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Is Customer Service Dead?

Last week, I traveled alone for business. It was a quick trip from Fargo to Minneapolis.

I don’t know which part thrilled me more: the excitement of the quick trip or the fact that I was ALONE. I know that makes me sound like a terrible person, but hey, it’s true.

What I do know is that being in an airport gives a person many opportunities to watch people. I love watching people.

One thing that always interests me is watching people in customer service. It is a common complaint that we hear, “Customer service is going down the toilet! No one wants to work anymore! No one cares about the customer! It’s a disgrace!”

I have to admit that I’ve said those things. I’ve had some really terrible experiences as a customer.

As I sat at Gate 3 of Hector International Airport in Fargo, I decided right then that I was going to pay attention to the level of customer service I saw throughout my quick trip. From the gate agents, to the flight attendants, to the hotel staff, taxi cab drivers and baristas: I was going to really pay attention.

Is customer service dead?

While I waited at Gate 3, I watched an incredibly engaged young Delta agent named Sara work her podium. She greeted not just the customers, but also her co-workers, with a genuine smile and good-natured sense of humor.

She went far out of her way to assist a family that had a family member in a wheelchair. She was excellent at her job.

While I was observing Sara, I started to see that while Sara’s demeanor was pleasant and friendly, many of the people who approached her for her help were not.

Many people didn’t even bother to put down their phones when they walked up to her. One particularly irritable woman, put up her hand to Sara’s face as if to say, “Excuse me! I’m on my phone.” It was the rudest behavior imaginable.

Are we getting worse as customers? Don’t customer service people at least deserve our acknowledgement? A smile? A head nod?

Is customer service dead or are we just terribly rude customers?

Is it THEIR fault or are WE a part of the problem?

It was then that I also decided that I’d go out of my way to be kind to the people serving me. Since I wanted to be treated with respect, I decided I would go first.

Once I landed in Minneapolis, I went to find a quick place to eat in the airport as I had a conference call scheduled within the hour.

I was cruising along and I came upon a T.G.I.Friday’s. Standing outside was this guy who I assumed was a host. Even though it was clear that I wasn’t stopping there to eat (Friday’s has never been my favorite restaurant), he gave me a HUGE smile and sincerely wished me a fantastic day. It wasn’t just what he said but the way he said it really struck me. I kind of stopped and thanked him and wished him the same. You could tell he really meant it.

As my trip continued, I was served by additional airport staff, servers at a restaurant and hotel staff. While my service was generally pretty good (except for my retail experiences…I literally felt like I was interrupting their day), no one stood out to me like this guy at Friday’s.

When it came time to leave, I again had about an hour to burn at the airport and where do you suspect I went to eat? You guessed it: Friday’s. I intentionally went to a place that is admittedly not my favorite in hopes that I’d see him again and could chat with him.

meandgilmore

Gilmore and me outside of T.G.I.Friday’s at MSP Airport.

Well, as luck would have it, he was there again and I wanted to know more about him. He said, “My name is Gilmore. Like Happy Gilmore.” I smiled and said, “Well, of course it is.”

I told him about the work I do and asked if I could write an article about him. Turns out, this has happened to him before. Here is the original article a traveler wrote about him in 2012: Meet Gilmore at Friday’s in MSP.

Once I read the article, I knew instead of writing another just like it, because really, everything this guy said about Gilmore was exactly how I felt and why I wanted to draw more attention to him in the first place.

Instead, I decided I’d interview him. So, please, meet Gilmore.

Q: How do you describe your role?

Gilmore: While I was working today, I thought about my “role” in terms of being on stage (and to some — me included — the whole world is a stage).

And there are several stages to my role, whether it’s being a Sociologist in how I observe the daily behaviors of mankind and how I interact with the connecting traveling public through MSP Airport; Or, whether it’s being an avuncular figure to the kids that look up to me (it totally amazes me how many families with young kids, plan their vacation around how much time they get to be at MSP Airport to see me); Or, being a Psychologist to the folks that just wish someone would listen to them; Or being a spiritual figure to the many folks that are traveling through MSP Airport, on their way to see their loved ones in the hospital or are on their way to a funeral and need their SPIRITS to be UPLIFTED.

Q: You mentioned to me that you had left your position at Friday’s and then returned. Why?

Gilmore: I left for the temptation of more money, and now I know, yes it’s a cliche, but I have found it to be true from my experience: “Money is not everything”. What good is more money if I can’t be “HAPPY” and be allowed to be myself?>I can be myself at T.G.I.Friday’s in the MSP Airport, more than any other job that I have had so far in my work history.

Q: Who influenced you the most in your personal life?

Gilmore: Norman Vincent Peale: “The Power of Positive Thinking”. I recommend listening to the audio book with the narration by Norman Vincent Peale. If you’re ever in a funk, listening to that old man, with his soothing eloquent voice, will relax and calm you, and give you motivation to carry on in a more OPTIMISTIC way (anyway, that’s at least from my own experience).

Q: What is your overall work philosophy? (What matters more than anything else in approaching your work everyday?)

Gilmore: Being in the NOW … And, yes I recommend “The Power Of Now” by Elkhart Tolled.

When I am working, more than anything else, I focus my awareness on just being fully focused in the now, in how I approach my work, whether it’s meeting and greeting, or answering a question, or finding a successful result towards a solution, or just simply just smiling and saying hello (that’s where being authentic comes into the mix); And I admit, I am not perfect, my work philosophy is still a work-in-progress, I still have to fine tune and reflect on what I can improve or how I could have handled a situation differently.

Q: I noticed you know many people by name. What’s the significance of that for you?

Gilmore: I love the fast paced environment of Airports (time FLIES when you’re having FUN) … I love the challenge of remembering faces and names in that kind of setting, and quite honestly, it’s almost impossible to remember all of the literally millions of people a year that I come across, while working in an Airport, but I love the adrenaline of interacting in real time with the traveling public in an Airport, while making a positive impact on so many lives.

Q: You go far out of your way to greet everyone that walks past you, not just the people interested in eating at Friday’s. Why do you care so much?

Gilmore: One word: KARMA.

If what goes around comes around, why not make it so your ITINERARY is a good ROUND TRIP TICKET towards going to good KARMA, and some good TRAVELING positive vibes?

I believe in emanating positive vibes from a higher PLANE of consciousness.

Q: What do you want to be known for?

Gilmore: A passenger at MSP Airport walked towards me today and said, ” You know, Gilmore — you’re a legend in your own time!” . I interpret that as a positive sign of my always ongoing work-in-progress, towards focusing on being in the now (in a positive, constructive way, of course).

And, it’s not easy to forgive easily, but if there’s one piece of wisdom that I’ve picked up in my life it’s this: When you forgive it’s more about the releasing of yourself.

And that is SO empowering when you think about it.

And that’s what I strive for, in terms of a legacy, to be known for, to be known to be an empowering legend in my own time, that contributes to having a lasting positive impact on many lives …

 

GilmoreinGold

Gilmore in Gold. There’s a reason his nickname is “Happy”.

 Gilmore is bold. Gilmore is confident. Gilmore is enthusiastic.

Not everyone appreciates these qualities in another person. I do.

Everyday, Gilmore chooses to be kind. He chooses to be positive. And he doesn’t require other people to give that to him first. He is a class act. He makes work fun for himself, his co-workers and the people that come into contact with him.

He focuses on the present. He doesn’t take the people that in front of him for granted.

So, as you’re out and about today, I encourage you to do the same. Be kind. Be positive. Put your phone down. Smile at people. Be with people.

Whether we’re the customer or the person giving service, every person we meet provides an opportunity to positively influence a life.

Is customer service dead?

As long as people like Gilmore and Sara exist, I have to answer with a resounding ‘no’.

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