Taking the Extra Step

By David Small

Stopping for lunch at a fast food joint in Jacksonville, N.C., I witnessed the far ends of the spectrum of customer service and it sparked some internal deliberations on how I serve people, the biases I have when I help others and the necessity to take the extra step for others in need.

After ordering our burgers, we tried to use a gift card but the card didn’t swipe in the register.

Confounded, the cashier called over her manager who said there was nothing she could do either. The manager got very defensive, clearly thinking we were trying to get out of a silly $15. After a heated back-and-forth, we cancelled our order.

A quick call to the toll-free number on the back of the gift card confirmed its balance, with instructions to tell the cashier to manually input the card’s code into the register.

Maybe the manager was new and didn’t know she could manually input the card. But I wonder, why the manager didn’t make this call herself? The restaurant wasn’t busy. It was simply easier for her to write us off than take the extra step. She was lazy in her job.

Reflecting on this event, I’d like to hear your experiences giving or receiving customer service in your military job? Have you ever stumped somebody with a query? Or can you remember somebody taking the extra step to help you?

Maybe somebody’s looked at your rank and decided you weren’t important enough for them to go out of their way. Or perhaps you came off too gay or you’re of a different sex or ethnicity? Everybody has biases, and this experience is making me look at mine and how they affect my treatment of people. What biases do you hold when dealing with people?

How do you deal with YOUR customers? Do you take the extra step? If you’ve exhausted the standard checklist, what’s your next reaction?

I’m a public affairs guy who works in media relations for the Air Force Reserve. My customers are primarily journalists. I know I have biases against overly conservative media outlets and wonder if that affects how I treat their representatives when they call. Do I even bother researching their request, or do I write them off with some standard media response. Or perhaps I subconsciously stall in getting back to them.

From that restaurant, we drove across the street to Sonic. When the skating carhop delivered our food, there were 3 drinks, 2 burgers and 2 fries. In all the hullaballoo over the bad service from the other place, we had forgotten to order a third burger, mustard and pickles only. We rang the buzzer and ordered another burger. After we clearly admitted it was our oversight, the carhop refused to charge us for the burger.

What a difference between each place, which earned the carhop a sturdy tip! Next time I’m faced with somebody who needs some extra effort in my job, I hope I have the attitude of the carhop.

David Small, editor of OutServe Magazine’s blog, is a Major in the Air Force Reserve, stationed in New York, N.Y. Small’s perspective speaks to the everyday service member who may be working side by side with an LGBT coworker. Read more of his posts here.

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