March 21, 2023

075: ENT: Canamar

Customer Service and the superpower of the apology

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On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Enterprise, Canamar (Season 2, Episode 17). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Archer and the Enolian Official.


Customer Service, excellent customer service, is so critical to the success of any venture. In this episode, the Enolian Official provides an amazing example, making him the "Nordstrom" of port officials!


Articles referenced in the episode:

Prison Policy Initiative

Salesforce Blog on Customer Service


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Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. We can all agree that customer service is critical the success of any business, company or venture. But if it’s so critical, why is it so rare? I am going to share examples of amazing customer service and I’m going to help you implement it into yours and your teams day-to-day. I get to do this because of the episode we’re watching today! It’s the 17th episode of the second season of Enterprise, Canamar.




The Enterprise is trying hail a shuttlepod. Captain Archer and the Engineer, Trip, were on a first contact mission and were supposed to rendezvous with the ship. The shuttle is here, but they are not. Fearing the worst, first officer T’Pol gets analyses from the tactical officer, Reed and others. Finding nothing but bad news, “There are traces of blood. Reed believes they were abducted.” 2:55 they head to Keto-Enal to see if they have any info on where they could be.


Because this is TV, we get to see where they are before anyone else does! They’ve been arrested and are on a prison transport, along with a bunch of other prisoners, headed to a planet called Canamar to be tried and imprisoned for suspected smuggling. The guards have little patience for questions and border on inhumane treatment. Like, just border on it, but not quite there.


T’Pol doesn’t have a lot of luck with the Enolians. They are a high traffic port, but one of their representatives does agree to come up to Enterprise and help them out. Super cool of him. They do some cross referencing and other computer kinda stuff and they get a match. “A patrol ship intercepted their shuttle.” 8:20 This is great news! The Enolian sets up a rendezvous and they head out.


Just before everything goes south on the transport ship, Archer gets the good news. In front of everyone. “You’re being released.” 9:26 He gets, literally 20 seconds to celebrate before one of the prisoners busts out of his shackles, frees a big ‘ol Naussican and they hijack the transport. From here, it totally turns into a classic prison escape story you’ve seen countless times. Archer maneuvers his way to get into the cockpit and to get close to the action. “You ever fly a warp ship before?” 12:01 He gets a distress call out before the bad guy, Kuroda, shuts down communications. He does a lot of sly, subtle things to learn what he can and to mess up their plans. He’s great at this!


Archer learns they are going to meet up with a shuttle in a faraway system. Kuroda and the Naussican are going to get rescued, but the rest will die. He’s going set the transport to crash into a planet so they are all assumed dead and he walks away, scot-free. “No one will be looking for us if they think we’re dead.” 29:37


Following the clues and narrowing down possible destinations, the Enterprise figures out where they’re going.


Despite Archer and Trip’s best efforts to stop the hijacker’s plans, they fail and end up docking with the shuttle. But wait! The door opens and it’s the Enterprise crew!! The Enterprise intercepted the shuttle and took it over. After an exciting melee, they get all the prisoners off, but Kuroda refuses to come along. He chooses to go down with the crashing transport instead of going back to prison.


On Enterprise, the Enolian Official tries to apologize for what happened but Archer is understandably outraged. He sends him back to Keto-Enal, and Enterprise is back on its way.


<<Red Alert>>


This was an awesome story! I mean, I feel like they could totally make it into a movie. I bet it would do really well. Hmm, maybe cast Nicholas Cage and call it Con Air…Yep. This is a surface level attempt to do a tried and tired story and it did, well, decently.


My big complaint, though, is there was an awesome episode buried in this that they barely even touched on. After this quick message, I’m going to talk about the commentary on correctional systems that almost was.


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Before I get to that, though, I want to talk a little bit about the episode itself and some stuff that worked and that really didn’t work for me. First, this was a gorgeously constructed episode. The scenes were beautiful, the makeup was good and the pace really worked. In fact, the entire episode builds to the big climax of the shuttle crashing on the planet, and the pacing, the camera work and the music all work together perfectly to ramp you up and get really into the action.


That said, this episode didn’t do Trip Tucker any favors at all. He basically played a lackey to Archer and came across like an entitled jerk. They had him sitting next to the guy you never want to sit next to on a plane. “Have you ever been to Burala Prime…” 17:58 Just constantly talking about things you never asked about in detail you simply don’t need. He is played, perfectly, by Sean Whalen who has been in almost everything ever. He’s really nailed his look and his niche.


But Trip…Trip was terrible. Didn’t even give dude a chance. Literally just snaps off with “It reminds me of…shut up!” 22:49 From go he’s basically beating this dude up and it’s terrible. In fact, there’s a brief moment when Trip is going to try and ambush Kuroda, but Whalen warns him. They play it off like he’s being a coward and trying to avoid and conflict, but, given the way Trip was treating him, I think he was totally justified.


Oh, and one last thought before I share what this episode could have been. At one point, the prisoner says, “We’re all grateful, but we’ve been in these restraints for three days.” 11:50 Three days. Wow. Here is what might be the biggest question of them all – when did they use the bathroom?? Like, they had these guys locked down tight! How does that even work?


Back in the 37th episode of the podcast, we watched Voyager One. Seven of Nine is left to maintain Voyager’s course, all alone, for a month. She does not do well during that time and that gave me an opportunity to kind of go off on the concept of solitary confinement and how it is cruel and inhumane. Well, this episode almost took another step back to look, not only at that horrible practice, but at how the criminal justice and correctional systems tend to work.


The ideas of fair trials, bias in law enforcement and sentencing, as well as trying to reduce recidivism, or repeated incarceration are well documented. What we know, at least in the United States, generally speaking, is that trials are heavily influenced by how much money can be thrown at the court, and the government generally has however much that takes. Bias in law enforcement and sentencing, while discussed, is still rampant. That’s not me saying all police and law enforcement are biased or racist; I’m not saying anything about the people…I’m talking about the processes and systems. And as far as recidivism goes, one of the strongest predictors of whether or not a person will be incarcerated or not, according to many sources, including the Prison Policy Initiative, is if they had been incarcerated in the past.


Now, that does not mean that people who have broken the law are more likely to break the law again. It means that a person that has been incarcerated is more likely to be arrested for breaking the law, found guilty, and being put in jail or prison. Please notice I did not say they actually broke the law. Just that they were much more likely to be arrested, convicted and incarcerated.


So what does that have to do with this episode? It starts right at the beginning when we see Archer and Trip locked up on the transport. They assume that they’ll get in front of a judge or a magistrate who will hear them out and they’ll be fine. They’re disabused of this real fast. “We’re all guilty as far as they’re concerned.” 4:50 The trial does nothing more check a box for whatever rights the people in this region have; they’re just a show.


From go, we have an awesome Star Trek concept to dive into. What does due process look like and why is it important? How do you maintain impartiality in judging crimes and sentencing people for them. But we don’t even touch on this concept again.


Throughout the episode it is clear that most of the prisoners would be willing to die instead of going back to Canamar. We get examples of the guards being jerks and generally having a good time hurting the prisoners. So, another Star Trek theme arises! The foundations of personal dignity even when that person is a prisoner! What a great topic to dive into.


Nope. Absolutely zero commentary on it and no come uppance of any kind for the guards.


The episode continues and we get some down time between Kuroda and Archer where we learn Kuroda’s back story. “Sounds like you started your career early. They couldn’t find anyone else to blame.” CUT UP 27:31 The theme keeps building! I mean, this is perfect! The Enolians essentially manufactured a criminal! Yes, Star Trek! Let’s do this! Let’s talk about a punitive vs restorative justice system and the impacts of that!


Or not…Nope. Nothing on this. Literally just the single, heartfelt moment between them, and then nothing else.


But here’s the thing. That’s not all! At the very end of the episode, Archer is furious. The Enolian Official is trying to make nice and be sure he can get is paperwork done and turned in, and Archer just rips into him. “As you are aware, we were falsely arrested which makes me wonder how many others don’t belong there.” 41:43 Yes!! Do it, Archer! Call these guys on their BS and do the Kirk thing! Go in there and get them all fixed up…wait…nope. Nothing there either. He drops the line, walks off and we get credits.


So disappointing. This could have been an incredible and important episode of Star Trek, but instead, we got budget Con Air. You know, actually, now that I think about it, this makes sense. In the first two seasons of this show, for some wild reason, they just called the show Enterprise. It wasn’t until the third season they added Star Trek to the title and that totally makes sense! This wasn’t a Star Trek episode at all! This was a prison transport escape show…in space.


<<Command Codes>>


I’m going to share something about me that might cost me a bunch of money, but, I love customer service. I love working with people that truly understand the dynamic between provider and customer. In fact, I love it so much, I will likely buy things I don’t even need if the service is great! But, the opposite is also true. I have walked into stores with some serious coin, ready to buy. But if I get blown off, ignored or, almost worse, given cursory, check-the-box kind of service, I’ll walk away.


I am so excited that this episode demonstrated some galaxy class customer service. I’m going to share what happened, why it was great and how you can do the same thing.


But before that, I’m going to bestow upon you and unlock an absolute superpower. I am going to share with you the secret weapon that will save you time and time again. I am going to share how to apologize.


Quarks - Ads


One quick, maybe kind of fun tip before we get into this. There are times, as leaders, we are not able to share the truth, or at least not the whole truth. That’s just part of the job, unfortunately. So, here’s the tip. If you have to not quite tell the truth, be sure some of the truth is in what you’re saying. “We’re new to this region.” 18:38 Archer wasn’t lying, he was just presenting the facts in a way that helped him achieve the goal of escaping.

So, just a tool for the toolbox. Hopefully one you rarely have to use, if ever. But it’s a great job by Archer to tell a defensible story and still get closer to what he needs.


Ok, to the good stuff! Who wants a superpower? Because I’ve got one for you. First, a little background on why this is such an important power. We do not live in Star Trek. I know, I know! It’s shocking to say, let alone hear, but we do not live in Star Trek. And that what means is we are all human, and as Alexander Pope said, to err is human. We are going to mess up. Probably a lot! And it’s when we mess up that the second part of his quote takes on real power. The full quote is from is Essay on Criticism from 1711 and goes, To err is human; to forgive, divine. Man, forgiveness is the best! But, more often than not, you will need this superpower to get that divine forgiveness.


Ok, enough backdrop, enough context. The superpower is apologizing. Let me play the quote for you that prompted this whole piece. “On behalf of the government, I apologize.” 41:24 This is at the very end of the episode when the Official is talking with Archer. So, first off, too little too late, and secondly, it’s totally insincere. He got ripped up by Archer not only because of the wrongful arrest and rough treatment, but because of this feeble attempt at an apology. I call apologizing a superpower, right? Well, if Spiderman slinging web is a superpower, the Official’s apology is the silly string on your wrist version of the power. Just a joke.


So what makes an apology rise to the level of a superpower? A very simple formula. There are 4 steps to this formula: Say you are sorry, or express remorse, for the specific thing that happened, admit and own responsibility, ask or describe how you will make it right and commit to not doing it again. And the most important part of the formula…mean it!!! If you don’t mean it, don’t even bother. An apology, even following these four steps, when you don’t mean it, is almost worse than the apology the Enolian Official gave.


Let’s reframe his apology, using the four steps, and see how much more effective it would have been. “Captain Archer, I’m sorry for your wrongful arrest and the way you were treated on the transport. This happened under my authority and I take full responsibility. I would like to offer repairs, supplies and R&R to you and your crew to make up for this. I am taking this to my leadership and will be advocating for sweeping changes to our systems.”


With an apology like that, Archer would have very little basis for his response. In fact, having been on the Official’s side in the past, I imagine you would watch the fury drain from his face and, he’d likely offer to help be an advocate for those changes.


But let’s break it down. Step one, say you are sorry. He did this by saying he was sorry, specifically for the wrongful arrest and mistreatment on the transport. Step two, admit and own responsibility, which he did by explaining his role and authority. Step three, describe how you will make it right. He did this by offering to make the ship and the people on Enterprise whole again by replenishing their resources. Step four, commit to not letting it happen again. Within this Official’s power he can’t change the system and can’t guarantee this won’t happen again, but, he describes what he will do, within his scope of control and authority, to help stop this from happening in the future.


Do you see the power in this? Can you see how apologizing in this way changes the game? A quick story. I used to manage a public program that a certain industry was required to go through for part of their certification. The prior leadership had added layers and layers of red-tape to the processes and had made it a long and painful process for businesses to go through. I was working to change that approach and provide a more lean and customer-focused process, but, in the meantime, we were killing businesses. So I worked with their representative association to go to some of their meetings, where these business owners met to talk about their industries and the challenges facing it. I walked in knowing I was the bad guy. I stood up in front of them and I could see the anger and vitriol on their faces. So I started off with this apology superpower. Hi, I’m Jeff Akin, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry for actively becoming a barrier to your business. Over the last few years we went out of our way to complicate these process, and I am sorry for that. I’m afraid I can’t do much to make up for what happened in the past, but, please, if there is anything I can do, please tell me. Here are the things we are doing, right now, to fix this, moving forward and to be sure this doesn’t happen to you again.


All four steps are there. Saying I am sorry for something specific, taking responsibility – even though it was a different leadership group; that’s insider baseball and irrelevant to them – asking what I can do to make it right and then explaining how it won’t happen again. I loved watching them deflate. You could physically see them shift from righteous anger to a real desire to help and an appreciation for the work the team was doing.


So, when I said superpower, I wasn’t kidding. No hyperbole here. A real, authentic apology, following this model changes everything for you and is extremely powerful. Please use judiciously and all the time!


As long as we’re talking about apologies, can we get someone to apologize for the nearly barren wasteland of customer service out there? I mean, I go into larger stores that used to be almost synonymous with customer service and now I feel like I’m putting them out, and inconveniencing them. It is so frustrating.


In the 69th episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy I talked about corporate values, ad how, more often than not, they are merely words on a page and not actually carried out in reality. In that episode, I cited a Notre Dame study that showed concern for the customer was the second most commonly stated corporate value, behind integrity in the top spot. So if this is such a common value, why do we so rarely see it now?


Well, instead of focusing on the negative, and listening to me complain about people that don’t want to take my money, let’s flip it, and talk about what awesome customer service looks like and how you too can implement it.


We see amazing customer service from the Enolian Official in this episode. When T’Pol first reaches out to him, he gives a very understandable, and realistic excuse for not helping them out. “We’re the busiest port in the system. We get thousands of ships every day.” 5:34 Like, that makes sense. We have so many ships and so many people working here. Sorry. Like, I get it. But after he understood what was going on, he went into customer service warp drive! We literally go from him giving her the canned response to him, on the ship, giving hands-on assistance. He literally flies, hours and hours with them, until the entire problem is resolved. Wow!!


Let’s do some comparisons. The traditional definition of customer service, according to the Wiktionary, is The act of providing services to customers before, during and after a purchase. No one bought anything from the Official, but he did provide services. So, check the box, that’s customer service.


But great customer service, according to an article written by Salesforce in 2019, is fast, personalized, connected and proactive. Did the official line up with this definition? Not really. I mean, it mostly was but it was far from proactive. See Archer’s response to his “apology” for more on that.


But, to be honest, while the Salesforce definition is good, there’s a different one I prefer. It’s much more general than either of these. It is simply, do whatever it takes to be sure the customer is happy. Period.


When your definition, and operationalization of customer service is to do whatever it takes to be sure the customer is happy, you end up with real, verified stories like these. One of the most popular stories, like I’m sure you’re going to know what I’m talking about right away. So this company moves into a new location. A customer, from the previous business, brings in a set of tires they bought and they want to return them. Without hesitation, the sales professional opened the till, handed the man his money and took the tires. Dude became a regular customer and the store nailed the ties to the wall in the back to remind the team what service looked like.


This same company has another incredible story. This one is near and dear to me because it happened at one of their Portland area stores. A man comes into the store looking for an Armani tuxedo for his daughter’s wedding. The sales pro takes his measurements and says they’ll see what they can find. Man leaves, maybe expecting to never hear back. But, the next day he gets a call and his suit is on the way! What he didn’t know, at least not right away, is that the sales pro called a colleague in New York who found and altered the suit, put it on a truck to Chicago where another co-worker met up with the truck at a rest stop so they could ship it direct to the customer’s house. Pretty cool right? Well, to make it even more cool, this company doesn’t even sell Armani suits! They bought one from another company, made the needed alterations and had it in the customer’s hands in next to no time. And as far as he knew, this was all handled in-house. It wasn’t about showing off how hard they worked and how outside the box they thought. It was only about making the customer happy.


If you haven’t already guessed, these are stories from Nordstrom stores. Nordstrom has not only set the bar for customer service, but they’ve become the description of it! People and companies advertise themselves as the Nordstrom of whatever industry. The Nordstrom of fast food! The Nordstrom of cloud computing. The Nordstrom of propane and propane accessories.


The Enolian Official must have either worked at Nordstrom or read the book, The Nordstrom Way. “We’re still several hours away but have patrol ships in the area.” 17:11 He is actively problem solving with the Enterprise crew. This isn’t just their problem, he’s made it his problem. In this scene, they pick up a quick distress signal and know where they are. The Official could just let them rush off and hope they don’t lose track of them. Instead, he reallocates his resources to help them out. Yes, he has an interest in it too, but he is there, helping his customers.


I’ve known quite a few people that worked at Nordstrom as sales professionals. To a person, they are wildly successful in their current roles and each one of them will at least partially credit Nordstrom’s culture and approach to customers for their success.


How do they do this, though? And how you do it? Let me ask you this. When you hire someone, new, to your organization, do you plop them in front of some onboarding video or hand them a manual or handbook full of rules and policies? I am almost positive you do. Nordstrom gives each of their new team members a handbook as well. It’s a 5½-inch by 7½-inch card that says the company’s number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service, and for this they have only one rule, on one side, and on the other side it says, Use good judgment in all situations. That is it. Nothing more! The entire handbook tells them the only two things they need to know to be successful: prioritize the customer and use good judgement in all situations. My friends, this is empowerment.


If anyone on your team has ever said this line to a customer, you are not actually empowering them. ‘I’m sorry, that’s against our policy.’ Like, literally the microsecond that a policy is referenced, you have lost the war. You have disappointed your customer and you have taken all agency and decision-making away from your team member.


But, as I’ve said before, empowerment doesn’t mean do whatever you want. Empowerment without accountability is anarchy. People at Nordstrom are held highly accountable. They do not hesitate to part ways with someone that fails to use good judgement. High expectations, high accountability and high outcomes.


At this moment, the company Nordstrom is struggling, like most, to adapt the ever-changing post-COVID response environment. They have failed to provide leadership, at the Board level to strategically lead them through these times. But the only change in stores, other than a growing reliance on online sales, are tighter accountabilities for sales professionals handling returns. I am fascinated to see how this all plays out. Nordstrom has made the concept of the inverted org chart a reality, where promotions are considered moving down the org chart. Line and support workers are the top of it. This structure, and the ability to stick to it, could be the company’s saving grace.


But, unless you’re on the Board for Nordstrom, and if you are, please reach out to me…I have thoughts and questions, but unless that’s you, the struggles they are currently experiencing aren’t that relevant. What is relevant is their drive to always make a customer happy. Every. Single. Time. No matter what. I was so impressed with the Enolian Official doing this. I will be even more impressed when you do the same! In fact, let’s use the microphone on the website again! Go to and click the little microphone button on the right of the screen. This will let you record a voicemail that goes directly to me. I want to hear your customer service win! When did your team provide Nordstrom level service to someone? Share it there, and I may include it in a future episode! I’m excited to hear your stories!


<<Hailing Frequencies>>


Will you do me a favor? Wherever you are listening right now, your phone, a webpage, your tablet, wherever, will you click that Share button, it’s usually on the top or bottom right of the screen, and share this podcast with someone you know? That would mean the world to me.


I’d also love to connect with you! I’m on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and you can follow me on most all the social media, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Tucker was a jerk, a k i n.


Computer, what are we going to watch next time….


The 9th episode of the 6th season of The Next Generation, the Quality of Life. This is the exocomp episode! If you have watched Lower Decks, I feel like this one is going to hit a little differently. Spoiler alert, we meet an exocomp that joins starfleet in that series. But in this one, we’re going to consider what life looks like and how we need to work to protect all life. This is a standout episode in a standout season of The Next Generation and I can’t wait to dive into it with you.


Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!