THE BLOG
07/10/2013 11:14 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Conquering the Americas - Day One

Empathy and Understanding will cut back on Customer Complaints

I should be in Montreal, staying at Le Petit Hotel in the Old Town. I should be just about getting up now and heading off to work with Jessy and JR our lovely French Canadian Agents in their showroom. But I'm not. I'm sitting at home in London.

Yes, I missed my flight. The next one is this evening. I'd love to say I was having such a wild party of a Sunday lunch that I forgot to leave on time for the airport. Sadly I'm Ms Stressy about catching flights and I missed a very nice invitation to lunch with friends to get there two and a half hours early.

I missed my flight due to the stupidity and lack of empathy of a BAA security official at Heathrow Terminal 5.

My bags were hauled over due to a suspicious substance being found in my toiletries. I can guarantee it was neither heroin nor Semtex. The security guard was totally disinterested in my very real concerns that unless they speeded up their investigation I would miss my flight. I suggested a little tube of nail treatment which might be the cause of their concern; they ignore me and stated that the more I talked the slower they would be and proceeded to do something else. I knew it had to be this product since it contained peroxide and it just made sense it would confuse the machine - all the other products were run of the mill. I'm no explosives expert but for God's sake it's gotta be common sense?

I accept we need security protocol in our airports, but when a passenger has informed the team that she is on a long haul flight which is about to leave, there are no other flights to that destination for 24 hours and she only has 36 hours in the city before she needs to move on, it would be common decency to show some concern and maybe, just maybe hurry through the job a little?

My man's speed of working was like watching paint dry. Obviously I was stressed about missing the flight - a watched pot never boils, etc - but this was such a show of macho power in the face of my helpless situation. There was not a single word of concern, apology or empathy. He could have just tried to go a little tiny bit faster but he resolutely plodded through the motions, making sure to ignore my extremely polite agitation.

Result: I missed my flight and they accepted there was no danger to society from my toiletries, although they insisted on destroying - THEM ALL, refusing to just take the nail treatment. No apology, compensation, explanation or empathy. Nothing. Cost to me and JoJo: +/- £1400. Cost to BAA: I will make a very serious complaint and create a fuss which will be an irritation to them.

Alternative Result: Had the man showed empathy and ditched the 'jobs worth' attitude and had he hurried instead of delayed the matter to upset me, I would have caught the flight (I was 2 mins late at the departure gate) and BAA would not have to deal with my complaint. Or possibly I may still have missed the flight, but his concern and apologies would have mean I accepted my bad luck and necessity of security checks and not felt so abused. Because I did feel abused by this man wielding his authority with such distain.

As an employer of nearly 600 people myself, I find that training your teams to empathise with customers in distress and to show respect for other human beings diverts a huge amount of bad feeling and the invariable complaints which follows. Of course we all need to follow procedures but it is possible to carry out ones duties with empathy. I would not be complaining to BAA had their employee shown even the least bit of human comfort.

Can you teach empathy? Possibly not, but from my experience it filters down from the top ... I wonder what the directors of BAA would think of this? How nurturing is their attitude to their teams? Anyone know a BAA director? If so please forward my blog?!

J'espère que la prochaine fois je vous ecri du Canada.

X Laura