Over the last 15 years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to audiences of all sizes, to work one to one with CEOs and executives, and to work with teams on how to improve their emotional intelligence, which I believe is one of the fundamental skill sets that a leader must have to be successful.
So it’s pretty rare for me to be triggered by something and respond in a way that I will regret later on. And just recently had such an experience, where I almost responded in a way that I didn’t want to. Over the last 15 years, I have spoken to audiences of all sizes.
I’ve worked with CEOs on a one-to-one basis; I’ve worked with their teams and their talent to improve their emotional intelligence to achieve high performance. So I guess you could say I’m an expert in emotional intelligence. And it is pretty rare for me to have what I call a key moment, which is in over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of CEOs and their teams, I’ve spoken to audiences of all sizes around the world on how to improve your emotional intelligence. So I guess you could say I’m an expert in emotional intelligence. And I rarely get triggered to the point where I respond to a situation in a way that I’m not happy about.
But I want to share a situation with you today. Recently, I was flying home from a business trip. And I found out that my flight, the first leg, was going to be delayed due to a mechanical error and that I would miss my connecting flight in Detroit, which was the last flight out on that day.
You see, what made the situation stressful, that I was due to speak to an audience the following day in Los Angeles and needed to be home that night. So I approached the customer service counter, I explained my situation. And these people were nothing short of extraordinary; they were excellent. They understood my predicament, and they empathize with my situation. They said that we would do everything we could to help you get home in time. And they did help me. They did everything. But they were not successful, to no fault of their own. It was just the logistics. But they assured me that when we arrived in Detroit, we would be greeted by their red coats their customer service representatives, who provide us with a voucher so we’d get a good night’s sleep and then PR away the next day.
When we arrived in Detroit, lo and behold, there was nobody there. So I asked the gate agent, where are the customer service people? And she said, Oh, we don’t do that here in Detroit, you got to go down to the customer service counter.
I had my first key moment; what is the key moment? A key moment is something that happens. It’s a communication or a situation that triggers an emotional response. And unless we engage our rational thinking brain, we’re going to run down what I call the pathway of survival by having an emotional response that goes uncontrolled. So I had my first little mini key moment; I took a deep breath. I smiled and said, Great, I’ll go down there.
As I’m walking down there, and about a mile and a half away from where we were, I noticed that all the restaurants were closing. Now, I hadn’t eaten since nine o’clock that morning. And already It was 11 p.m. So I got to the customer service desk. And what did I find a line of about 25 or 30 people, obviously agitated, obviously upset at only two customer service representatives helping all of us.
At that moment, I realized that I was in for a long night, as I was standing there talking to the gentleman in front of me, who told me that he’d already been there for half an hour. I noticed a red coat walking by, and I went over to this person, and I kindly said, “sir, we have a situation here, and we really need your help. The representatives are moving really slowly, and we just need some help”. He said, “oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I’ll be right back in 15 minutes “. So a half an hour went by, and he never reappeared.
That’s when I noticed a big sign saying we’re here to help you in red. And below that a whole Bank of red phones. So I thought to myself, aha, I’m going to go over pick up one of those phones. And I’ll be connected to somebody who’s going to help me. So I walked overexcited, happy, picked up the phone, and I got a dial tone. I hit zero. Dial tone only. I looked around for a phone number. There’s no phone number anywhere to call anybody. Then I noticed a stack of cards like index-sized cards in red, and we’re here to help you. So I got excited; I thought, here we go find a phone number, pick up the card. And I studied it looked at both sides. And there was no phone number. So I got back in the line again, and I just sat there and was a little bit frustrated.
So we worked our way through the line. And then it was about an hour later, and I finally made it to the counter. And I said to the woman that I don’t think you can help me, but I’m hoping you can. And in a second, she flashed and looked at me with anger in her eyes. And she said to me, “did you just tell me that I better help you?” I could tell she was having a key moment. And I said, “No, ma’am. That’s not what I said to you. What I actually said was, I’m not sure if you can help me, but I hope you can”. So she calmed down and then said to me, “there’s nothing I can do. We don’t know where the vouchers are. We don’t know when the vouchers will arrive; you’re just going to have to go over there, sit and wait”, which I did.
But 15 minutes later, the red coat came back. So I thought, here we go. He will have vouchers, and he’s going to help us. And he looked around, he looked at his clipboard, said something on his walkie-talkie. And he bolted off; I just saw this flash red, going down the concourse, he was gone. Then I noticed about half an hour after that, that the two customer service representatives were done for the day. And they quietly just walked out down the concourse without asking us or addressing us in any way whatsoever. So we were left there on our own, not knowing what was going to happen.
At this point, I was really getting mad. So as it so happened, I worked things out, and I finally got a hotel room on my own. I got to the room at two o’clock in the morning, and I had a scheduled flight at 6 am that another one scheduled at 10 am, just in case. And I had to wake up at three o’clock in the morning, and I couldn’t do it; I missed the flight, and I went home on the next plane.
When I got on the plane and played the customer service video or the safety video with the CEO, saying, we’re here to help you, and you are the most important people. Our business surrounds you. We’re here to take care of you, our customers, and our guests. So I thought to myself, boy, is there a disconnect between the C suite and the people that are actually responsible for executing their vision and those that are going to interface with their passengers.
So what would have made things different? Well, the representatives from the airline, instead of being somewhat hostile and rude, could have simply have said to me, “sir, I bet that you’re frustrated that I will be frustrated if I were in your shoes; I want to assure you that we’re doing what we need to do. We’re doing everything we can do to figure out where the vouchers are. And I promise that we’re not going to leave until you have a place to stay tonight” You see, that alone would have diffused everything. But, of course, that would have meant that that representative was developed in emotional intelligence and how to handle their key moments. But also, she would be developed in handling the passengers’ key moments as well. And even though that wouldn’t have changed the outcome of me getting home on time, it would have left me with a much better taste in my mouth and loyalty to that airline.
I don’t want you to have a vision for your company, only to have your frontline people not represent that vision and treat your customers and clients appropriately. That’s why I exist. This is why my business exists to help in this situation. So I invite you to reach out to me. Don’t be like that company. Let’s develop your team. Let’s develop your customer service representatives. “Let’s develop your salespeople.
I sure do you look forward to talking to you and learning about your business and how we can help improve your business’s bottom. Line and improve performance and reduce turnover and everything that I bet you want for your company. My name is Robert Grossman. I am the president and founder of Black Diamond Leadership.