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Three Faces Of Customer Service

What is the face that your customer service staff shows the public? Do you know?

Service Taking Flight

On a crowded morning flight from Long Beach airport back to JFK, two flight attendants, Shelly and CheeChee, did a particularly notable job of engaging with customers, who, in addition to the normally diverse crowd of passengers included two Boy Scout Troops on their way to the National Jamboree along with their attending leaders and all their backpacks.

These women dealt equally well with the distraught Scout who thought he’d forgotten his first aid kit at the security checkpoint (obviously violating the passage in the Oath about preparedness); the fact that they could not accept the $2 fees for headsets from the Scouts in cash; and the over-entitled gentleman in 1C who expected more-personal-than-typical attention as he handed over his balled-up sandwich wrapper, got multiple assists for his TV reception and headset volume, and stood in the galley, lifting his shirt to redo his belt.

Shelly and CheeChee were practical, clear, and able to develop new procedures on the fly (they gave headsets to the Scouts who needed them first, so they could charge a single total to a Scout Leader’s credit card, and then went back through the cabin to help the other passengers in the normal course. They worked in reverse when it was time to sell the little snack boxes: knowing they didn’t have enough for all the Scouts, they accommodated all the other passengers first, and then sold the remaining boxes to the Troops).

Even better, though, they looked directly at every passenger they addressed. They smiled, nodded, and occasionally winked to show recognition, and spoke kindly, knowledgeably, and with visible good humor to all and sundry. The majority of Jet Blue service is quite appropriate and the majority of Jet Blue flight attendants operate within a “professional” range, but these women were particularly good and it was a pleasure to see them in action (and maybe they knew the guy in 1C).

Tea Without Sympathy

In contrast is a local Tea Room, pleasantly appointed, with a nice selection of pastries and light meals and a varied tea menu. It’s always full, often with repeat guests – but I don’t care for it.

The lone waitress works very hard, but isn’t comfortable recommending one tea or pastry over another. She works methodically, but at her own pace, instead of scanning the room to see which patrons are craning their necks or lifting their chins seeking attention. She never seems to smile, even when she asks if everything’s all right. She doesn’t come across as negative, just extremely introverted, maybe a little timid.

The Tea Room is usually crowded, so it’s not that she’s driving business away. But I’m a big tipper – and I choose not to go there.

Coffee Talk

In a third setting, a little coffee and frozen yogurt place, the woman behind the counter also seems to prefer not to engage unless it’s required, so much so that once, when she wasn’t on duty yet, I saw her practically slide backwards around a corner so she wouldn’t have to come face-to-face with anyone standing in line waiting to be served.

But she is a marvel of efficiency and multitasking, able to start an espresso or a shake, turn to swirl a cup of yogurt, and then swivel back to the drink in progress. She takes care with the presentation –- placing a napkin under the cup to catch drips, pressing toppings into the tower of yogurt so the pieces don’t slide off. And if customers happen to initiate conversation, she is forthcoming, clear, and occasionally, smiling.

She might be wired a little tight, but she’s an impressive worker, never wasting a minute, always replenishing stock, wiping down surfaces, ready for action. I always put something in the tip jar, and if my order doesn’t generate enough change, I reach back into my wallet for a little extra. I’ve been going there a lot—the espresso is good, the yogurt is a treat, and it’s interesting just to see how she manages the summer crowd, the mechanics of serving, and the occasional vagaries of supplies and machinery.

Different circumstances, expectations, styles of service provision: Service doesn’t need to be “warm and friendly” to be good, but it had better be competent and comprehensive.

How does your service look to your customers? And how do your service people look back at them?

Onward and Upward,


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