What We Can Learn About Customer Experience: Courtesy of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

What We Can Learn About Customer Experience: Courtesy of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

Dennis Weikle

The three letters “TSA” typically evoke a strong emotion.

If you’re like most travelers, the reference likely conjures negative feelings and recollections of missed flights and long wait times. This is quite a different tale. Normally when you think about great customer experiences, your mind conjures up images of Nordstrom, Four Seasons, American Express, Southwest, Apple, and the like. Certainly not the TSA. And it’s for this very reason I felt compelled to tell this story.

The Start of a Typical Day

It was a day unlike any other. A 5:00 AM wake-up call preceding a traditional night of balancing work, family (juggling my two wonderful boys) and life in general. After three hours of sleep, I’m off to the airport for an 8:30 AM flight to San Diego, participating in a slew of all-day strategic meetings with a new customer and right back to the airport for a flight to Dallas. Nothing out of the ordinary. At least not yet. If you’re a frequent flyer, you know the routine. After all, we’ve all done it a million times.

  • Pull up the app.
  • Click. Click. Click. Check in.
  • TSA Pre-check (and the adjoined grumble because the line just doesn’t move quick enough).
  • The victorious security walk-through.
  • Grab a quick bite to eat.
  • A quick moment at the gate to gather your senses.
  • Boarding.
  • Wheels up.
  • In the case of this particular flight, crash readiness (sleep – not the less ideal alternative).
A Turn for the Worst

As with the hundreds of my previous flights, I instinctively reach down to get my headset from my backpack under the seat in front of me. Hold on. Interesting. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No backpack to be found. Can’t be. Really? The horror set in. To my own disbelief, I boarded without my backpack and essentially my business livelihood – my laptop. After what seemed like an eternity of reflection, it hit me that I left it at Stone Brewing Co., where I had stopped for a quick lunch before the flight. When some level of sanity re-established itself, the power of inflight Wi-Fi came to the rescue. I was able to connect with my client who called the restaurant. Yes! The restaurant confirmed the backpack was found. Before I could take a momentary sigh of relief, I was hit with it – “for security purposes, your backpack and all its contents have been submitted to airport security.” The statement sunk in quick and came with only one assumption: the backpack is gone forever and so are my laptop, passport, headset, etc. etc. etc. – you know, practically everything that made me functional on a business trip. As I settle in for the flight and a few hours of stewing, I go online to find San Diego County Regional Airport Authority's Lost and Found. Much to my surprise, they have a web form. Why not? I have nothing to do for the two plus hours on the flight (other than wallow in my own disgust). I complete the form only to see that I have 6% battery life remaining on my phone. Shaking my head in continued disbelief, I reluctantly turn the phone off in the hopes I can use what limited power remaining to get ahold of someone when I land in Dallas at 11 PM.

To my own disbelief, I boarded without my backpack and essentially my business livelihood – my laptop. After what seemed like an eternity of reflection, it hit me that I left it at Stone Brewing Co., where I had stopped for a quick lunch before the flight.

From Panic to Amazement

Wheels down. I turn on my phone and, continuing my string of bad luck, my battery life is decreased to 2%. With little to no expectations of a response, I nevertheless watch anxiously while my email syncs. HOLY COW. An email from the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. Yes! They have my bag and have requested I call them immediately. What? Really? How is this possible? After all, this is airport security and EVERYTHING with airport security is difficult … or is it? I immediately call the number thinking the email was a fluke. Surely, I’ll call and get placed in IVR Jail, get the run around, and eventually will want to scream at someone. To my utter amazement, I couldn’t have been more wrong. My call connects me immediately to Officer Carranza. No routing. No maze of connections. Straight through. It gets better. Officer Carranza was incredible at every level. Who would have thought that an Officer from San Diego County Regional Airport Authority would be the model for customer care? She talked me through what I needed to do, all the information she required, and what she was going to do to help me. It gets even better. She committed to staying late to package my backpack so it will be returned to me by 7 AM the following day. How could this be? This isn’t Zappos or The Ritz-Carlton. Who would have believed that one of my personal best customer experiences was provided courtesy of airport security? After my call with Officer Carranza, I still maintained some skepticism. Sure enough, five minutes later I receive an email precisely like she said. I filled it out to her exact instruction and hit send. Within a few moments, I received a FedEx tracking number and confirmation that the package was ready for shipment. Really? Yes, really. My backpack arrived on my doorstep at 7 AM just over 24 hours after the stress and drama I had self-inflicted. Officer Carranza zip tied the bag so the contents could not be stolen and, even though she had to inspect it (after all, I did leave a bag alone in an airport), everything was nicely in order.

This isn't Zappos or The Ritz-Carlton. Who would have believed that one of my personal best customer experiences was provided courtesy of the TSA?

A Lesson Learned from the Unlikeliest of Sources

Great Customer Experience can be represented in various forms and in the unlikeliest of places. This is a great example of technology and humans working together to transform what was a very stressful situation into a great experience. The important thing we need to remember is that even with the most intelligent technology solutions, people drive your company’s experience. Officer Carranza made the difference, not the technology itself. Yes, the Rise of the Machines is happening. And yes, we are even helping companies design and implement technology-based service and care strategies. But it’s critical for business leaders to understand and remember that it’s humans that drive memorable, differentiating customer experiences that create true loyalty. Be Present. Be Proactive. Be Kind. Be Human. It makes a difference and did for me.

Thank you, Officer Carranza. I’m eternally grateful.

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