It happened for me just a few weeks before Christmas. The days were getting shorter and weather was cold and menacing. The crowds of holiday shoppers and travelers were swelling. In other words, it was just about the time each year when those of us who make our living in the service of others take center stage. It is our collective time to shine.
Unfortunately, for far too many in service sector positions, this time of year triggers grousing and complaining about long holiday hours that must be worked and aggravating customers that must be served. Such attitudes are certain to eventually surface publicly and become depressingly obvious to even the most casual observers.
It’s in such a dismal service landscape that some service professionals choose to rise to the top and shine brightly. They are the ones you and I notice immediately and remember for a long, long time. They are the ones we determine to be exceptional.
As usual, on this morning I was in a big hurry. While backing my vehicle into my chosen parking spot, I spied the airport shuttle bus fast approaching…quickly. I exited my vehicle and rushed to gather my bags. I knew if I missed this bus, I would be waiting another ten or fifteen minutes in the frosty cold before the next bus appeared. Luckily, I made it just in time to join other hurried and harried travelers for the 15-minute loop through the economy parking lot on our way to the terminal. To be honest, I didn’t even notice our driver. He (or she, I honestly don’t know which) just sat in the seat and drove.
Upon exiting the bus at the terminal, I soon joined others travelers in the airport ticketing line. Once in line I reached for my tickets and cell phone. The tickets were there. The cell phone wasn’t. I knew immediately what had happened. In my haste to catch the shuttle bus, I had left the cell phone in the console of my truck. Now I was faced with the prospect of either a week without cell phone service or a retracing of my steps in a rushed effort to retrieve the phone. Though time was short, I decided I needed that phone.
Immediately after checking my bags, empty-handed I raced down the escalator and back outside to catch the next available bus to the economy parking lot. This early in the morning, I was pleased to find I was the only person waiting. Thankfully, in just a few anxious minutes I saw the next bus approaching. The instant the bus pulled to a stop and the doors swung open, I was on board.
“Good morning,” I said breathlessly.
“Good morning,” the driver replied.
“Well, I’ve already made my first big mistake of the day. I left my cell phone in my car a few minutes ago and now I hope I can get it without missing my flight,” I explained, hoping he would take the hint, empathize with my plight and voluntarily wait for me as I retrieved my phone. I knew if he was unwilling to wait, I would be standing in breezy 25 degree weather for another 10-15 minutes waiting for the next shuttle bus in the loop.
“Don’t worry, it happens all the time,” he reassured me. “I’ll be happy to wait.”
And wait he did. When we arrived at my designated stop–the first stop on his multi-stop route–the bus had barely stopped rolling when I bolted from the bus and ran the hundred yards or so to my truck. I snatched my phone from its resting place in the truck’s console and was soon jogging back to the bus.
Once back on board, I thanked the driver profusely. His simple response to my gushing thanks was perfect. “No problem. I’m sure you would have done the same thing for me.” I really believe I would have, but both he and I knew he didn’t have to wait for me and that many other drivers simply would have chosen not to.
For the next 10 minutes I rode in silence as we continued his assigned route, all the while I watched this gentleman as he performed his service duties. At stop after stop, he didn’t just stop the bus and wait; he repeatedly exited his seat to help passengers load their luggage. While driving, I watched as he scanned the lot on all sides, looking for passengers, instead of staring straight ahead in an effort not to make eye contact with those he might easily have driven by, leaving them to wait for the next bus.
As the bus began to fill, he greeted and spoke to each of us individually. During various brief, but rich conversations he had with different passengers, among other things, I learned this driver had a son in medical school who he was looking forward to seeing during the Christmas
Finally, the pickup loop had been completed and the driver maneuvered the bus toward the parking lot exit and on to the terminal. I knew what to expect next. I had been conditioned to expect to hear the scripted and lackluster announcement–the same one I had heard dozens and dozens of times before:
Welcome to Nashville International Airport…Up ahead I will be making two stops…I will make the appropriate airline announcements at each of these stops…Upon your return, take the economy, not the long-term bus to retrieve your car…When exiting the bus, watch your step.
Both efficient and comprehensive, admittedly, the announcement covered the necessary bases. Though I had never spent much time analyzing it, I had often thought this mechanical announcement was lacking some necessary ingredient. Was it humor, was it spontaneity, was it soul? Honestly, I didn’t know what it was lacking, but for me it was lacking something. That is until this morning. For this morning at least, the staid old announcement was out. This time I heard something very
different. This time I heard the following:
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for choosing Nashville International Airport and thank you for parking your car in the economy lot and for being on my bus. If you weren’t here, pretty soon I wouldn’t be here either. Because of you I have a job and for that I am thankful. Please let me know if you have any questions or need any special assistance once we arrive at the terminal. I will do all I can to help you. If you wish, once we come to a stop, just step off the bus and don’t worry about wrestling your bags. I will be happy to retrieve your bags for you. There’s no sense in hurting yourself unnecessarily.”
When the bus stopped, I filed off with the other passengers. Though I didn’t have bags to wait for and I still had a flight to catch, I found myself lingering to watch this service professional as he worked to make the last few seconds of each customer encounter uniquely special.
When each of the passengers had been accommodated and was on their way to catch their flight, I couldn’t help myself, I stepped forward to speak to the driver
one last time.
“Excuse me,” I said as I extended my hand, “my name is Phillip Van Hooser.”
The gentleman accepted my hand and shook.
“It’s nice to meet you Mr. Van Hooser, my name is Corwin Hodge.”
“Mr. Hodge, I couldn’t leave without telling you how impressed I am with the way you have gone about helping me and others on your bus this morning. You probably know that your level of attention to the customer is rare these days, even here at the airport on these buses.”
“Yes, sir, I know it is,” he admitted. “But, if I don’t make an honest effort to serve the people I come in contact with, the people who make it possible for me to work and eat, how can I, with a clear conscience, ever expect others to serve me well when it comes time for me to be the customer? Besides, it just makes the day better when you know you have helped somebody, doesn’t it?”
Indeed it does.
I left my encounter with Corwin Hodge that morning with a slightly different slant on life. At first unconsciously, later deliberately, I found myself walking a little taller, smiling more freely, greeting others genuinely, while on the lookout for someone to help. After all, how could I, with a clear conscious expect help from others if I am not first, willing to offer it freely?
What about you? Can you, with a clear conscience, say you don’t demand better service than you deliver? If so, congratulations! You have joined the unique ranks of Corwin Hodge and others. However, if you must honestly admit that the service you offer is lacking somewhat as compared to what you would hope to receive, my questions are simple. Why and what are you committed to do about remedying the situation? And are you willing to start today?
For more profiles and stories of exceptional service, check out my book, Willie’s Way: 6 Secrets for Wooing, Wowing and Winning Customers and Their Loyalty.