Today’s post is the featured article from the August 2007 issue of  The Front Porch Newsletter.  If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

blumbergface1She was just clicking away. Type, type, type. She must have been doing something really, really important. I mean really important. It is the only possible reason she could have totally ignored her customer. I don’t know what was so important. It wasn’t apparent. There wasn’t a delay. There wasn’t bad weather. There wasn’t even a line. It was just a normal smooth running day at Gate C-18 in O’Hare Airport’s Terminal One. I won’t need to mention the airline since there is only one airline that flies out of this terminal. Except for a limited number of gates in Terminal Two, all of their operations are united under one roof in Terminal One! But this was just one gate with two agents and no line.

I was with one agent which must have created enormous stress for the other agent who was having to handle the rest of the line that didn’t exist. Something must have been very critical in her computer. I couldn’t believe a customer had the audacity to walk up and interrupt her very important work. I really don’t know what kind of day the agent was having — so it is probably not fair to judge. And I wasn’t judging, just observing!

But the customer was having a really rough day. Although she rudely interrupted the agent’s busy work, the customer kindly explained that she had fallen down and was flying back home for surgery on her arm that had been severely broken in two places. She simply wanted to see if she could get a seat reassignment that would help her protect her arm from getting bumped. Type, type, type. Busy – really very busy. Something really important in that computer! Except for continued typing (lots of it) there was no response. I was thinking something simple like … “Oh my goodness, I am so sorry. What happened?” or “Sure, you bet. I am sure we can find you a better seat. Let me see what I can do.” Unless I was missing the message of empathy being delivered in some kind of Morse code in her continuous typing, I saw no response. Just more typing! Then I heard the sound of a printer and bam — a new boarding pass was slapped down on the counter. So what’s the big deal, you ask? The customer efficiently got what they wanted. Really?

True. She did get what she wanted. But I would suggest not what she needed. And more importantly, this airline did not get what it needed — to deliver empathy in this moment of truth. Instead, it was just another boarding pass. Just another transaction. Just another interruption! The only real truth in this moment was that the agent would have rather not been bothered. How sad is that? How empty is that? I felt bad for the customer, but I felt worse for the agent.

The customer will fly home and have surgery by a well-trained and hopefully caring surgeon. Unfortunately, the agent doesn’t likely have an appointment scheduled for surgery on her brokenness. Just another person in line. Just another day working the C-18 ticket counter.

A few minutes later I boarded my flight, but continued to think about it. Not so much about the agent, but about how often we all miss moments of truth. We just go through the motions of a transaction without making any meaningful relational connection. I am not talking about investing more time in the transaction, but investing more care.

We may be at the dawning of our worst fear — where our technology becomes more important that our relationships with each other. The last time I checked, the most sophisticated technology on this planet is the human body. But you would have never known that standing at the counter of C-18 in Chicago O’Hare’s Terminal One. Something in that computer was far more important!

When I landed, it was a refreshing change to walk-up to the Enterprise Rental Car counter. Their computers must have really, really boring stuff in them. This agent actually seemed to think I was the most important thing in his day … at least for the moment. And that’s the truth!

Far too many training sessions in customer service simply create more streamlined transactions — with only a shallow perception of service. Agent C-18 doesn’t need more skills. Agent C-18 simply needs to care more — I mean really care about her customers. That is all the surgery she needs.

And maybe we do too.

ACTION IDEA: Look back over the last couple of weeks. Where have you missed a moment of truth? In the next couple of weeks, increase your awareness as to where moments of truth might exist for you. Pledge not to hit the snooze button on the moments that come your way. Refuse to do any more transactions. Make everything a relationship. Maybe then all those transactions will have some meaning!