Another story of baggage handlers caught on camera. Except this one’s different.

baggage_handlers

I wrote this 35,000 feet somewhere above Manitoba on my way home from giving a talk @ Social Media Camp 2014 in Victoria, BC. I booked an early flight home in order to spend the rest of the day with my family – including my 1-year old pup Willow.

As we sat on the tarmac, I was staring blankly out my window, and noticed an Air Canada plane (Flight AC190) also preparing to leave. Two baggage handlers were loading a final few large items into the cargo hold – one of which was a large dog crate.

Flying is stressful enough for most people. Flying for animals must be downright terrifying. I wondered how the pooch was faring, and I could see from my vantage point that the dog wasn’t calm inside the crate. Maybe barking, maybe nipping- probably scared out of its mind. Whatever it was doing, it was unsettled.

What happened next made my day.

Both baggage handlers walked to opposite ends of the crate, and – as gently as if they were carrying a stroller with a baby inside – lifted and positioned the crate onto the conveyer belt.

One of the handlers quickly realized that the dog was sitting/cowering at the lower end of the crate, and was worried it was going to topple. The other handler – without pause, got on the conveyor with the dog and held it snugly in place as it made the journey up the ramp, to make a gentle hand-off to his colleague in the belly of the plane. Once he was confident his package was delivered, he hopped down and carried on with his duties.

And there I was, unbeknownst to them, taking pictures and planning a post.

Serving customers in the social age sucks

The reality is people use social media to complain about service experiences – rarely to praise them. Especially when a public airing of grievances delivers better, faster customer service – or even free stuff. Unfortunately, sometimes sharing bad service is warranted, as was the case recently with another pair of baggage handlers.

Like it or not, anyone in the service industry today – like these baggage handlers – is subject to intense and unforgiving scrutiny by anyone equipped with a smart phone and a twitter handle. It seems to me that people are purposefully looking for employees to screw up, and share via social.

Anyone who has done a stint in the service industry (like me) knows how hard it is to have a bad day and “be on”. You also make honest mistakes that are sometimes beyond your control. Too bad. People don’t care. Customer service is the social age isn’t fair.

Watching these two guys reminded me that every employee has the power to build or burn your brand by the actions they take.

Whether they’re front-line fast food clerks, or senior executives– employees and their actions are the single-greatest branding tool organizations have. Forget advertising. Forget marketing. Remember your people.

To mitigate the impact of a public kvetch-fest kicked off by a public service gaffe, here are five simple things your organization needs start doing.

  1. Regularly remind employees that the mike is hot, and the camera’s on. Like it or not – Big Brother is not just watching, but tweeting, instagramming, and facebooking.
  2. Listen to what people say about your business online. Seems like a no-brainer, and yet many organizations don’t- or find out about an issue way too late.
  3. Recognize customers are talking about you behind your back. Remember there are private conversations you can’t hear on Facebook and email that inform perceptions of your brand. Maximize every opportunity to surprise and delight clients – old and new.
  4. Be prepared for the expected unexpected. Have a timely triage process in place for when (not if) things do go sideways.
  5. Recognize employees. Celebrate team members that do get public praise. Turn their behaviour into best-practices.

I don’t know if these two baggage handlers work for Air Canada, or the local airport. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I saw two guys take good care of some precious cargo. For the simple act of taking care, I feel they should be thanked. And I hope Air Canada (or Victoria International Airport) recognizes them for doing a job well done. I’m sure I speak on behalf of the dog’s owner too.

If I ever have to go through the stress of flying somewhere with Willow, I hope she has these two guys to welcome her aboard.

About Joel Marans

Joel loves making people and organizations look great through creative uses of technology. When he's not fulfilling duties as a proud papa & husband, he leads creative services and digital marketing at Softchoice, one of the largest IT solution providers in North America.