TSA to the Rescue?

TSA CheckpointBetween this newsletter and our weekly Tricks & Tales e-mail newsletter, I’m on the hook for seven or eight different articles each month.

To some people, that seems like a lot; to others, it seems almost impossible. But it’s actually much easier than you might imagine...if you pay attention to what goes on around you every day.

The End of a Long Week...

I was on way my home at the end of a long, but very productive trip to speak to a group of business owners in Chicago. They were the top performers in their profession, and it showed in the actions they committed to work on from what we presented at the event.

I was flying out of Chicago’s Midway Airport, and because of my status on Delta Airlines, I got to go through the “Sky Priority” lane at the TSA security checkpoint.

This was a good thing, because the general line looked to be about 30 minutes long.

Why Isn’t This Line Moving?

When you travel a lot, you pick up a few tricks, like how to identify the fastest-moving security lane. (Hint: it’s not always the one with the shortest number of people!)

Unfortunately, at Midway, one of the TSA officers directed the passengers to specific lanes, and guess which one I got assigned to? The one where they were doing the on-the-job training for new screeners.

Mind you, I didn’t know right away that this was the case–it could have been that it was a new or inexperienced screener, or just someone who wasn’t very efficient at his job. I suppose it could also have been a case of being thorough and deliberate, but I didn’t get that feeling.

What really convinced me was when I commented out loud to no one in particular that our line wasn’t moving–I mean literally not moving– and two other TSA officers sort of laughed to each other and said, “Yeah, OJT...” referring of course to “on-the-job” training.

When I finally got to the front of the line I requested to “opt out” of the body scanner (anyone can do that if you don’t mind the pat-down).

After waiting over six minutes for an officer to take care of this request, I decided it was time to speak up.

Can I Speak with a Manager?

At this point I had several questions about this checkpoint that I wanted to pursue:

1. Why were they doing on-thejob training in the section that was specifically designated as a benefit for frequent travelers?

2. Why did it take four times as long per passenger to get through that line (yes, I’m a little compulsive and I timed it) compared to the other three lines in that area?

3. Why was it taking over six minutes (and counting) to get an officer to the lane to handle the opt-out request?

I asked to see a manager, and the officer said he would get one of the supervisors. I responded that I actually wanted to speak to a manager, not a supervisor, and he said he’d see what he could do.

After a few (more) minutes, two “Supervisory Officers” appeared. I politely asked them if I could talk to a manager, and one of them, rather belligerently, stated, “I’m all you get– what’s the problem?”

So at this point, I recognized that they were not sympathetic to my situation. So I decided to politely ask them my three questions, and here are the answers I got in a not-so pleasant tone of voice:

1. “There was no on-the-job training going on anywhere in the terminal.”

2. “Passenger security is our most important concern and if that takes some time, then that’s okay with us.”

3. “It didn’t take six minutes to get the screener to handle your opt-out.”

Let Me Explain...

I mentioned to them that two of their own officers had, in fact, specifically referred to “OJT.” I asked if security was handled in the same way, then why were there three “faster” lines? And then I showed them the timer on my watch that indicated seven and a half minutes, and no one had showed up to do my screening. Their answer was: “Security is our main priority and we don’t have to explain ourselves to you.”

By this time the extra officer had finally arrived to do the opt-out screening, so I thanked the supervisory officers.

Hey, Look Who’s Here!

While I was getting my “pat down” a gentleman in a suit showed up. When I was done, he came over, identified himself as a manager, and asked what the problem was–with the same gruff tone as the supervisory officers.

After some discussion, it became apparent that there was, in fact, training going on at that checkpoint lane, and he said there must have been some miscommunication on my part when I was talking to the supervisor.

I was glad to have finally gotten a straight answer, but I explained, that there was no misunderstanding–the supervisor clearly said that there was no training going on in the terminal that day.

And on the issue of the six+ minute wait for the opt-out screening, he dismissed it by saying matter-of-factly, “We’re just busy today.” Not once did anyone apologize for my inconvenience or that of the other people in line.

Safety and Courtesy Are Not Mutually Exclusive...

I travel a lot, and I definitely don’t want anything bad to happen to me when I’m in a plane travelling 500 mph at 36,000 feet.

And I’m willing to subject myself to screening procedures to help make that safety a reality. But in any situation, there’s a “right way” and a “wrong way” to handle customer issues.

The state trooper who pulls you over for speeding can be polite and courteous or rude and “in your face”–either way you’re still getting the ticket.

Similarly, I’ve had rude TSA screeners like the ones at Midway, but I’ve also had others who could easily have second careers as stand up comedians. In both cases, they were there to provide a reasonable level of security, but one brought a huge smile to my face, and the other put me in “letter-writing mode.”

Find out how your own customers feel when they interact with you and your team. You may want to try the simple L-E-A-P technique to help you deal more effectively with customer complaints.