Is soft skills training important at the airport? Absolutely. It’s important everywhere, since research shows that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft skills.
For the traveler (customer), the level of airport customer service can severely impact the travel experience. Here’s one example of the difference soft skills training can make.
If you’ve ever been through a security clearance at the airport, I’m willing to bet it’s not your favorite part of the trip. It had never been horrible for me, though on a recent quick trip to California, I knew I was in for “extra attention” from the TSA before I even left the house.
My passport had expired and I misplaced my driver’s license. I had gone in to get a new one and my proof of license renewal was a white piece of paper with no picture. Ugh. I headed off to make my flight and my experience with the folks at the security checkpoint in my hometown was definitely less than pleasant. I was in for a full body patdown and a thorough look through the contents of my bag.
It was an unpleasant experience, though the TSA agents weren’t actually doing anything blatantly wrong. They said what they’d been told to say. They did what they’d been told to do. And when the shoes in my bag gave a false positive on a substance test, they took all of my belongings out of each bag and laid them out on a table. I practiced some deep breathing and managed to keep myself calm through most of the experience. It wasn’t until the incident had stretched to 45 minutes in length and I’d been scolded by two different agents that I started to get upset and angry. By the time we were finished, my husband had called the TSA’s national office to complain. Whew! I finally got on the plane and the rest of this leg of the trip was uneventful.
When it was time to go back home, I hoped for the best from the Sacramento TSA team. I still didn’t have a photo identification so I knew I would again be subjected to “special attention.” Fortunately on my return trip, the woman who handled the screening, Maria, was obviously a trained professional. Trained in TSA screening? Obviously. But what made the biggest difference was her obvious experience with soft skills training.
It wasn’t until we were almost finished and I realized how pleasant it had been that Maria told me she had previously worked in retail. I briefly recounted my prior screening and complimented her on her customer service approach. “I’ve had training in customer service,” she said. “It’s not hard to be kind, even when you have to search through somebody’s bags. It’s really basic.”
Here’s how Maria’s soft skills training impacted my personal experience:
She made eye contact and introduced herself with an empathetic smile.
As soon as I met Maria, I felt important. Taking a warm service-oriented approach, she told me her name and asked mine. She was professional, but not cold, making small talk as we moved through the process.
She told me what she was going to do before she did it.
Step by step, Maria went through what she was going to do. “I will need to empty your bag though I promise you I will be careful with your things.”
She reassured me.
A TSA screening of any kind is nerve wracking, particularly when you’re expecting a full-body patdown. Maria had a calming demeanor and a warmth that was reassuring during a time of stress.
As Maria finished up my screening, we made small talk about my experience with the TSA at my home airport. She didn’t seem surprised, explaining why her demeanor was different from her fellow TSA staffers. “I worked for Safeway. We had customer service training,” she said. “Good people skills make everything so much easier for everybody.”
Lori Jo Vest is the co-author of Who’s Your Gladys? and Taming Gladys! Learn more about Lori on LinkedIn: Lori Jo Vest, Consultant/Author
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