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By Steve Kelman

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Good customer service ideas can be free

TSA agent

An encounter with a helpful TSA agent -- though not this unidentified one -- inspired some thoughts on customer service for Steve Kelman. (Stock photo by Carolina K. Smith MD)

I had a great customer service experience with the Transportation Security Administration at Logan Airport in Boston recently. While I was going through my ticket and driver’s license check, the screener said to me, "Don’t forget about renewing your license – Massachusetts doesn’t send reminders." (My license expires in a few months.) I didn’t know Massachusetts doesn’t send reminders, so I’ve now put it on my calendar to make sure I take care of it in time.

I tell this story for several reasons. First, I want to acknowledge the good customer service from the oft-reviled TSA. My own experience as a very frequent traveler is that this is far, far closer to the norm than the stories about grannies or three-year olds getting aggressively searched that the public often hears. Second, I want to point out that this experience took place the very day that sequestration took effect. Here was an employee who did not allow herself to wallow in a sequestration funk, but instead continued to serve the public in a way that went beyond her job description. This should be a model for how civil servants in general react to sequestration, in my view – try to avoid getting into a passive victim mode.

There is a third lesson in this story that applies all the time, sequestration or not. It is that there are many ways to improve customer service – or an organization’s performance more generally – that cost nothing, but simply require employees and managers to think creatively. I suspect that for virtually every job any government employee performs, there is a cost-free way to do the job better, waiting for the employee to realize the opportunity that’s there. Add up a lot of those individual ideas, and suddenly there’s a noticeable improvement in customer service or some other aspect of organizational performance.

For that to be realized, of course, what is required is not just individual creativity – though that’s an important part of it – but also managers willing to take the ideas beyond the employee’s own individual way of doing his or her job. So in the Massachusetts driver’s license example, I’d love to see TSA at Logan turn this individual employee’s smart idea into a standard operating procedure for screeners checking driver’s licenses.

Maybe a good way for feds to avoid sequestration funk is to show that even in tough times, feds can and will continue to be creative, and continue to serve the public – just like my TSA screener did.

Posted on Mar 05, 2013 at 12:09 PM


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Reader comments

Sun, Mar 10, 2013 Shep Hyken St. Louis, MO

Love to hear that a TSA agent positively engaged with the passenger. I experience it most of the time, too. It is a shame when other agents – and other people in business – miss the opportunity to manage the moment and make a positive impression.

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