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Did THAT Just Happen? United and San Francisco TSA Customer Service

Customer segmentation is a fairly standard practice within most contact centers, yet it is still considered controversial by many. The better you are as a customer; the better the service you shall receive. In most cases, your status and place in queue is determined by the amount of money you’ve spent or the lifetime value that you represent. If you are a highly-valued customer, you often are allowed to bypass the queue or IVR altogether and reach the very best in live assistance.

We may not always like to admit it; customers are not treated all the same.

Airlines are masters at customer segmentation. Travelers are routinely evaluated by the number of miles they’ve racked up in a specific period of time, and the amount of money they’ve spent on trips. Any person that travels frequently knows exactly which routes to take in order to the next exalted level of status. Why? Because the customer experience gets better; it gets much better. The more miles accrued - the shorter the lines are, the better the boarding process is, and the nicer the seats get. It’s simply a much better customer experience.

A couple weekends ago my husband and I were leaving San Francisco and headed to Los Angeles. While we both maintain elite status on several airlines, my lifetime “million-miler” standing on United usually affords us better priority than anything else. So after check-in, off we went to the Premier/Gold corral area to move together through TSA security. Or so we thought.

Just like two calls simultaneously hitting an ACD at exactly the same time, my husband and I were scanned (boarding passes), judged (status), and in this case routed in two opposing directions.  You see, SFO also acknowledges TSA Pre✓ which is an expedited screening benefit that I happen to hold. Unlike my UA Gold status though, I can’t take another caller (husband) along for the journey with me. And so as two calls often do, we were segmented and separated based on our value to the organization.

My queue was nonexistent. I was placed ahead of everyone else in line, pointed to an empty screening area, was not inconvenienced with laptop or shoe removal, and actually had engaging, delightful, and personalized conversations with both TSA people that assisted me. In fact, the first commented on the blue of my eyes, and the second appeared genuinely interested in the job function that obviously had me traveling quite a bit.

I entered the queue without cumbersome IVR-esque routing, was helped proficiently and expeditiously, was treated personally and considerately, and was quickly pushed back out with a tap and a smile. The experience was excellent.

Surprisingly, my husband’s experience should also be deemed a success. His prioritization got him a shorter line than most, and although he did have to disrobe and remove his laptop from its case, he moved through security efficiently, if not a tad brusquely. Even though he himself is rather engaging, no TSA agent in his queue was making small-talk or passing out personal compliments. But to him, the experience was also excellent.

Customers are not all treated equally, because they are not all valued the same. The power for contact centers, and everyone else in the customer experience world, is to know the difference between expectation and exception. United and the TSA team at SFO met my husband’s expectations, wherein they vastly exceeded mine. I will now want to repeat that experience and will look for ways to connect through SFO and to build upon my status with United. I want to have that experience all the time.

My husband on the other hand, now knows “what could be” and will strive to get to that higher priority. While his experience was good, he knows it can be better, and he’s now on the quest to earn it. In both scenarios, United and the SFO TSA did us well.  And in both scenarios they recognized the proper value of their customers, and routed us accordingly.