Perception is everything

I had a brain fade last week on Thursday. It took about 10 minutes to realise I had not picked up my laptop after leaving the departures screening area at Auckland International Airport. Panic? To put it mildly. Needless to say, I dashed back to the security screening area to find……nothing.

This story has a happy ending. The Aviation Security team leaped into action like a well-oiled machine, assuring me in a calm and professional manner that due to the number of cameras and the quality of the imaging, I could anticipate getting my laptop back….’soon’.

To say I doubted this service claim is an understatement. To say I badgered and tried to control (interfere with) the retrieval process (me? surely not!) is an understatement. My rationale? You so often hear assurances and so rarely does the service experience match the service promise. In this instance, perception of service not only matched the claim, it exceeded it.

Through the fog of my anxiety (about to board an plane with my workshop material neatly poised for action on my now missing laptop) I registered the patience and professionalism of the various aviation security people who (unfortunately for them) crossed my path that day as they were pulled into my drama.

Forty five minutes later, two women in Aviation Security uniform approached me beaming. They told me they had retrieved the missing item and shortly thereafter put my precious cargo in my hands! I could’ve hugged them both.

The point is: there are some amazing service teams who, day in, day out, do thankless tasks. We put our very lives in their hands, if you think about it. Yet, at no time did anyone point out that I should have checked I had everything with me before I left the area. That would’ve been a logical and understandable thing to say. But would it have helped? No. That’s exactly what I was saying to myself; having someone else say it would’ve only added to the pain.

On the contrary, to a person, they were understanding, sympathetic, responsive and kind, leaving me with a completely positive perception of them as professionals and people. Their calmness and gracious disposition throughout the entire experience was remarkable. (A little thing we call Emotional Intelligence.) In addition, I got the impression that this is a tight team, and that some of their strength comes from their cohesion. (A little thing we call Teamwork.)

The retrieval of the item (tangible service) was quite distinct from my perception of their responsiveness, their attitude towards me and their handling of my ‘state’ at the time (intangible service).  Even had the tangible service not been delivered (had the  laptop remained missing) I would have remained impressed by their professionalism. Isn’t this the most important aspect for a service organisation? Perhaps aviation security aside (or any other service where successful service delivery can mean lives are saved) most service organisations have frequent tangible service mishaps that are not their doing. Examples can be out-of-stocks, product quality faults and delivery mishaps. Yet their reputation can be safeguarded by those factors inside the control of staff:

  • the attitude they bring to the role
  • their manner with the customer
  • their people skills in a crisis.

As I said in my letter of thanks, Aviation Security either have outstanding training or truly remarkable people. Most likely, it is a combination of both. What percentage of commercial organisations can make this claim? How many deliver that level of response, support and successful service delivery with very little fanfare or fuss, leaving the customer with the perception of their brilliance and trustworthiness?

They say when it comes to service, perception is everything and I have come away with a new-found respect for these lethal (yet very human) weapons in our aviation security line of defence.

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About Cherri Holland

Fascinated with business, brains and how to use the brains on the payroll to make business buzz.
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