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Customer Service: Discretion is Trust

October 3rd, 2016

A frequent frustration expressed by managers is that their staff, especially Golds, often won’t exercise discretion. Part of the reason is that discretion can have a very different meaning to staff and managers.

Discretion is actually trust. A manager trusts their staff to do what needs to be done – and mostly, hopefully, in the area of customer service. But trust has to be a two-way relationship. Where things can go off the rails is when staff members don’t fully trust that they won’t be questioned or criticized after the fact. That applies to all Colors, but especially Golds, who often make lifetime decisions based on a single event. “I did that once and got crap for it so I’m never going to do that again,” is a frequent mindset, but something they’ll almost never verbalize.

In a Canadian Business article, Richard Branson related a story that makes the point for all Colors. A Virgin Atlantic Upper Class customer was to receive limo transportation from his New York hotel to the airport. It turned out that the customer had been waiting at the wrong entrance to the hotel, causing him to run out of time, and needing to take a taxi. Now caught in New York rush hour, he barely made it to the airport, and quite sure he’d missed his flight.

The first Virgin Airlines staff he saw immediately took ownership of the situation. She apologized and assured him that he would catch his flight scheduled to depart in ten minutes. She also reimbursed him the $70 cab charge out of her own pocket. It’s a no brainer to know that she turned a nightmare into a great win and built some huge loyalty with this customer.

Things didn’t go so well when she asked her manager to be reimbursed for the cab fare. No receipt, no money – even though it was obvious there wasn’t the time for the passenger to get a receipt, or her to deal with that detail. From an accounting perspective, the manager was right. From any other perspective, the decision was so wrong.

How likely would this staff member, anyone who overheard the conversation, or anyone she shared it with, be to do something so exemplary in the future? The happy ending was the airport manager stepped in and authorized the reimbursement, along with a long conversation with the manager to focus on catching staff “doing something right.”

Front-line customer service only works when the entire company supports their staff. As Branson describes it, this creates a chain reaction of teamwork, and the chain of customer service is only as strong as its weakest link.

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