Thursday, October 1, 2015

Customer Disservice

I was recently at Chicago Union Station—one of Amtrak's national hubs—to catch a train. As I travel a lot and train is my favorite mode, I have a wealth of depot experiences, most of which are good.

Last week, however, I had one that was not so good. Although I had arrived at the station 90 minutes ahead of my scheduled departure, and thus had plenty of time, I had sore ribs that morning and knew that I wanted to check two bags to lighten my load.

I got off to a poor start when I discovered that the escalator taking me down from street level to ticketing was disabled and I needed to bump my bag down the steps. With sore ribs, each time I braked the fall of the bag my sore muscles received an unwelcome jolt. Ugh.

Nonetheless, I got downstairs and headed for the window where Amtrak generally funnels passengers wanting to check bags. For some reason, that particular window was blocked off, so I asked an Amtrak employee if I could gain access to check my bag. given that I already had my ticket. He curtly (though not rudely) informed me that I could get in line with everyone else (there were about 15 people waiting in the queue to speak to ticket agents.

While that was an unusual request (in the past I had been directed expressly to head for the window on the far right if I was only checking bags), maybe they'd changed protocol since my last visit.

Ten minutes went by as I slowly inched my way forward in the line. I was sore and looking forward to unloading the weight. It was at this point that the same Amtrak employee announced that anyone only seeking to check bags should line up by the window on the far right. I did not take this announcement well. Why had I been turned down to do that very thing 10 minutes before?

When I pulled my suitcase up front to get into the line for the checked baggage window, he challenged me about whether I had a ticket. I replied by saying I had already told him that 10 minutes ago. He didn't like my attitude (which I admit was not pleasant) and told me I was therefore not welcome to come forward to get my bag checked and I had to wait in line with everyone else looking for tickets. He was going to teach me a lesson—which left me wondering about the nature of customer service.

This exchange didn't go well for either of us, and I've chosen to write about it because I think it's worthwhile to parse out what happened.

Looked at from the Agent's Perspective
He was trying to manage the flow of customers looking for assistance from the ticket windows. I imagine he has a certain amount of customers who are difficult to work with. Perhaps they have unreasonable expectations about what can be done for them; perhaps they are in a bad mood; perhaps they have challenging personalities. On top of that, maybe he had been having a bad day also. Maybe he had sore ribs, too.

That said, the bottom line is that this guy is in Customer Service. That means it's his job to be helpful. I thought I had a legitimate gripe. He didn't. He was setting boundaries for how he wanted to be dealt with. While I have some sympathy for that in general, it does not extend to his treating me arbitrarily and then denying that he'd done anything to be held accountable for.

My experience was that I had been mistreated by someone more concerned with exerting his power then in trying to help.

Leftover Baggage
Would this exchange have gone better if I had been less reactive? Almost certainly. So I am left with some reflecting to do about my culpability regarding how this went down. How important, for example, was it to have asserted the high moral ground? It didn't get my bags checked any faster. And it wasn't any fun to be stewing in line. So what was the payoff?

I don't think it's easy to unilaterally shift one's energy when you feel that you've been wronged and the other person does not appear to be evincing any remorse. But that doesn't mean you can't, or that it wouldn't be useful to try. Because if you don't, you might wind up carrying around a lot more baggage than you care to.

It's an interesting train of thought.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Amtrak is a government-owned monopoly, its employees protected by union contracts, with little or no incentive to do well or improve their service.