This past week saw TSA administrator Peter V. Neffenger called before Congress to answer for the failings of his department. As any of us that fly regularly will attest, the TSA is viewed as an unwelcome delay at best and wasteful theater at worst. I think most of us have at least one story of arriving at our destination only to discover that we were carrying something banned by TSA that both we and the TSA failed to notice during the screening process. And we all have stories about dealing with unpleasant TSA agents. At any rate, it’s safe to say that when we think of good customer service, the TSA does not come to mind.
However, another airport business may: Virgin Atlantic is considered to be one of the best when it comes to customer service. In fact, Richard Branson is well known for stressing customer service across his Virgin-branded enterprises.
So, how does Branson pull it off? Does he simply subscribe to the “customer is always right” mantra? No, quite the opposite in fact. Virgin has an “employees first” management strategy. As Branson stated in a 2014 interview with Inc.;
It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they’re going to be happy.
The idea is strikingly simple; happy employees make happy customers, which in turn, makes for happy shareholders. Branson continued;
If the person who works at your company is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile,” Branson says. By not treating employees well, companies risk losing customers over bad service.
To this end, Branson says he has made sure that Virgin prioritizes employees first, customers second, and shareholders third. So, how are employees being treated at the TSA? As we can well imagine, the job itself is mind numbingly boring. Additionally, it is quite thankless if you are on the front line as the only time you are noticed is when there is a problem (long lines, missed weapons, pilfered change, etc.) However, I must note that it does appear to be quite rewarding for upper management as the bonuses that came to light during the aforementioned Congressional Hearing demonstrated. Aside from what may be outlier instances of demotions and hardships placed upon whistleblowers and agents that are simply trying to their jobs the reality is clearly born out in the numbers. According to Director Neffenger, 35% of the agents quit within their first 12 months on the job. While the TSA is graduating an average of 200 new agents per week, roughly 117 walk off the job each week! Their annual attrition rate is around 10%! Sound like happy employees to you?
If this contrast in philosophies and outcomes doesn’t give you pause in how you deal with your employees you should hand over HR duties to someone else – immediately. Regardless of the size of your firm, no one person can be the customer focused face for every interaction between your firm and your clients. We depend upon our employees to represent us, just remember, they aren’t just representing what we tell them we stand for but how we treat them as well.