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06 2013


Syndicated from: Paul Bridle

It’s Sunday evening, and flight 278 from Toronto to London is about to board. At each gate is a gate attendant whose duties are to ensure that passengers board safely and on time. They coordinate with flight control to make sure that everything happens as quickly and as efficiently as possible. On this evening, gate 72 at Toronto Pearson International Airport, Marva was in attendance. Marva is one of my heroes. This lady epitomises everything about what I believe is now the building of relationships. Marva is a professional. Unlike any other gate attendant I have seen anywhere; Marva finds the ability to balance, being in full control of her passenger with being respectful. You see, Marva makes no bones about what she expects of each passenger. She tells them to stay seated. She tells them to clear away from the gate. She tells them not to line up, she will call on them when ready. When she makes announcements, she starts by saying please remain seated. Marva understands that her job in terms of being able to do the best for the customers, is to ensure that they know when and where to be and that will give them a safe and quick boarding. These days, boarding an aircraft is an important element of the journey for the passengers. People rushing on board can cause health and safety issues. It makes life difficult; boarding can take too long, flights can then be delayed. So there is a whole lot of issues around it. But at the same you have a group of passengers who are all desperate to get on board, want to get their luggage in there right, want to find their seats etcetera, etcetera. Marva does what is needed and that means Marva is a professional. In terms of engaging with customers, professionalism is a key element in that process. What does professionalism mean? One dictionary describes it as “the competence or skill expected of a professional” and then goes on to add, “The key to quality and efficiency is professionalism.” What Marva understands is that if she is going to do her job correctly then she needs to be 1) respectful of her clients but not submissive to her clients or customers. In other words, it isn’t about being nice and friendly. It’s about being efficient and effective. Marva does that by looking people directly in the eye, speaking very respectfully but bluntly to people and making sure that people know where they need to be and how they need to get to where they are going and the right time and place to do that. She is an outstanding communicator, constantly informing people of progress. One evening I was catching a flight, that there was a delay. There was an incoming flight but due to bad weather there were technical difficulties, there were problems with the airport. It was like a series of events that are taking place in and around the Toronto airport affecting most flights that were there. Marva was the one gate where everybody at all times knew everything there was to know. She was open with people when she didn’t know stuff. She told them that she didn’t, wasn’t able to give them certain information but as soon as she had it, they would have it. She spoke sternly, strongly, look people directly in the eye, made no bones about her position but did it with a respect that said: “I am doing my job for you; you have to trust me and let me do it.” And it’s that ability to be able to look somebody directly in the eye not in a subservient manner of traditional customer service but rather in a “we are equals. I am here to do a job, you will benefit by me doing my job and I can do it more effectively if you follow my instructions.” This builds a relationship of trust between the passenger and Marva. It’s that trust that’s built between them and her ability to build it which makes her the professional. And this is key to being able to engage with customers, is knowing how to do it in a way that enabled you to say and do things and the customer be not offended, upset or viewed as poor customer service. I’m quite sure that some older people or old-fashioned in their thinking may see Marva as not being giving the traditional customer service and I would agree with them. Marva is not going to give the traditional customer service because she is not there to ponder to the needs of people who will be upset regardless of what happens because they want everything their way and their whole world revolves around them. Marva has a way of making sure that people know, “I do respect you, I do want to do what’s best for you but you have to trust me and allow me to do that.” So, if anybody struggles with that it’s them who have the problem and certainly not Marva. I am consistently at gates in airports and never find somebody as a professional as I do when I see Marva on the gate of Toronto airport. Many of them are trying to give traditional customer service with at least trying to be pleasant and you can see when they turn around, they roll their eyes, they are getting frustrated because it’s just going through the motions of doing whatever they think they can do. Marva is viewing it as, “I have a relationship with you. I have a job to do, you want to know? Come. My job is to provide you with that outcome if it is at all possible. It may not be exactly the way you wanted but I will get it to you as quickly and as effectively as I can.” And it is the outcome that is more important than the process. If I can get you on board safely and you can get away on time, that’s probably going to be more important than anything else to you. And so she reminds you of that in a comment she makes to people, that we will get you on time if you follow my rules. Stand clear of the gates because you’re only going to get in the way of other people trying to board. That is going to slow the process down. Don’t come up asking me if there are any more upgrades available, I haven’t got any more upgrades available. So she is straight and clear with people at all times. Professionalism is a huge part of engaging with customers. It’s about, “I am a professional, you want to make use of my services and I am good in doing what I am doing for you. And I am prepared to practice it and improve upon it at all times.”

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