Paul Butler | A journey in customer service  

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

Last week, I experienced one of those unforgettable travel days for work that leaves you both exhausted and contemplative. 

After working for a client in Iowa, I left my hotel at 1:15 a.m. our time — yes, that’s A.M. (as in “Absolutely Mad”) — to head back home. Having worked in the hospitality industry, I always found hotel night managers to be rather interesting and exceptional creatures. Surprisingly, the man behind the desk in Iowa was cordial, attentive and super-jazzed about the work he did while most sane people sleep. My bill was accurate, and his smile was genuine. This was an efficient check-out process delivered by a fully engaged employee. 

My rental car had performed well all week, and at the start of this hard day’s night it didn’t let me down. I knew there would likely be no one at the desk when I arrived at 2 a.m., but I was confident they’d have a smooth process for returning the keys. There was a small process glitch: no envelopes to place the keys in and no person to speak with, so I dropped them in the slot and hoped for the best. 

The first flight to Chicago proceeded without incident, but there, my luck took a turn. Boarding the connecting flight, the initial relief of settling into my seat was short-lived. Abruptly, an announcement declared a mechanical issue, prompting everyone to disembark. While I appreciated the swift identification of the problem, the lack of empathy from the crew member who had just minutes earlier professed gratitude for our business was striking. 

Hours stretched on in the terminal as a one-hour delay ballooned into nine. Automated updates from the airline app kept us informed, but face-to-face communication was sorely lacking. Seeking clarity, I joined the queue at the customer assistance desk, where I witnessed a stark contrast in service quality between two agents. One was efficient and empathetic, embodying the promised customer care, while the other, presumably a supervisor, exuded rudeness and inefficiency. Opting to wait, I finally received the assistance I needed from the former, leaving me thankful for her competence and disheartened by the latter’s demeanor.  

Landing at LAX nearly 22 hours after I’d left Iowa, I realized one of the new processes was to shuttle the ride-share passengers out to a lot where they could meet their booked driver. Frustratingly, the bus broke down. A process failure for sure but the people side of the equation failed, too. Our driver didn’t speak a word of English and didn’t seem to give a hoot that his customers now had to navigate the LAX roadway by foot to make it to their ride-share. He just threw his hands up in the air, which I translated as, “Get off my bus.”  

Reflecting on this nearly 23-hour saga, I realized anew the importance of both efficient processes and engaged personnel in delivering exceptional service. Throughout my journey, from Iowa to Los Angeles, instances of breakdowns in systems underscored the critical role of human interaction. While processes can falter, it’s the individuals behind them who determine whether a customer experience is positive or profoundly frustrating. 

I’m a great believer that we go to work to make money to do the things we really want to do with those we love. I always miss my wife when I travel for work but this day, more than ever, reminded me it is indeed a blessing from way above the skies I’d just flown, to be home, sweet home. 

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

Related To This Story

Latest NEWS