Friday, September 07, 2007

How one employee is changing the perception of an entire airline

Every individual in a company acts as a representative for that company when they are dealing with the public. It can be a huge burden to carry the weight of a mega corporation on one’s shoulders, especially if the company does not train, support, or otherwise acknowledge the fact.

Think about the last time you got bad customer service. You likely blamed the bad interaction not on the individual but on the company. Countless other factors are at work, from economic conditions to the kind of day the employee is having, but you rightly point the finger at the group that should be mitigating all of the circumstances and making you the most important problem the company has to deal with.

Can one United Airlines employee make the difference in how a plane load of people perceive that airline? Ask Captain Denny Flanagan, the subject of a front page article in the Aug 28 WSJ.

Captain Flanagan goes above and beyond to make the flight experience a good one. On his plane, the buck stops with him. He understands the customers are hungry for just a little bit of old fashioned customer service. They don’t want the red carpet rolled out for them. They don’t need complimentary slippers or warm cookies. They just want to be treated as human beings rather than cattle.

Here’s a rundown of Captain Flanagan’s special features:
• Takes pictures with his cell phone of pets in the cargo area so he can show
the owners that the animals are on board
• Raffles 10% off discount coupons and unopened wine bottles while in flight
• Thanks first class and elite passengers with personal notes
• If the flight is diverted or delayed, he buys hamburgers from an airport
McDonald’s for all the passengers
• Personally calls parents of unaccompanied minors with reassuring updates

United apparently supports Captain Flanagan’s actions, saying that he does a great job for the customers, but why not go farther than this? Why not empower all captains, all employees, to have these kinds of interactions? Are they afraid the system will break down?

Make the experience one of quality, and you will create economic stability. Make your customers feel like they are number one, that their problems are bigger than your problems. Because their problems are your problems, whether you like it or not.

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