I was traveling to Texas last month to spread the Customer service love – which meant a flight out of my second favorite airport – Detroit Metro. As a regular business traveler, I find it a great place to fly from, and in my opinion is only challenged by the Orlando International Airport.
Monday morning flights are choppiest on the best of days, and this Monday was one for the record books. Not only were the roads a mess with construction and detours, but upon arriving at my usual parking deck I found a line stretching out in front of the loading zones (which is very unusual). As the traffic began to move, and it seemed like everything was calming down, the two ticket dispensers for the garage stopped working. You could see the frustrated families and business travelers sitting at the automated booths frantically alternating between poking the button to dispense the ticket and the help button that was their only lifeline. Behind me the traffic really started to stack up, horns began honking, and I began to wonder if I was going to make my flight.
And then in came the yellow coats to save the day.
Dressed in yellow rain slickers and running with purpose, two employees of the deck ran onto the scene. And yes. . . they were running! In fact they headed in at a dead sprint, both taking up position at a machine and cracking them open to see what was causing the malfunction. It seemed to only take them moments to correct the issue and get tickets to the cars at the head of the queue. This started the line up again, and slowly traffic began to inch into the parking structure.
But then they got the next step right, too.
They didn’t just fix and run – they stuck around and handed out tickets. They maximized the throughput by keeping the gate arms up and handing out tickets to each car. The cars barely had to stop and this cut down on the stop-and-go madness that you often see at toll booths and ticket stations like this. They stayed out there for at least 10 minutes dispensing and handing out tickets personally to reduce the line length in the shortest amount of time. As I drove by and thanked them, I noticed that both of their coats had “supervisor” printed under their names.
In my opinion, these two absolutely nailed the leadership intervention. They not only knew when to get involved in a situation but they also knew how long to stay involved.
When leaders know how and when to step into the fray to solve a problem or improve a process, they are poised to protect the service experience for their Guests.
Here are a few lessons from this story and best practices that leaders at all levels can utilize to keep things running smoothly in their businesses:
Know When to Step in and When to Step Out When things are going sideways, you can’t stay on the sidelines as a leader. This could mean many things in many different organizations, but it all comes down to knowing when to insert yourself into situations. It is the idea of understanding when to look at things from a 10,000 foot view and when to zoom in to ground level. It isn’t always easy to know because on one hand you want to be helpful, but on the other, if you swoop in every time there is a hiccup your team will never learn to deal with situations on their own. Also, they could begin to think that you don’t trust them and that can erode loyalty and morale. That said, this has to be balanced with the need to be a resource to your team and help them win by giving your support. The best tactic here is to be sure that you have trained your team and empowered them to find their own solutions. With that in mind, then you can use your best judgement about when your presence will add something to the equation for the good of your Guests. This could be in a challenging situation, one that requires financial approval for service recovery, or when a Customer is on the belligerent side. The trick here is to come in, help, and then let your team pick back up as soon as you have helped correct the situation.
Don’t Run From Fire to Fire If you find yourself running from problem to problem, first of all, you have too many problems. But tongue in cheek aside, leaders who find themselves running to solve issues constantly have not set their teams up for success. Typically leaders who have this dynamic either have teams or processes that are not up to the challenge. The first step is to identify which issue you are facing. Those who have a problem with a lagging team have to inspire them to improve their execution. This could mean training, goal setting, or even putting a new team (or portions of that team) in place. This is often the pitfall of leaders – especially those who are loyal to their teams – they often let them slide on simple matters of execution and then prop them up for way too long. This might seem like a nice thing to do, but it will set a standard that excellence is negotiable, and that is never good for our Customers. In most cases, training and clear communication can improve the team execution. There could also be a broken process, and that is a great chance to bring the team in and find out what is broken and what needs to be fixed. Once those barriers are shattered and procedures cleaned up, you’ll find that the Guest experience begins to move more smoothly.
Just beware the temptation to solve problems in a vacuum. Engage the team in the solution to ensure a better chance of success and adherence to the new plan.
Scale the Success and Learn From the Opportunity It is easy to breath a sigh of relief when a problem is fixed. Don’t walk away thinking the problem is gone just because it has been solved this one time. This is the time to think about how that solution can be scaled to all corners of your business. If you had this opportunity in one area, it could crop up in another. So the challenge is to apply the learning you received and use it to teach, coach, and inspire others to not have to go through that pain. Every time you experience a service breakdown, you get a bit of education into your business and that can be invaluable as you look to move from great to best-in-class. This kind of vision is something that grows success and fantastic execution at a very rapid rate.
So take a lesson from the yellow coats I mentioned in the beginning of this article. Know when to stage a leadership intervention for the good of your Guests and your team. They are counting on you to know when and how to remove obstacles and help them win as you seek to treat every Guest as a cherished friend.
Tony Johnson Customer Service Leader | Author | Consultant | Speaker
Check out my book: RECIPE FOR SERVICE Now Available on Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Recipe-Service-Inspire-Deliver-Customer/dp/0986391204
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