It’s 2 p.m. July 23, in Phoenix, Arizona.

The temperature has just hit 108 degrees. An electrical lineman descends from his cherry picker and climbs into his truck. He removes his heavy electrical gloves, wiping away the perspiration that is bursting from every orifice on his face. H reaches down to turn up the air conditioner and pops open a cool, lifesaving Diet Coke.

Before his dehydrated lips can enjoy the first refreshing sip, a little old lady waiving a piece of paper suddenly — and unexpectedly to the lineman — crosses the street.

She bangs on his door and asks, “Are you with the power company?”

He thinks to himself, “No, lady, I just stole this $500,000 truck with a PHX Power Company sign,” but he’s well trained and instead says, “Yes, I work for the power company, how can I serve you?”

She says, “My electric bill seems high. What should I do with it?”

The lineman successfully stifles his instinctive reply and asks if it could be the air conditioner or other appliances? She says that she don’t know but that her bill seems too high.

The Power Company’s Management realized some time ago that marketing is not just the responsibility of the office and sales staff, but also that of the linemen, drivers and janitors.

This well trained and supported lineman offers to take the lady’s bill back to the office and promises to have someone from the billing department call her. Back at the office a customer service representative calls her, and the next day, the lineman also calls her to makes sure she’s been satisfactorily taken care of. This doesn’t happen without a lot of commitment from management and a lot of customer service training.

Is it worth it?

Compare the case of the “extraordinary electrician” with the case of the “hurling handler.” It is still July 23 and at the Phoenix airport, it is also 108 degrees out on the ramp. The seatbelt sign has just turned off and 138 passengers are competing head over heels for the front exit. The unfortunate few of us caught in an all-too-small right window seat are resigned to wait while all the other passengers try to squeeze thorough the now jammed aisle.

Instead of tempting a futile escape, we turn our attention to the men and women unloading the baggage from the aircraft’s belly. As perspiration bursts from every orifice on their faces, the hurling handlers compete to efficiently — albeit destructively — propel luggage 10-20 feet towards an open baggage tug. While most of the bags hit inside the tug, the ones that miss are given another chance at the toss. This airline — and fortunately not one servicing Alaska — is rumored to be facing Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. One can only begin to wonder why.

As I watched the spectacle from my crowded window perch I couldn’t help wonder if that airline’s executive team realized how 20-plus noses and 40-plus eyeballs were watching the “performance” and judging the airline by oblivious baggage “handlers” who did not realize their critical place in customer service.

If your business employs drivers, warehouse workers, stockers or janitors or even “hurling handlers,” do all your employees realize how important their place is in total quality management? For your firm’s reputation and ultimate profitability be sure that excellent customer service is everyone’s job, not just those who have “customer service” in their job title. 

Charlie Dexter is a professor of applied business emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Community and Technical College. He can be reached at charlie.dexter@alaska.edu. This column is provided as a public service of the UAF Applied Business Department.