‘The lost suitcase and a grumpy old man’ – a story about employee engagment


0 grumpy old man

Customer centric organisations tend to have a number of things in common. They typically have management teams who collectively believe in the importance of doing things with customers interests firmly in mind. They usually design their customer journey(s) to meet and exceed customer expectation. They often recognise that getting things wrong may happen, but that correcting them is a vitally important skill. One thing you can guarantee, is that customer centric organisations do not just put customers first – they also put their employees first as well.

I have always been of the belief that you should treat your employees in exactly the same way you would expect them to treat your customers. If you care for your people, they in turn will care for your customers. Like many things in the world of customer experience – it is not complicated!! Sadly though, we all too often interact with employees of organisations who are obviously and blatantly unhappy. It is not always obvious to understand why they clearly feel so disengaged – yet as a customer interacting with someone like this, their disengagement is often all we remember from our experience.

It is with this in mind that I am going to share another of my own experiences. At the beginning of January I stupidly left my suitcase on a train. In all my years of travelling, it is the first time that I have had the misfortune of doing something like this. It was incredibly annoying. Having scolded myself for being so careless, I started to wonder how I might stand a chance of getting the suitcase back. I never for one moment thought that I would. It is sad that I believed the most likely outcome would be that someone would take it – but in all honesty, that was my considered opinion.

I left the suitcase on a Southern train. The train was en route from Brighton to Portsmouth in the south of England. I contacted Southern by telephone to register the suitcase as lost. The lady I spoke to was lovely. She clearly explained what would happen, and was extremely empathetic to my situation. I still did not think I would get the suitcase back, but I had done all I could to give myself a fighting chance.

Three weeks passed before I listened to a message on my phone. I had been in a meeting and missed a call from a telephone number in London.

‘Is that Mr Golding?’ said the caller. ‘If it is, we have your suitcase’. ‘Call us back to get it’.

That was it. No telephone number. No reference number. I was delighted though. It is a wonderful feeling to discover that something you have lost has been found, and I was over the moon. For a variety of reasons, I did not manage to call lost property for a couple of days. When I did, I remembered that I was not given a telephone number. As I lost the suitcase on a Southern train, I found the number for the Southern lost property office at Victoria station, and called them. A lovely lady answered the phone.

‘Can I have a reference number please?’

The man in the message did not leave me a reference number – ‘that could be a problem’ said the lady on the other end of the phone. Why? I asked.

‘No men work in this office sir!’

Now I was a little bemused. The lovely lady did not dismiss me though. Despite the fact she was certain that it was not Southern who had my suitcase, she did everything she could to try to find it. At the end of the call, she took my number and promised to call me if the suitcase was discovered. I decided to go back through my phone records to try to find the number of the man who called me. Eventually I found it. I called the number:

‘Hello’

Just a one word response barked back at me from the other end of the line. It took quite a lot of probing and encouragement to discover that the man who had called me worked in the lost property office at Waterloo station – home of South West Trains. The experience was rather different to the lovely lady from Southern trains. There was no emotion. There was no empathy. I did not care though – I was still overjoyed to have it confirmed that they did indeed have my suitcase, and it was in the lost property office at Waterloo station.

A few days later, on a business trip to London, it was time for me to be reunited with my luggage. I was actually quite excited. I got to Waterloo at 7am – I knew that the lost property office did not open until 7.30am, but I thought I would find where it was before grabbing a coffee while I waited for it to open.

0 waterloo-waterloo

As you can see from this image, the lost property office is down a rather unpleasant and smelly alley way beside the station. As I approached the entrance, a man in uniform standing outside it barked at me:

‘We’re not open!’

I had not asked if he was! I was only trying to find out where the office was located. The man made me feel guilty for even being there. The very positive emotion of being reunited with my personal possessions was being very quickly eroded by the grumpiness of a member of staff. As I started to walk away, he gruffly called me back:

‘You may as well come in then’

Don’t do me any favours I thought. I wanted to ask him if he was ok. He sounded so miserable. The man actually sounded if someone had really upset him. I was sure it could not have been me. The five minutes it took to get my suitcase back were very uncomfortable. If the man had smiled I was sure his face would have cracked into a thousand pieces. The contrast between his unhappiness and my joy at getting my suitcase back could not have been more stark. I should only be telling you about the happiness of getting my suitcase back. I should only be telling you about the lovely positive interactions with the Southern trains staff. Regrettably, the only lasting memory I have of the whole experience is the sad, grumpy old man from South West Trains.

All organisations need to have a sense of how engaged their people are. This image, brilliantly sums up the three types of employees you will have in your business:

0 employee engagement

The most customer centric organisations will have more of ‘type 1’ than any other. Type 1 employees will enable you to deliver fantastic customer experiences. A lot of organisations will have too many ‘type 2’ employees – these employees are by no means a lost cause – but having a significant population that behave this way will not help your cause in wanting to be customer centric. The ‘grumpy old man’ from South West Trains lost property office was a classic ‘type 3’ – his active dis-engagement served to taint what should have been a very happy experience.

I do not blame the man who reunited me with my suitcase for the way he behaved. I do blame the company he works for though. What have they done (or not) to make him feel this way? Why do not they not know how unhappy he is? When was the last time a ‘manager’ observed his behaviour? This brings me full circle to what I said at the beginning of this post. The way we treat our people will reflect how they in turn treat our customers. I honestly hope that if you have read this blog post, you will go back and ensure you understand how engaged (or not) your people are.

3 thoughts on “‘The lost suitcase and a grumpy old man’ – a story about employee engagment

  1. Hi Ian,
    I agree with much of your blog post and whole heartedly endorse the belief that an engaged work force is key to having a customer centric focus and empathetic staff who live the CX belief and can act with autonomy will deliver a great customer experience are a necessity. Your example struck me as interesting, because of a speicific, and perhaps a possibly influencing factor….

    If we consider the wider environment for a minute: Your example refers to a train company. Having commuted for a number of years using SW Trains, I am aware that they are very union led and are I’ve experience the staff being very vocal about issues with their employers and their working conditions.

    I wonder how the CX reality is split between industries that have a strong union voice and presence and those who do not? I wonder if an industry where unionisation is rare or their presence is weak is more likely to have a more engaged workforce and if whether the union is vocal and feels it necessary to take action on behalf of its member directly impacts the engagement of staff, either during a campaign or point of action and for the time following? This might not be a very popular thought and the lady you spoke to at Southern was clearly engaged and helpful despite working for a train company, but I do wonder if we could draw any sort of correlation? I’m not suggesting for a minute that unions are to blame for poor customer experiences, but I do wonder what the relationship is between them and CX / EE? Hmmmm. I’m going to ponder this for a while.

    Like

    • This is indeed a very interesting point – and not one that I can answer. It will be interesting to see if any other readers of this post who have experience of both scenarios are able to comment….

      Like

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