work.)  I would argue that this is a function of a weak and unstructured culture, not a bad hiring practice, but we’ll explore that a little more in a minute.

The problem with both of these philosophies or tactics is that they oversimplify the applicant/employee experience.  And this ain’t a simple proposition.

I shared this graphic in my book ALL CLEAR! A Practical Guide for First Time Leaders and The People Who Support Them:

In essence, it shows my findings regarding what truly impacts employee performance and behavior, and the relative importance of the various processes.  It comes largely from discussions I’ve had over the years with operational managers who complain about the “quality of employee” and insist that hiring and training processes be improved.  What they don’t consider is the time these employees have spent out in the field.  Do they really expect that spending a day or two in a training class is MORE influential on their behavior than the three months they have been working in their role?  I don’t think so.

But this revisits the concept of a weak or unstructured culture.  When managers are blaming HR for bad employee performance, or you are lowering your standards just to keep people around, or you justify poor performance in one area because an employee is really good at something else, your hiring practices are likely not in question. Your culture is.

What if, and I’m just spit-ballin’ here, what if there was such a strong sense of what to do and what not to do among their managers and co-workers that a new hire never had to question the standard or what they could get away with?  You’re supposed to wear white shoes? EVERYONE is wearing white shoes ALL THE TIME! You’re supposed to not use your cell phone at work? No one EVER reaches for their phone “just to check the time”. And why is this? Not solely because the “right” people were hired or that HR said “don’t use your cell phone” during orientation… it’s because those standards were enforced on a regular basis and managers took the opportunity to coach and develop their employees.

So, getting back to hire or fire slow or fast? What about this…

  • Hire smart – don’t regulate to a timeframe, but use your company standards to evaluate cultural fit and make the best decision you can in the moment. Yes, sometimes you have to go with your gut.
  • Coach often – Don’t let them get away with negative or substandard performance, but also don’t let outstanding effort or performance go unnoticed.  Make it a priority (which means building the skill and taking the time) to communicate to your employees how they are doing, what impact they are making and what strides that can take to improve.
  • Fire when people demonstrate they can’t or are unwilling to meet your standards – Give them a chance, coach them to higher performance, but don’t keep people around who regularly demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to meet your standards. They may be a good person, but if they aren’t upholding your standards, they aren’t doing you any favors.

That doesn’t sound as pithy or hip, but it’s what WORKS!

Thanks for reading!

Speaking of ALL CLEAR – check out what some people (who didn’t write the book) have to say about it! 

“I just finished your book “All Clear!” WOW!!! What a great tool! It is so timely and practical. I am going to have my leadership team read it and use it to help us grow our team. I have been stressing to our leaders the importance of relationship building and how that is really the first step in growing the team. Your book is going to be a great reinforcement. I really think this is a must read for anyone in the service industry but absolutely if you are in the entertainment industry.”

Chris Camp – Owner Fun Fore All

“All Clear is a fantastic read for leaders with zero to fifty years of experience! After eight years in management at my current company, this book was a refreshing reminder of what it was like stepping into a leadership role for the first time. It also gave me new ideas and motivation to equip both my leadership and frontline staff with all the tools they need to succeed. This book is easy to stay engaged with and inspired me to completely reevaluate an approach to one of my current projects. My team will be grateful for this project’s otherwise uninteresting results thanks to All Clear! I highly recommend this book to any leader and even those who are looking to evolve into a leader in the future.”

Steven Camacho – Canobie Lake Park

 

 

 

Proactive service isn’t just for customers

If you have worked in any sort of retail operation with a receipt printer, you have undoubtedly seen this…

And you know what those pink stripes mean… you are about to run out of receipt paper.  In this case, they also sparked a leadership lesson!

After a glorious week at the IAAPA Attractions Expo, it was time to return my rental car and come home. I had rented from Alamo at the Sanford, FL (SFB) airport, and had noticed an “upping of their game” when it came to service lately.

Not only in Sanford, but in other locations, consistently getting friendly, genuine service when being checked in at the counter and equally hospitable attention when being shown to the car. Twice recently I rented cars that might have needed some explaining… a convertible and a hybrid. While I probably could have figured things out on my own, it was very helpful to have the finer points of operation explained to me by a knowledgeable employee.

Upon returning the car(s), not only was the process quick, I consistently heard these two phrases (or some variations thereof):

  • “How was your service with us?”
  • “Was there anything else we could have done to make the experience better?”

In my last few cases, the answers were, “Great”, and “Nothing I can think of”.  Really, short of driving the car for me, I don’t know that there is anything else I expect from a rental car company.

And this brings us to the receipt tape.

On my most recent return, I pulled up and got out of the car.  I was immediately greeted by a young lady who appeared to be a supervisor (based on her appearance and demeanor). Her greeting was enthusiastic and welcoming.  She then asked the two questions above.

And my answers were the same.

She proceeded to walk around the car looking for damage while telling me that Ruben was just finishing up with the car ahead of me and would be right over to print out the receipt.

Her inspection complete, she then called to Ruben “this car is all set”.

With a smile, Ruben walked up to my car, scanned the bar code and asked me how everything was.  I didn’t mind telling him that everything had been great.

Just as Ruben hit the print button on his portable printer, the supervisor came back over with a new roll of receipt paper.

“How did you know I needed paper?” Ruben asked.

“I noticed the pink stripe on your last printout”, she said.

“Thanks so much!” Ruben responded.

So is this really about receipt paper? Partially. But more importantly its about a leader who is setting the example, supporting her employee and proactively serving them at the same time.

  • This supervisor set the example with her enthusiastic greeting.  Ruben followed suit.
  • The supervisor helped Ruben more efficiently check in the cars as she took care of the walk around inspection for him.
  • The supervisor anticipated and filled a need (receipt paper) so that Ruben wouldn’t have to stop what he was doing to go find a fresh roll.

To me this all started with an observation. The supervisor observed that there were ways she could help, so she did.  She observed that he was running low on paper, so she proactively went to get a replacement.  We talk all the time about anticipating our guests needs… how often are we applying those same thoughts and actions to our employees?

Being realistic, do we think this supervisor is out there all the time performing these actions?  I honestly hope not, otherwise you might as well just have two attendants. I would think she was out there checking on her team and decided to help out a bit while she was there.

We all know that our employees are watching everything we do.  They notice when we help out, they notice when we just “stand around”, they notice when we aren’t there. This supervisor has taken it upon herself to make sure that her employees are noticing the right things, and that she is proactively serving and providing value to her teams at every opportunity.

This is not only important in the moment, but as a long term investment into the relationships you have with your employees. Fast froward 3 months from now, and this supervisor has to have a conversation with Ruben about performance or cost cutting or whatever. He will likely remember times like I’ve described above and have a feeling that at least she has his back. He may not like what she has to tell him, but he will likely believe that it’s coming from a good place.

Counter that with an employee who never sees their supervisor or when they do, they “stand around”, don’t contribute or only spend time criticizing.  Now when bad news comes down the pike, and it’s delivered by someone who they don’t respect, they will more likely feel attacked and get defensive.  Those conversations rarely go well.

So maybe it’s time to “Alamo” your leadership game?  Maybe its time to not only proactively serve your employees, but also to proactively illicit their feedback and input about their experience?  After all, isn’t your job as a leader to ensure your employees have the best experience possible so they will carry out your companies mission?

Let’s tweak these two questions a little bit to fit the leader/employee scenario:

  • “How is your experience with us, and with me as a leader?”
  • “Is there anything else we can do to make the experience better?”

Of course the follow-up to these questions is to A. LISTEN, and B. do something with the information. If you don’t do either, your employees won’t believe you are sincere.

Thanks for reading!

Did you miss AttractionPros Live in Orlando? Listen in as we tap into the collective wisdom of 30 attractions professionals!

 

 

No, no, no, no, no, no!

Maybe I am just different, but I get REALLY annoyed when I see very smart people do, what I consider to be, very short-sighted things.

This morning I saw a well-known and highly respected leadership authority talking about how to teach leadership to young people.  (First strike was calling them millennials, but I’ll let that slide this time.) His contention: put it on their phone, give them an app and let them text each other.

This is when I shook my head and said, “no, no, no, no, no, no, no!”  Just like Lego Batman.

If you want employees to get their eyes away from the screen, you don’t give them MORE REASONS TO LOOK AT THE SCREEN!!!  This is especially true when it comes to leadership. Want to build someone’s ability to deal with conflict?  Put them in a conflict situation and coach them through it. Want to build up someone’s skill in providing real, effective and genuine feedback? Put them in that situation and coach them through it.  Want to help develop a new leaders decision making skills?  Give them decisions to make and coach them through the outcome. Are you seeing a trend here?

I get this guys desire to jump on the app bandwagon, but that doesn’t mean its right for every situation.  Got an app to track your steps?  Sure! Got an app to help keep your travel plans organized? Absolutely? But an app to teach people how to interact with another human being? I’m a little skeptical.

Why the skepticism from an optimist?  Because I have seen first hand the difference between how people act and interact in person versus online.  It’s quite literally night and day in many cases.  And leadership is about communication and relationships, which are built and sustained in person (or phone, Skype, etc. – someplace where you are interacting with another human in real time).  Just look at how many people feel alone even though they have a bazillion friends and followers on social media.

I’ve said it before… leadership is a full contact sport.  You’ve got to get in there, mess things up, make some mistakes, get humbled, have some success and LEARN from every experience.  It’s a journey that takes a long time, and is never really finished (if you are doing it right). And in my opinion, cannot be learned by looking at your phone.

Related: If you’ll be at IAAPA’s IAE18 in November, I’ll be talking about how to create a supervisor training program that fits any budget.

Whether you will be at the expo or not, if you are looking for an non-app based ready-to-go Supervisor Training Program, check out The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Training Program. 

Hoping to see many of you at the Expo! It’s going to be a great week!

Thanks for reading!!

Matt’s IAAPA Don’t Miss list:

My Mean Joe Greene moment

I recently had what I can only describe as a “Mean Joe Greene” moment. If you weren’t watching football in 1979, you might not know what that means.  Here is the historical document that will put that phrase into perspective:

Very much like the kid in that stadium tunnel, my MJG moment included me receiving an unexpected gift from an unexpected source.

Here’s the story… I was brought in to work with a client recently who had some people who were not playing well with one another.  It’s not a huge company, so any disruption in the work-life harmony was noticed by many and it spread quickly.

One individual, we’ll call him “Jim”, was a guy I was particularly warned about. “He’s gruff, grumpy, and is really unhappy outside of work.”

This should be fun.

So I met with Jim and we started talking. We first spoke about the job, the company, and his work-related challenges.  Somewhere along the line the conversation turned to what he did outside of work, and football came up. He mentioned he was a Browns fan and our conversation detoured from work for a bit. Growing up in Cleveland myself, we had a lot to discuss from the Kardiac Kids to Bernie Kosar, Jim Brown, and the early days of Bill Belichick.

We then started talking about music… he was also a drummer, worked with lots of bands and even ran sound and lights for many years.  So the conversation went down THAT rabbit hole for a bit.

We steered it back to work and finished up. I thanked Jim for his time and he went back to his department.

A few hours later, I was leaving for the day and I was about 1/2 way to my car in the parking lot when I heard someone calling after me. I turned to see Jim walking toward me with something in his hand.  As he got closer, he revealed this Browns lighter.

When we were speaking earlier in the day, he mentioned getting this from someone in the Browns organization, and that he actually had two.  Not being a smoker, he doesn’t really have a need for one, let alone two.  I’m not a smoker either, but he wanted this to go to a fan, even if I would never use it.  “Better to go to a fan than in the trash”, he said.

As I walked to my car, I totally felt like that kid in the Coke commercial. Jim was a guy that was supposed to be gruff, tough and didn’t like anyone, yet here he is giving me something that meant something to him, because he figured it would mean something to me.

And it does mean something to me.

So how did this happen? Like the kid in the commercial offering Joe his Coke, I offered Jim somethings without expecting anything in return… my time, a listening ear and my genuine interest.  I was also careful NOT treat him like he was the gruff and tough so and so that I was warned about. It’s AMAZING the barriers you can break down when you listen to people without judgement.

To be fair, I do also think it helped that we had no history, meaning that there wasn’t any bad blood or muddy water under the bridge to clutter our conversation.  We all know that kind of baggage can prevent us from seeing things clearly, or it can even stop us from attempting to foster a solution.  But that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless.

If you have a team member like Jim, don’t write them off just yet.  Be the leader you know you need to be and bury the hatchet, let bygones be bygones and wipe the slate clean.  Whatever cliche you choose to adopt, it’s up to you to take the first step, to listen, and to invest the time to build the bonds you know you need to build.

And who knows, you may end up with a Mean Joe Greene story of your own to tell!

Thanks for reading!

Mastermind (group/peer coaching) groups forming NOW! Programs start in January 2019!

To apply: http://www.performanceoptimist.com/mastermindapplication.html

Service recovery… on the flip side.

My faith in service recovery has been restored!  Many of you remember my tale of a cancelled flight and the subsequent call at 2 am that was a complete service recovery failure.  If you missed it, check it out here.

Then, this morning, I get the following email (different company, different situation), that is again an attempt at service recovery. To me, this one is so many light-years better than my previous example, I just have to share it in it’s entirety.  I don’t even think you need much context, I think you’ll get the drift.

Pretty spectacular, huh?  Before we go any further, I will not hesitate to recommend SuperheroStuff.com for any of your superhero stuff-type needs.  I needed buttons.  You might need a t-shirt or a hoody.  Here is a direct link their site: https://www.superherostuff.com/

Now, I hope we can all agree that this was a great way to handle a lack of inventory. Since I’m all about the learnin’, lets break this down to see exactly what they did so we can all up our service recovery game.

  1. Addressed me by my first name. This is personal to ME!
  2. Stated the problem quickly (and in a humorous way). ‘Holy Inventory error Batman!”  Showed they knew what the problem was and weren’t afraid to admit it was their fault.
  3. Again admitted it was THIER problem (“we had a snafu”) then stated its impact to me.
  4. They apologized. Early and sincerely.
  5. Used soft language (“I was wondering if there was another item you might…”).  No demands (“You gotta pick new ones” or “you’re going to have to drive to Charlotte” – see previous post for more on THAT one!)
  6. No robo-choices (“we’ve substituted 5 other random buttons”)
  7. Made the resolution easy (and their responsibility).  I just had to pick 5 other buttons (link included) and viola – done!  Even brought back a little humor!
  8. Apologized again and told me they appreciate my business.
  9. Showed more humor and consistent branding/theming in the signature block.  But ALSO included a real name. Imagine responding and addressing the email to: Black Widow?

Was there anything else you noticed?  How would you have reacted if you got this same email?

Most importantly, how many of these things do you or your teams do when responding to a guest concern or situation?  I think one of the great things about this is how quickly they admitted wrongdoing and started proposing solutions.  Gave me no time to stew and get disproportionately angry.

Have a great service recovery story to spin?  Let me know!

Thanks for reading!

www.performanceoptimist.com

Are you listening to THE LEADING resource for leaders in the attractions industry?  If you aren’t listening to the AttractionPros podcast, that answer would be no.

The 6 words I didn’t want to hear at 2 am

Thing is, I had already planned for the exact situation described by these words in the middle of the night.  In fact, I was kind of excited about it.

How about some context…

My wife and I were at dinner at a friends house and I had put my phone on a table away from where we were sitting. When we got up to clear the table after dessert, I decided just to peek at my phone since I was traveling to a conference the next day.  That’s when I saw this text:

Okay. Flight cancelled. Not the entire flight, just the first leg.  With the amount of traveling I do, this was bound to happen, right?  Not a big deal, I will call the number and get rebooked.

Except, when I called the number, I got an automated system telling me that the department I was trying to reach was extremely busy and that I should call back later, then the system hung up on me.

Three more attempts, same result.

Again, I get it. Everyone and their brother was trying to call in at the same time.

I checked my connecting flight out of Charlotte (CLT) and it was still listed as scheduled and on time.  So, worst case scenario, I would drive to Charlotte (2-hour drive I had done MANY times) and catch that flight.  It was shaping up to be a nice weather day, so I actually started looking forward to driving the convertible to Charlotte and having a little less airport time than usual.

I tried calling the number one more time.  This time I had the ability to leave a callback number, since they said the hold time would be in excess of 4 hours. Yeah, YOU can call ME back, please.

So, at about 2 am, the phone rings.  I was asleep, but I got up and took the call.

After being on hold for a few more minutes, an agent came on and asked how she could help. I said, “You, well not you personally, but American Airlines cancelled my flight tomorrow and I was told to call this number to get it rebooked.”

Silence as she looked up my reservation.

The next 6 words I heard, even though I was already preparing to do this very thing, made my blood boil.

The attendant came on and said, “You’ll have to drive to Charlotte.”

No context, no apology, no asking about my circumstances or if driving was even an option. What if I didn’t have a car?  What if I was unable to drive and relied on someone else to get me from point A to B.  What if this wasn’t a 2-hour drive for me, but a cross-country flight? What if, what if, what if?

Feeling my face getting warm, I asked, “So since the airline canceled the flight, are they going to pay for a rental car, gas, a shuttle, anything since this is a major hassle?”

I sensed a slight scoff/chuckle/sigh… “No”, was the only answer I got.

Why was this making me so upset when I was planning to do the thing she just told me to do in the first place?

Probably because it was no longer my choice. Probably because I still expected some sort of resolution from the company that put me in this position in the first place.  And probably, most likely, because the agent made no effort whatsoever to empathize or even understand my situation.  She had likely been on the phone with hundreds of others just like me, but that doesn’t matter. To help me, she ideally should get try to find out more.

The rest of the conversation didn’t go so well, and more for the people who might be “monitoring and recording these calls for quality assurance” I did express to her just how let down and abandoned I felt.

Her, “well, you could just cancel this entire flight and rebook with someone else comment”, really set me off.  If I had any question before, there was no doubt now that her priority was to get me off the phone, not get me to Las Vegas.

Thing is, if, at 2 AM, she would have said, “I am so sorry sir, it looks like we won’t be able to rebook you on a flight to make your connection.  Can we look at alternate ways to get you to Charlotte, or maybe rebook you on another flight to Las Vegas altogether?”, this wouldn’t even be a blog post.

During the rest of the conversation, though, she made it clear that she was “over” dealing with people that she had to rebook.  I was likely not the only person who got a little upset, and wouldn’t be the last. At one point she even said that. “Sir, I just need to finish this so I can get to the other 1000 people that are waiting.”

Wow.

So I think there are two morals to the story.

  1. Word choice matters – especially when dealing with someone who you (or your company) had a hand in inconveniencing. A simple apology or acknowledgement (and willingness to take care of the situation) goes A LONG WAY.  I was ready to do EXACTLY what she was now telling me to do, but it was conveyed in an uncaring, almost combative way.  Even if she knew she couldn’t do anything but refund the unused portion of my trip, the slightest inkling to want to help would have changed the entire dynamic of the conversation.
  2. Take a break – Would it have mattered if I got this call at 2 or 2:15 AM?  Not to me. But I would imagine that the people overseeing the call center were adamant about clearing those call queues as fast as they could.  In fact, this agent may have been pushing HERSELF to the brink out of a sense of duty.  When we get pushed, or push ourselves, to our very outer limits, we can often do and say things we wouldn’t normally do. Taking a few moments to catch our breath or even expend some pent up anger can do wonders for your outlook.

Related – the topic of the “grumble station”, a spot for guest service personnel to safely and appropriately rid themselves of extra frustration-induced anger/energy, is outlined in The Myth of Employee Burnout.

As an update, I started writing this post before knowing that this situation was a result of a computer glitch with American Eagle affiliate PSA Airlines.  That being said, it’s understandable that agents would be getting pushed (and pushing themselves) to the limit to take care of their customers.  I think a little care for themselves would have made caring for their customers just a bit easier.

Thanks for reading!

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