I wish to revisit a familiar topic. One of my favorite stories is also an example of great customer service and problem solving.
Where It Starts
In 1978, my brother, Warren, and I were amusement industry veterans and we were both asked to speak at the IAAPA Convention in Atlanta, Ga. Warren was a newlywed, so his bride, Debbie, joined us on the trip – a second honeymoon. My wife was at home with our 1-year-old son. It was Debbie’s first exposure to the extravaganza of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions event. She was dazzled.
The Set Up
At the convention, the Games Committee had pulled out all the stops and presented a midway mock-up, complete with gaming tents and pitch games. They also partnered with a plush company, so the games were set up to allow the conventioneers to easily win prizes. Debbie wanted us to try our hand. Being a park veteran, I won a huge, white, stuffed dog right away. Debbie and Warren also played and, having many years of practice, came away with two dogs. These plush prizes were 42 inches in height, each.
Also a veteran of travel, I knew it would be tough for me to haul the monster-size plush home on the plane. I quickly found a child who was also playing the games. He had won two small stuffed squirrel prizes. I asked the boy first, if he wanted to trade the two ‘suitcase-size’ squirrels for my big white stuffed dog. He was excited! After I knew the boy wanted them, I asked his mother if it was all right. What is she going to say? To refuse her son at that point would be impossible. I went back to Warren and Debbie and explained my strategy of trading my large dog for small suitcase-size plush. Debbie said she was going to take her dogs home on the plane, to which I thought, “Good luck, Deb!’
Battling The Airlines
The day we were to fly home to California, we were running abnormally late, for us. Debbie was still planning to take her dogs home. We decided to check in at the curb, to save time. The Delta Airlines attendant at the curbside said we would have to check our luggage at the inside ticket counter, because of the dogs. At the counter, we realized were running later than we thought. The counter attendants were perplexed by Debbie’s additional luggage of these two large, pure-white plush animals. We were told that we should have checked them at the curb, too late now. The attendant accepted our luggage, but suggested we check the dogs at our assigned gate.
Pass The Buck
At our gate, that attendant was just as frustrated. Now, Debbie was persistent yet polite, but she knew how to use her charm to get what she wanted. Time, now, was a critical factor. Plane departure was upon us. The Delta counter personnel decided to pass us along to the flight attendants, and hope there was carry-on room inside the plane. We hurried down the ramp; Debbie clutching her carry-on bags and Warren hugging two big, white dogs, one under each arm. The flight attendants were cheerful until they saw the three Weitzels and two stuffed dogs approaching the cabin. When Debbie explained her plight, the senior attendant firmly said they had a full flight and all carry-on space was in use. She told Debbie that they could call the baggage staff to come up and take the dogs, tag them, and stow them in the storage hold. Debbie said the dogs would get dirty there. The attendant started to inform Debbie that she may have to leave the dogs in Atlanta as the plane was ready to “pushback” and depart.
Just as the crunch-time moment approached, the Captain stepped from the cockpit and asked about the hold up. The attendant explained the whole story, but also advised that there was no space for the dogs. The Captain said, “That’s okay, they can fly in the cockpit jump seat with us, back to California.” And, so they did! Problem solved!
Customer service is joined at the hip with problem solving. The larger lesson is not only the issue of solving dilemmas that customers present to the line employees. The staff higher up in the work or management chain must be prepared to and capable of calmly solving tough problems quickly and with elegance. You must be prepared to provide top-flight customer service, and be a hero.