Becoming Family

As my eyes scan down the outbound flights looking for my gate on the airport monitor, the word “delayed” sticks out like a flashing red light amongst all the other flights which say “on time.” My flight from San Diego to Seattle is delayed two hours. Oh well… This is how I keep my gold card status at Starbucks.

Returning to the gate 90 minutes later to check on the progress, I can sense the frustration from the crowd and correctly assume more delays may be in my immediate future. I innocently ask a man leaning on his roller bag, “What’s the latest word?”

“Well, they said one more hour but I’ve been hearing that for the last 24 hours since yesterday in Cancun. Next time, I’ll fly anyone other than Alaska Airlines.”

Turns out the plane has had a defogger issue which has delayed about 70 passengers trying to get home from Mexico since yesterday. The broken part has now been replaced and is “drying” and we are awaiting clearance to fly. The delayed passengers are tired, frustrated, and cranky. The counter agent is not helping matters with her exasperated “Don’t blame me… I didn’t cause this mess… What do you want me to do about it?” attitude.

Eventually, we do get clearance and, as luck would have it, I’m seated right next to the same man I spoke with earlier and his wife. Also on the plane are about 40 young servicemen destined for an advanced training assignment in Washington.

When we’re finally on the plane, it now becomes the daunting task of the flight attendants and pilots to manage and appease this group of disgruntled passengers and boisterous servicemen. As the man beside me grumbles loudly, making sarcastic remarks to his wife, I thought to myself, “Good luck.”

However, what I witnessed next was nothing short of a customer service miracle… a true study in positive client relations.

The pilot quickly spoke to us, apologizing, thanking us for our amazing patience, and assuring us he would do everything in his power to make up as much time on our return flight as possible. He also acknowledged the contribution of the servicemen on board which got everyone clapping… and slightly distracted. After takeoff, the flight attendants were generous and hyper-attentive, handing out blankets, pillows, headphones, and free drinks and snacks, chatting conversationally, patting shoulders, smiling, soothing. As the three-hour flight unfolded and the pilot announced he had, in fact, made up some time, the mood began to lighten and the flight team began to cautiously use some humor. As we got ready to descend for our landing, the pilot said, “Folks, here are the 7 words you’ve been waiting soooo long to hear: Flight attendants, prepare the cabin for landing!” A loud cheer erupted! Once again he honored the patience of the delayed passengers as well as the sacrifice of the men in uniform and wished them wisdom, safety, and a speedy return to their loved ones.

The flight attendants, as they walked down the aisle checking for seat belts and tray tables, looked each person squarely in the eye, personally apologizing and sincerely thanking them. They had given enough free drinks and TLC to the grumpy man beside me to completely win him over. By the time we landed, he was laughing and joking with one of the flight attendants who I think had made him her very own pet project.

As we finally touched down and began to taxi to our gate, we heard the flight attendant’s voice over the loudspeaker, “Well folks, we’ve been on a long, long, long journey together and we want you to know that in spite of some negative circumstances, we really, truly (and I mean this sincerely) had a great time today connecting and serving all of you. We all pulled together, became a family of sorts, and we hope, as in all good families, you’ll be willing to forgive our shortcomings and give us another chance in the future to show you just how much we really do care about you and your business.”

To this, there were loud cheers and a rousing round of applause… even from my tipsy seatmate.

This team of committed professionals had transformed this tough crowd and taken the fire right out of the dragon’s mouth. They were transparent, sincere, generous, connected, and intentional. It was amazing to watch.

Remember, in any business, mistakes happen. You won’t get it right all the time but if you can keep your cool, remain humble and patient and, most of all, intentional in your objective to serve… you can transform even the gruffest client or the toughest crowd.

And free drinks and snacks never hurt.

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This week we are recycling a favorite MMS.  Our new subscribers will enjoy
Katherine’s story and the lessons she took  from the experience.  And to all of our
MMS readers who have been loyal subscribers from the beginning… you’ll remember
why we love seeing the world of business and life through the eyes of The Lioness.

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“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect.
They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.”

~ Donald Porter, VP British Airways

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