Throughout my career, my work has always involved customer service in one way or another. The opportunity to help someone is the most rewarding aspect of every job I’ve held. In fact, I am sometimes stymied by how often customer service is so lacking when the real solution to most any company with service issues is to simply focus on helping people. I guess that is easier said than done, but I have found good service in some places where you might otherwise not expect it. Because I am so focused on the subject, and because it is my essentially my job to be a student of good service, I try to pay attention when I myself am the customer to learn what exactly “good” looks like.
Most days I ride the bus to work in Pioneer Square, south of downtown Seattle. The bus may be the last place to expect great customer service, but over and over again I blown away by the level of service I see there on a daily basis.
On one occasion I jumped off the bus and realized I had left my soda at home in the freezer. Not only did this leave me without my vital supply of morning caffeine, it also represented a huge mess in the freezer if left there for the rest of the day. As I crossed the street, a bus was pulling up to the stop going the other direction. I thought I could very easily hop on, go home, grab my soda and make it back to work in time. However, the bus I picked unfortunately made a right turn where I expected it to go straight and was obviously the wrong route. I walked up to the driver and asked where the next stop was and it was even more unfortunately WAY farther away than I expected to go. I asked if he would let me off on the street. This was a busy street and he said there was no way he was letting me off in the middle of traffic. Fair enough. I resigned myself to figuring out how to find my way back home, but he made another turn onto a slower street, pulled up to the curb (no bus stop in sight) and asked me if letting me off there would help and I was able to walk the rest of the way home. I was impressed that he said “no” when it wasn’t safe, but also took the initiative to offer me an alternate solution when he could. In fact, since being the recipient of that kindness, I have seen many a passenger be let on or off the bus outside of the regular stops when it is clear they have gotten themselves in a jam. I have also seen countless drivers tell a confused patron to jump on the bus and ride a few stops and have the driver give them detailed instructions about how to get where they are going, which includes not only which bus route to ride but also how to get there once they get off the bus.
Although Seattle has a high number of professional workers riding the bus, the buses going through downtown are all ride-free, so it has a fair number of homeless passengers as well. This last week I was on the way to work and a homeless gentleman in a wheel chair, along with several milk crates containing valued possessions got on the bus. This meant the driver had to lower the ramp to the curb, fold up the wheelchair accessible portion of the seats, and secure the passenger’s chair with two seat belts designed for this purpose. Not only does this take a considerable amount of time, but this particular passenger was in desperate need of a shower if not at the very least a toothbrush and some deodorant. The driver was extremely patient and before she took off the emergency brake and started the bus confirmed the rider was in fact secure.
You might think with all these lost and confused customers getting on the wrong bus or off at the wrong stop, combined with what most of us would consider less than savory clientele would put the drivers in a perpetually bad mood, but here again the opposite seems to be true. The drivers themselves get from stop to stop to switch drivers by riding the bus and they always seem extremely glad to see each other. In the few moments between transitioning between drivers I often seem them swapping stories and quickly catching up on the latest tidbits of gossip for the day. They also clearly get to know some of their regular customers and exchange friendly greetings when they see them entering the bus. I don’t know how it is in other cities, but the custom in Seattle is for riders to greet the driver with a “good morning” or “good afternoon” as they enter, and to leave them with a “thank you” as they depart, and I am always greeted with equal if not more enthusiastic responses in reply.
What can the rest of us learn from the King County Metro system?
- Happy Employees provide better service
- Empowered Employees will make better choices about how to best help your clients
- Compassionate Employees not only help people but make your organization look good
- Foster a culture of saying “thank you” which leads to more compassionate, empowered, and happier employees