True job satisfaction

A walk-in client and some pictures of a little girl turned an ordinary day into a chance for Maura Cullinane to make a difference.

Haya Keena Navor.Cullinane, a co-owner of Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Canton, Mass., was at her desk one day last year when Bill McLaughlin walked into the office. He asked what it would cost to fly two people from the Philippines to Boston. As Cullinane investigated the price, a story unfolded.

McLaughlin's niece, Haya Keena Navor, lived on a remote island in the Philippines. She had been severely burned in an accident at the age of 2. "They are very poor and don't have electricity, so her family used a gas lantern, which tipped over," Cullinane recalled. Haya Keena's blanket caught fire, and she was burned from the waist down.

McLaughlin had arranged for the Boston Shrine Institute to donate medical treatment. He showed pictures of the girl that "brought tears to my eyes," Cullinane said.

Severe scarring had hindered the girl's growth and made walking difficult. The story touched Cullinane deeply, especially since her mother had died in a house fire at the age of 52. She felt compelled to help.

Cullinane wrote to several carriers that serve Manila, Philippines, from Boston; sent them photos, and asked for a free ticket. After a little back-and-forth, Cullinane said, she was pleasantly surprised when Northwest Airlines said it would donate a ticket for the girl and a discounted flight for her father.

Last August, at the age of 6, Haya Keena arrived in the U.S., along with her father. During her stay, she visited Cullinane's house and played with her 2-year-old daughter. "She barely spoke English, but she smiled all the time," Cullinane said.

Haya Keena's surgeries were so successful that she went home earlier than anticipated, but subsequent treatment will bring her back again next May. Cullinane said she'd be happy to handle the arrangements.

For Cullinane, the experience brought new meaning to the term "job satisfaction." She advised fellow agents to "try to go the extra mile because it is worth it, and not everybody is as fortunate as we are."

How to ask for a free flight

Maura Cullinane.So you want to help clients with special needs by getting them a free flight? Maura Cullinane, a co-owner of Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Canton, Mass., suggested the following (see story above for the particulars of her client's case):

  • Make your first call to your favorite airline representative. "I talked to [Northwest Airlines'] Terry Leo in Boston. We have a good relationship, and he said they do help in these situations, so he put me in touch with the right people."
  • If you don't have a regular rep, contact customer services and ask staff there to direct you to the person in charge.
  • Mail a formal request in writing, including as much information as possible. Cullinane said she sent the airlines as many pictures of her client as she could, to best convey the seriousness of the girl's situation.
  • Keep copies of everything you send and wait a few weeks for the airline to reply, she said.
  • If your initial appeal doesn't fly, don't back down, she said. "Call and tell the airlines that they will get free press out of it," Cullinane said, adding that the donated ticket garnered excellent publicity for Northwest in the Philippines and some mentions in U.S. media as well.
  • More good questions

    Can the IRS really help track down a lost employee?

    Dan McManus.You are probably referring to a service the IRS offers to help track down someone to whom you owe money or to help reunite lost family members. The service (IRS Procedure 94-22) is simply a letter-forwarding process. But it can be very effective.

    You must have the Social Security number of the person you are trying to reach and a reason that the IRS approves for making contact. The IRS will not forward collection letters.

    If it approves, the IRS will forward your letter to the most recent address listed on the person's tax return. But once the letter has been sent, you will have no way of knowing if it was received unless the person replies to your correspondence.

    Should I correct employees who treat each other poorly?

    You must. No doubt you have taught your employees to maintain a high degree of courtesy with customers. But if that behavior doesn't also extend to co-workers, you need to step in. How a fellow employee is treated has a big impact on customers' perception of your organization.

    Lead by example. Give your employees the same courtesy and respect that you do your customers. And insist they do likewise.

    One way to promote understanding is to begin a "walk a mile in their shoes" program. Let employees handle another's job for a few hours or a day just to see how the operation looks from that person's perspective.

    You may even let employees help you juggle the many duties of a manager. They could help you pay bills, schedule workers, take phone calls and deal with a complaint.

    Keeping the team working well together is one of your most important jobs. Teaching them to respect and support one another is one of your best tools to accomplish this.

    Former agency owner Dan McManus is the publisher of the newsletter The Successful Worldspan Agent. Contact him at [email protected].

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