Forget the averages - service happens one person at a time

Most of you have heard about the rash of recent flight cancellations due to bankruptcy (Aloha Airlines, ATA, etc.), safety concerns (American Airlines, Delta, Southwest, etc.), and the usual weather problems experienced at this time of year. Thousands of travelers have been impacted, creating a major customer service headache for these airlines. I'll avoid the statistics for a moment and suggest that our impressions of service in these situations come down to two questions:

  1. Was I directly impacted?
  2. If the answer to question 1 is "Yes", how was I treated?

Example #1: American Airlines

I was directly impacted by weather delays when I flew American Airlines to Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago. I had to spend an extra night in D.C., so the answer to question #1 was "Yes, I was directly impacted." It's one thing to read about thousands of people you don't know being delayed or stranded, but it's another thing to be one of them!

Fortunately, I encountered a kind ticket agent, Thomas Lee, who gave me a hotel voucher and booked me on the first available flight home the next day. Mr. Lee said they weren't normally able to provide hotel vouchers due to weather delays, but weather hadn't yet been "officially" logged as the cause, so he was able to get me into a hotel at no charge. So, the answer to #2 was "I felt as though I was treated well."

Example #2: A customer service call center
Last week, I gave a talk on Employee Engagement to a San Diego networking group for call center professionals called CCPN. Preparing for the talk reminded me that an organization may have an average customer service rating of 85%, but that doesn't mean every agent satisfies 85% of their customers. More likely than not, some agents satisfy nearly 100% of their customers while other agents may satisfy less than 50%. Your personal impression of their customer service all depends on which agent you get when you call - the 100% person or the 50% person.

Here's an example from a small call center I managed several years ago. Our goal for quality assurance monitoring scores was 85%. Over one particular period we achieved that 85% goal. Pretty good, huh? Well, not really. When you looked at average monitoring scores by individual rep, you noticed some interesting trends (names have been changed to protect the innocent).

Our average was 85%, but I was really hoping customers would get Cara (100% average), Kristy (100% average), or even Betty (95% average). Conversely, I cringed every time Preston (70% average) and especially Steve (55% average) took a call. Preston and Steve were both given opportunities to improve and eventually asked to leave the organization, but that didn't change the impact they had on the customers they spoke with.

Lessons Learned
My call center experience taught me the value of having top performers and how necessary it was to improve or move performers who couldn't meet the minimally acceptable standards. I also suggest companies like American Airlines pay special attention to hiring and developing more people like Thomas Lee. I've flown American since then as a direct result of his service. I have two trips coming up and I'll probably fly American again thanks to him.