People were packed into the gate area, waiting to board the flight from Philadelphia to Chicago. It was one of those hot afternoons where business travel is exposed as the unglamorous, uncomfortable process it is, with most waiting passengers looking tired, a bit disheveled and without any trace of a smile.
Suddenly, I heard my name announced from the ticket counter. I looked in the direction of the counter and saw a man in a white uniform shirt holding a laptop computer. As I walked over he asked, “Are you Steve Yastrow?”
I noticed the epaulets on his shoulder and saw that he was from TSA. Had I breached security?
“Yes, that’s me.”
“You left your computer at the security checkpoint over at Terminal F.” He smiled and handed me my laptop.
Let me put this story in perspective, recounting the few hours leading up to TSA’s rescue of my computer.
I had finished a morning speech in Burlington, VT, after which I took a US Airways commuter flight to Philadelphia, from where I would take a flight home to Chicago. In Burlington, I checked my bag at the gate while I was boarding the plane and was told I could retrieve it planeside when we arrived in Philadelphia. I asked the flight attendant for a claim check, and she said, “You won’t need it. You’ll get your bag right when you get off the plane.”
You can probably guess what happened next: Everyone else on the flight received their bags after we landed in Philadelphia, but mine never showed up.
“Sir, there must be more bags,” I said to the baggage handler as he started to leave through the jetway door.
“Nope, that’s all.”
“My bag hasn’t arrived yet.”
“There are no more bags.” And he left.
The next hour was filled with frustration, unanswered questions… and no suitcase. The US Airways flight attendant who had told me I didn’t need a claim check told me she couldn’t help me. A US Airways gate agent did little more than shrug his shoulders when I asked for help. I went to baggage claim to see if my bags went there by mistake, and the US Airways employees in baggage claim barely looked up as I spoke with them.
Very frustrated, I left baggage claim and went to the security checkpoint in Terminal F, the commuter terminal, from where I would take a bus across the tarmac to Terminal B to catch my flight home. The security line was long and moving slowly, and I spent most of the time in this line on hold with US Airways customer service, trying to find someone to talk to about my lost bag. I finally made it through security and, without realizing it, left my laptop in the bin.
“How did you find me?” I asked the man from TSA.
“I opened your computer and pretty quickly figured out your name. Then I checked the airlines’ manifests on our computers to see what flight you were on. Then I rushed over here to find you before the flight left.”
The English idiom “close enough for government work” has come to mean work that is done at minimally acceptable standards, i.e., work that is “just good enough” but not better than it needs to be.
But in this case the employees of a major for-profit corporation, whose salaries are ultimately paid by passengers, couldn’t have cared less for their customer, and the government worker made it happen.
Customer experiences are created by employees, not by companies. It’s the people, not the institution.
No matter what your job is, always remember this: Any employee, in any organization, at any time, has the possibility to either make it happen for a customer or not make it happen. I don’t care if you work for the government or the most cutting-edge, entrepreneurial, Zappos-like, service-oriented company– individual people in your company are impacting your organization’s success at every moment.