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Even off Duty, You Are Still Responsible for Customer Service

There are customer service lessons going on all around us. Many times all you have to do is watch and learn.

I was recently at the airport, working my way through the security line. As I and the other passengers waited for our turn to go through the metal detectors and X-ray machines, several flight attendants and other airline personnel approached and cut in front of the paying passengers to get to the front of the line. These airline employees did not apologize or even smile or talk to the passengers whom they were bypassing in the line. Some of the people in line were obviously offended by their actions, and I was thinking, there has to be a better way.

There was one airline employee, however, who handled the situation differently. A captain, he cut in the line as well, but he greeted the others in line with “good morning” and “excuse me”. Not surprisingly, the waiting passengers were very accommodating and did not take offense as he went through the line ahead of them. (Bonus lesson for this article: Being polite and kind goes a long way to soothe customers’ concerns and complaints).

A lack of politeness (aka “rudeness”) was apparent in the other airline employees as they exercised their “right” to cut the line. All of the employees – captain included – were representatives of the airline, as was apparent to all those waiting who observed them in their uniforms with the airline logo affixed. They all should have understood that they were creating impressions of the company by their actions in front of a line of paying passengers. They could add to, or detract from, the overall customer experience. I actually had the opportunity to speak to the captain about the situation. His comment was that the other airline personnel consider their time in the security line as being “on their way to work”. They weren’t officially working until they reached their station or boarded the plane.

Some airports have found a solution to this issue by having a separate security line for airline employees. Unfortunately, this isn’t consistent in every city. Perhaps someday it will be the norm. However, that is not the real point of this article.

As I have said in the past, as long as an employee is somehow recognisable as part of a particular company, he or she is making an impression of that organisation. So an employee on his way home but still in uniform, or a delivery driver who has finished his shift but is heading back in the company truck, are still representing their respective companies. Others can easily identify where they work whether or not they are on the clock, so they can still make an impression of their company. They are not “off duty” until they change into their own clothes or get into their own personal vehicle.

Disney has defined the situation. Its employees, known as cast members, are either “on stage” or “back stage”. When they are on stage, or in the park where they can be seen by and interact with guests, they must act as ambassadors for Disney. When they are back stage, they can shed their characters of Mickey, Donald, Snow White, etc., take off their masks, relax and be themselves.

This same type of practice should be adopted by employees of other companies as well. If the company you work for is apparent by your clothing, vehicle or some other outward sign, then you are not really off duty. Remember to act in a way that will promote a positive impression.
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