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The Granny Effect

From delivering great customer service to overseeing interns, Jackie Jones makes caring part of her job description


PEOPLE AT CLEVELAND HOPKINS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT trust Jackie Jones a lot—which only stands to reason, given that the veteran customer service supervisor is affectionately known on the job as “Grandma.” In her 14 years as supervisor, Jones has overseen concourse, ticket counter and baggage service operations within the customer service department; her latest project involved supervising a group of interns who spent the summer helping United improve customer service.

The four interns, all chosen from Ohio universities, came to work under one of several internship programs that United offers. This particular program is geared toward ensuring customers get a consistent, pleasant airport experience. Among their many tasks, Jones’ charges tracked wait times for ticket counter lines and observed gate agents during the pre-departure crunch time to make sure that boarding procedures and announcements were aligned with United’s customer service standards as well as Department of Transportation requirements.

“Our customers told us they wanted consistency all around,” Jones explains. “That way, from airport to airport, customers can expect the same procedures and hear the same announcements in the same sequence,” thereby eliminating uncertainty and smoothing the overall travel experience.

“We use the information collected by the interns to make sure we can maintain the standards we want for our customers and to give our agents the right feedback and tools to do a good job.”

Putting a premium on customer satisfaction is nothing new for Jones. Her love of people and customer service prompted her to join the airline in October 1990, beginning her career in Reservations at Los Angeles International Airport. When the Los Angeles Reservations Center closed, Jones had a choice of transferring to Houston, Denver, Salt Lake City or Tampa. She opted for Tampa, where she moved from reservations agent to gate agent and then on to supervisor.

Now overseeing United’s customer service operations at Cleveland, Jones stays busy resolving customer service issues, maintaining staffing and conducting briefings as part of her daily routine. She stays in touch with United’s agents throughout the concourse, taking a face-to-face approach that ensures not only that Jones is on hand to address agent concerns, but also that she stays abreast of customer needs.

“One co-worker told me, ‘I’ve watched you walk up and down this concourse, and you talk to everyone who moves,'” Jones recalls, chuckling. “I do. I talk to everyone because I really enjoy meeting people and finding out about them. It’s why I came to this airline. That, and I love to travel.”

Jones says her tendency to look out for her employees earned her the nickname “Grandma.” It also earned her the job of overseeing the summer interns. “They’re a sharp group of young people. They really are,” she says. “They didn’t just give something to us; they took something away for themselves. They got to learn a lot about the airline industry.”

As for her unusual nickname, Jones says it doesn’t bother her. “Sometimes customers will give us a confused look when they hear agents call out to me, ‘Granny, can you come here for a minute?’ It always gives the customers a good laugh. If you put a little fun in what you’re doing, it’s easy to get the work done.”

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