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  • Writer's pictureHillel Glazer

Customer Service Under the Hood

I’m just back from a multi-state journey in which I experienced rental cars, restaurants, hotels in two states, fixed-base operators* in three states, plus a massive event organized by a non-profit and made possible by an immense army of volunteers. As an operations nerd I can’t help but see all of these service experiences through that lens and peer into what makes their levels of service possible.

Let me say, first, that I didn’t experience any truly negative experience anywhere. On the other hand, I could easily see where some operations were trying very hard to give good service and where some could give good (or great) service without even trying.

Customer service is a popular business topic lately, as any business reader knows. A common thread in much of what’s out there is on establishing values and principles and then hiring people who exude these ideals. I wholeheartedly agree with this. Readers of this blog can probably guess what I’m going to say next: It’s not enough.

Despite the current challenges everywhere with staffing, in each of the services I experienced throughout my recent travels I never had to roll my eyes at the people providing the services. Everyone was trying, most were succeeding, and some were truly outstanding.

The differences came down to how well the staff were supported in their efforts. That’s why hiring good people who carry your water isn’t enough if providing good customer service is a priority. Your staff needs to be supported and not hindered by the operation under the hood. This means how your operation is organized, who has authority to do what, who has autonomy to make decisions, which systems are in place with which to provide services—both those that face the customer as well as those in the back office, exposed to the staff—and how effective are those systems.

For example, In one case, a website stated that certain amenities were available, but it was outdated. In another case an internal system would only allow reservations to be made in 24 hour increments even though they had other options available in reality. In a different situation the “full service” option was broken leaving only “self- service” available.

The outdated website was updated immediately on me alerting the responsible party to the error. The system that would only accept full-day reservations was rectified with a quick note to the agency to ensure charges were properly applied. And, the lack of “full service” was handled by the operation manually repositioning assets to handle the “self service” aspects for customers instead of customers having to exert manual efforts to do it themselves.

These examples validate the need for good people. Each of the limitations created by “systems” were compensated for with good employees who take customer service seriously. But can you easily imagine the customer experience should each of these system failures had been compounded by poor employee responses? At the same time, some of these hinderances were entirely avoidable. There was no reason to put customer-facing employees in the unenviable position of having to compensate for, say, insufficient software features.

On the other end of the spectrum, a company had a policy of monitoring a system which alerted them that I was arriving early. This enabled the representative to be proactive, ensuring my visit was not encumbered by having to wait for something to be ready only at the originally scheduled time. Similarly, another operation switched from a very manual process to an online sign-up form that greatly improved record-keeping as well as eliminated the guesswork they faced in planning staff levels. This same operation moved training online which reduced crowding and complexity at their office and eliminated a major bottleneck in deploying workers to the field.

In an ironic twist of events, part of my journey included volunteering for a somewhat (physically) risky role. I’d been doing this for several years. The organizer knew I had plenty of experience and asked me to take two other volunteers to work in a remote area I had not worked before in a slightly different, albeit similar, role. Afterwards on the van ride back to base, the organizer admitted we were deliberately not given any advanced special instructions and that I was chosen so that I could provide feedback on the experience. The irony is that the organizers did not know of my operations expertise! Needless to say, they got an earful. As it happens, they suspected there were some operational issues in this part of the organization, and I was able to validate their concerns.

This last example points to the importance of training, alignment of personnel’s capabilities to the work, and appropriate supervision. It turns out that complacency was encroaching on the people doing the work mixed with some amount of knowledge obsolescence plus time-in-service based authority that no longer matched the needs of the managerial role. Training, organizational design, and putting people in the right positions is as much a part of the operational system as making sure systems are in place and that the right people are in the right roles.

If you know of an operation falling behind in its ability to provide customer service, it might not be the people. And, trying to “fix” the problem only by applying people-oriented solutions could be doing the company and its people a disservice. We can take a quick look at what you’re trying to accomplish and help you make adjustments to achieve that. First conversations (and often second and third) are always free and no-obligation. Instead of wondering what to do, let’s see if we can give you ideas. Please reach out.

*A Fixed-Base Operator (FBO) is a business at an airport that provides services to aircraft and their passengers for all types of aircraft that are not the typical airliners. The breadth of services changes from airport to airport and FBO to FBO. Most commonly, at the very least an FBO makes aviation fuel available. Some also provide maintenance. Others go much farther and also offer charters, catering, and make ground-based arrangements for incoming pilots and crews.


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