Impact Learning Systems


Show that You Value Your Customer! Seth Brickner

Sev­eral years ago I was on a flight to Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, seated next to a preg­nant woman and her hus­band.  The woman was around five or six months into her preg­nancy, and notice­ably quiet.

When the flight atten­dant asked if we wanted some­thing to drink, the hus­band ordered for his wife: "Can you just bring some ice for my wife to chew on?  She has a bit of an upset stom­ach."  The flight atten­dant returned shortly with a cup of ice, a cool com­press for the woman's head and some gen­uine con­cern.  "Honey, do you want some soda water to set­tle your stom­ach?  When was the last time you ate?"

Again the hus­band answered for his wife; "She didn't really eat her din­ner last night and she didn't feel like break­fast today, but really, she's fine with just the ice."

I was curi­ous as to why the hus­band did all the talk­ing, until I finally over­heard the woman speak­ing to her hus­band and imme­di­ately under­stood her ret­i­cence: she had a ter­ri­ble, almost debil­i­tat­ing stut­ter and wanted to avoid draw­ing atten­tion to her­self at all costs.

The flight atten­dant, how­ever, would not be deterred. "Tell you what; let me bring you some oxy­gen to suck on.  We have a lit­tle portable tank, it will make you feel much bet­ter and it's com­pletely safe for the baby." The expec­tant mother wanted noth­ing to do with this of course, as it would only draw more atten­tion to her.  She emphat­i­cally sig­naled she did not want the oxygen.

"Lis­ten, woman-to-woman and mother-to-mother, this isn't about you.  This is some­thing you should do for the child."  When this still didn't con­vince her, the flight atten­dant told me and the hus­band to get out of our seats. He and I stood there, in the aisle, while the flight atten­dant sat down next to the preg­nant woman and qui­etly spoke to her for 5 — 10 min­utes, ulti­mately con­vinc­ing her to use the oxy­gen.  It helped; just as the flight atten­dant had pre­dicted, she appeared to feel notice­ably bet­ter in around 30 minutes.

Before we landed the flight atten­dant returned and said qui­etly to her new friend "Lis­ten, I've called ahead for a wheel­chair to meet you at the gate when we arrive.  Feel free to use it if you like, or not," and then low­er­ing her voice and smil­ing, added "but I'll tell you what: it's the quick­est way to get through cus­toms, and I'd use it if I were you."

There are sev­eral rea­sons this expe­ri­ence stands out to me five-plus years after it happened:

  • We were not in First Class or even Busi­ness Class; we were just some reg­u­lar folks in the Econ­omy cabin. These peo­ple were not fre­quent fly­ers, so it was unlikely that this great exam­ple of cus­tomer ser­vice would result in more busi­ness for the airline.
  • The flight atten­dant did exactly what we sug­gest in our cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing classes, and that is to take a step back to under­stand not just what the per­son has requested, but what the cus­tomer needs.
  • This was more than an exam­ple of an air­line employee help­ing her cus­tomer. All the flight atten­dant had to do ful­fill that oblig­a­tion was to get the lady a cup of ice as orig­i­nally requested. This went beyond any­thing the flight atten­dant would have learned in her job train­ing; this was a per­son con­nect­ing with another per­son at a human level: expe­ri­enced mother to first-time mother.

As this expe­ri­ence points out, some­times the best way to show you value your cus­tomer is not to treat them like a cus­tomer, but first-and-foremost as a human being.  That's what this flight atten­dant did, and I have been a devoted cus­tomer of United Air­lines ever since.

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