Service should sweat the small stuff

I’m a pretty go-with-the-flow kind of gal, so I don’t often get too hung up on service mishaps.

But yesterday was some fresh hell as I travelled with my grieving partner to join his family overseas, and had to endure hours of airport travel and countless service encounters. I fully understand now why people hermit when they have been through tragedy – all of sudden so much becomes raw. Human beings going through things are so sensitive to feeling like cattle. It’s like, all of a sudden your life is being put into perspective because of some awful event filled with complications and intricate implications. It’s the moment we feel most human and least animal.

So to find yourself in a service situation where all of a sudden you feel like cattle being herded through a process, well, it is excruciating.

The worst example I have from the day was checking into our international flight where we had arranged to have a 12 hour stopover so we could see a family member and pick up some clothing, before heading onto our final destination. We asked to take our bags at the stopover, although the staff member just assumed we wanted the bags to transfer directly to our final destination. When we asked (politely, because i am no believer of speaking rudely to service staff) it was clear this employee didn’t know how to action our request, and she asked her colleagues at the adjacent desks how to do it by saying in front of us “these customers have changed their mind and now want their baggage at the stopover – how do I do that?” Oh my God, I wanted to snap my fingers and say “no you didn’t!” We changed OUR mind?! We hadn’t even been asked where we wanted the bags – she simply made an assumption, then blamed us because her assumption was wrong. Did she realise what we were going through? Did she know the huge amount of pain we were dealing with and how simple but important our request was? Nope.

I can’t see any scenario where service doesn’t eventually end up affecting a human being. And human beings aren’t always in good places, sometimes they’re in joyful places, sometimes they are raw nerves going through divorce, sickness or children that won’t sleep. Often that means they don’t need the service to surprise and delight them – they just need something that works and treats them like humans.

So although in life we are told not to sweat the small stuff, service is a place I really do believe the small stuff needs to be sweated more than ever. And it’s noble to sweat the small stuff in service, because it means the rest of us mere mortals interacting with service everyday can leave that small stuff in capable hands.

The small stuff that would have helped our sisyphean day of travel was being spoken to kindly with care, being shown the generosity of patience, and listened to because our situation mattered, despite only being an economy-travelling pleb. The small stuff that would have avoided the service that made my eyes prickle was the ability to indicate whether we wanted our luggage at the stopover in the booking process, just as we can choose a seat, so there’s no need for an employee to bungle this simple request at check in.

That’s the small stuff that makes a world of difference to those living through the big stuff.

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  • 18 May 2016