Tag Archives: customer service

How customer service has made me a better person

Can I just be a customer and not critique?
This week I experienced a few service failures. One had to do with being overcharged on my credit card. Another had to do with delivery of a new refrigerator. And lastly, service received at the local grocery store. In the case of the overcharge, the total bill was $23, I tipped $5 for a total of $28. Apparently the server rang in a tip of $28 on a $23 bill for a total of $51. I noticed the error while reconciling my bank statement. I called the restaurant and was promised a call back from the manager I spoke with. When I did not hear back from the restaurant it made me nervous. So I paid a visit to the restaurant with my copy of the receipt. The manager was apologetic, assured me the issue would be fixed, and offered me a free meal. Two days later, a credit of $28 posted to my bank account. In the case of the refrigerator, the two delivery guys were behind the 8-ball. They had very little idea of how to deliver a refrigerator, didn’t know how to use the hand truck, almost damaged my door and new counter tops, had no tools with them to remove the packing crate, and spoke very little English. My bilingual FA friend who lives in LA was most helpful at such an early hour. I will need to follow up with the major department store around this service failure. I want to bring to their attention how this contract company is tarnishing their brand. Later that morning the local grocery store I visit, which normally provides great customer service, let me down. The cashier was having such a great, fun conversation with the guy bagging my grocery, that she barely noticed and interacted with me. I thanked the guy bagging my grocery and he didn’t even respond. They had more dialogue between themselves than I did. By end of the day I felt deflated, tired, and even more aware of customer service provided by others.
Providing customer service is a major part of my job. In addition, I facilitate classes on how to be more customer service-oriented. There are times when I say to myself, “Can I just be a customer and not critique?” It’s difficult to disconnect and just be a customer. For those who are in customer service roles, I’m sure you know what I mean. For people like us, we tend to give the person providing customer service the benefit of the doubt, tip 20% or more, hold doors open more often, look people in the eye when speaking to them, and say thank you when the other person says thank you first. “No, thank YOU.” As if we must get the last thank you in.
It has been said before that eyes are the window to the soul. The next time you’re interacting with someone look into their eyes. No, I mean really look. And let’s be clear, there’s a difference between looking, and staring. There’s a wealth of information that you can receive. It is in these moments between you and other person that you have a golden opportunity to connect on a level deeper than your role or your job. It is in these moments that you have the opportunity to connect on a level that lets the other person know that “you matter to me.”
At this stage of life I’m more aware than ever before of the customer service that is being given to me. At the same time I’m more aware of the service I provide others. Over the years I found that providing customer service has made me a better person. Or has being a better person made me give better customer service? Either way, it’s all good.
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Coldplay and Song Airlines?

When Coldplay was announced as the halftime act at Super Bowl 50 I was excited to see the show, hear the songs they’d play. As it turned out they were headliners and joined (some would say eclipsed) on stage by Beyonce and Bruno Mars. There was even the popular actress who mistook them for Maroon 5 and sent out a tweet about it. Oops. From the first time I heard Coldplay, I’ve always been a fan.

Many years ago I interviewed for a startup airline within-an-airline. Eventually that airline became known as Song. At the time of the interview it didn’t have a name (code named FreshAir). We were brought in and told to be ourselves; that this new venture was all about self expression.

It was during our initial training that we were shown the video below. It featured an amazing voiceover and a very cool song I had never heard before. I was totally drawn in. The song was Clocks by Coldplay. Ever since then whenever I hear this song I’m reminded of Song. During my years as a Star (that’s what we were known as; we were also referred to as Talent) I learned so much about myself, so much about customer service, so much about what it means to work in an environment that was inclusive, supportive. For 3 years I lived what going to work should be like. Song gave us all the opportunity to shine, to blossom.

Enjoy the video!

We were there!

Yesterday was April 15. Waxing poetic about Tax Day is not what this post is about. April 15, 2003 was the day Song Airlines took to the skies. Each April 15 it’s nice to remember the good ole days. Song was around for 3 years and had a huge impact on who we are today. Ahhhh…memories.

 

 

Collecting experiences never gets old

While waiting on my flight I bumped into a former colleague. During our chat he asked “And why would you do that?” and my response was “Because I can. I like to collect experiences.” And he wasn’t the only asking why I would fly roundtrip over the Atlantic ocean to spend 4 hours in another country. Now before your mind starts to wander, please know this was a legitimate journey. No shenanigans planned or expected.

As the youngest of 9 children I used to dream of doing things like this. Experiencing something like this helps me bring my existence full circle. As a kid growing up in rural Florida I used to dream of hopping on planes and flying around the world. Those dreams have come true and are still coming true. Why this trip? Well, let me tell you about the trip.

The 747, The Queen of The Skies, is rapidly approaching her last coronation. Many of the world’s airlines have retired or are retiring this majestic machine. What started as a dream for the Boeing designers ended up changing the world. The original “jumbo jet” made the world a smaller place.

Every now and then you can catch a 747 operating on a domestic route. Most 747s ply the Pacific or are freighters. As part of the summer schedule, Atlanta and Detroit receive daily 747 service to Amsterdam. With Spring Break winding down, and summer travel not here just yet, the loads look great for NRSA travel. Let’s go!

When flying NRSA you have to be strategic and most importantly flexible. Flying  to Detroit to take the daily 747 to Amsterdam was the better option because loads were extremely favorable. Hopped a flight to Detroit and had several hours to spend enjoying the airport. When boarding began I kindly requested from the gate agent seat 1K., if available. Wanted to be at the “pointy end” of the plane. Sitting in Row 1 puts you further forward than the pilots. I think most people would prefer to sit on the upper deck. However, I had sat on the upper deck of a 747 before from Tokyo to Detroit a  few years back and wanted to experience something new.

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Ship 6308 DTW – AMS

While sitting in my seat I took in the lines, the curves, and the essence of this magnificent flying machine. Thought about all the talented men and women who put her together. I wondered how may times she had flown around the world, who she had carried to far off destinations, what her last flight would be, where and when she would be retired. Spent the flight enjoying some tasty foods, drinking fine champagne, watching movies, looking out the window, and having brief conversations with the crew. The crew was very nice and took great care of me. While sitting there I couldn’t help but think this is exactly what I had imagined my life was going to be.

We arrived early in Amsterdam. Checking in for the return flight to Atlanta was quick and efficient. The Delta and KLM agents were most friendly and helpful. Now I had about 4 hours before I headed back to Atlanta. What to do? People watch of course. And buy some stroopwafels to bring back home.

The boarding process was a bit hectic as the nonstop 747 to Atlanta was very full. The company which handles security for my flight were efficient, thorough, and very friendly. There were the usual questions (“did anyone give you anything to carry?”), however, there was a difference in how they did their jobs.

Ship 6308 AMS - ATL

Ship 6308 AMS – ATL

I was pleased to receive a seat on the the flight in the “pointy end” of the plane on the main deck. Just before pushback the flight attendant was able to move me to an open window seat at 9K. For the next 8 hours and 49 mins I was again taking it all in. Had some terrific food and drink, watched a couple of movies, shared pics via twitter and instagram (thank goodness for inflight wifi), and had great conversations with the crew. Speaking of the crew, they were most excellent. They treated the whole cabin with kindness and respect. They were attentive, efficient and smiled a lot. I felt grateful to have such a wonderful crew on this special trip.  Some of the same thoughts I had on the DTW-AMS flight came to mind. In addition I started to think about experiences.

As I get older I have begun to collect less things and more experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I still have lots of airline stuff (writing this while sitting in 747 seats from NWA). However, things are things. They accumulate. They collect dust. We store many of these things and then rarely think about them. Experiences on the other hand are with us at all times, no matter where we are. The slightest thought, sound, or smell can trigger a memory that is as vivid as when it first occurred.

Also on this flight I’m transported back to the little kid who dreamed of getting away, seeing the world, experiencing new things. As Annie Lenox sang, “Sweet dreams are made of this.”

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Sylvester

airlineguys™ Community builders. Aviation enthusiasts. Experience in airline operation/leadership/PR/. Former cabin crew. Discerners of excellent customer service.

I saw myself…

Even though I gave up flying 7 years ago, I thought I saw myself working the flight the other night. No, I wasn’t hallucinating. However, the young male flight attendant working the cabin reminded me so much of myself that I had to do a double take. It was like being in a parallel universe.

As I boarded and got settled in my seat, he breezed by and said “Hi Sly!” For a moment I thought “How does he know me?” He looked slightly familiar yet I couldn’t recall his name or how we had met. As boarding progressed I noticed that he was engaging, smiling, and proactively assisting customers with their carry-on bags as they settled in. He seemed to really enjoy himself. Even during the live safety demo he was having fun. During the beverage service he made chit-chat with customers he interacted with. When he was within earshot I heard him say to the passengers he served, “my pleasure.” It was pure, genuine, and heartfelt. When he got to me I received the same level of customer service delivered to those before me.

Upon arrival, I made it a point to wait until all passengers had deplaned to speak with the flight attendant who had truly caused me to take notice of his customer service skills. As I approached he said “Hey Sly! You taught my Service From the Heart class.” That was the missing clue I was looking for. I went on to tell him that I enjoyed the flight and that I had noticed his ability to deliver great customer service. I gave him specifics: his smile, approachability, eye contact, his genuine use of the phrase, “my pleasure.” He thanked me and said, “this means a lot coming from you”. He told me that he had never considered being a flight attendant until I spoke of my time as a flight attendant during a class I was facilitating and he was attending. He said he was happy he became a flight attendant and enjoys his job. I was moved, flattered, and felt grateful to have been on this flight. I was also moved in that I had touched someone’s life in such a positive way.

I hope his career as a flight attendant shapes up to be everything he wants it to be. May his level of professionalism and passion for the job inspire someone else to raise the bar on delivering excellent customer service.

Once a Virgin always a Virgin

While standing out on the south parking decks at ATL yesterday, I realized it was one of “those” moments. We were awaiting the arrival of the first Virgin Atlantic Airways jet to arrive at ATL. Not only was this the first Virgin aircraft to arrive at ATL, it was a Boeing 787-9! As reported from the official site for this special flight this will be the “first ever gig streamed mid-air from Virgin Atlantic’s new connected 787.” The flight featured performances by 2 of the UK’s hottest acts: Gorgon City and Rudimental. We have to say the SoundCloud performances (the London Mix was phenomenal) had us dancing, albeit from home. We weren’t lucky enough to be one of the lucky passengers on board. From the sound of things fun was had during the excursion from London to Atlanta!

The Virgin brand has always been about what’s “in”, fun, hip, cool, chic, even edgy. Whether it’s marketing, advertisements, activations, the on board experience, or uniforms, they pay attention to every detail. Throughout the travel ribbon you know you’re traveling on Virgin. There’s a sense of excitement, journey, and adventure. Sir Richard Branson is the brand. He is all of the above and has done a bang up job making sure the brand remains intact. As Delta now owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic, it is our hope that the little airline that has stood up to the likes of British Airways and has carved out a niche, is able to retain its brand and not succumb to any pressures to be more mainstream.

Pic courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

Pic courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

This is not the first time Delta has canoodled with a Virgin. Back in the mid-90s Delta and Virgin Atlantic placed their airline codes on certain flights between London (both LGW and LHR) and several US cities (LAX, SFO, JFK, EWR, BOS, MCO). Back then Delta took the code-share arrangement one step further than placing their code on Virgin Atlantic flights: Delta actually had its flight attendants on board these code-share flights. I was lucky enough to have this experience and spent 2 weeks in Crawley, just outside of London, at the Virgin training facility. We spent a good bit of the time learning the emergency procedures required as a Virgin flight attendant. I even learned what a “torch” and a “loud hailer” were. Training was intense. We had to learn all about the different types of 747s. The 747-400’s were easier as they were standard. The “Classics”, the 747-200’s complete with spiral staircases, were all slightly different. One, G-VMIA (India Alpha), had 2 lower galleys. Highlights of the training included learning how to deliver Virgin-style service on board. They were meticulous in how to serve Virgin customers. I can clearly remember the instructor saying: “When delivering a beverage to a customer, place the drip mat (napkin) down logo facing up, facing the customer. Richard (Branson) doesn’t print these for the customer not to see the Virgin logo.” Wow! Simple concept. It’s all about the details.

My friend CLiff and me at the Virgin training facility in Crawley.

My friend CLiff and me at the Virgin training facility in Crawley.

I even had the opportunity to meet Richard at his home in Oxford during one of the summer parties given for employees of the Virgin brand empire. We were standing near the front door of his home when he just popped out! I was taken with his unassuming and down-to-earth nature. We spoke with him for a few minutes letting him know we were Delta FAs flying the code-share flights. He thanked us for our work and then went into the crowd of hundreds who were in attendance. It was very surreal. It was one of “those” moments.

Seeing the Virgin 787 land at ATL brought back many memories of my Virgin experiences. Many companies could learn a lot from Virgin on how to deliver a better experience for its customers. Looking forward to seeing their aircraft regularly grace the skies of Atlanta soon. Thanks for the memories Virgin!

#flightdecks pic courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

#flightdecks pic courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

Sylvester

 

6 Reasons Why United Should Re-introduce The “Tulip”

United Airlines B747-400, pic courtesy Aero Icarus via wikimedia commons

United Airlines B747-400, pic courtesy Aero Icarus via wikimedia commons

For the past few weeks I’ve had United Airlines on my mind. I’ve actually had United on my mind for quite some time now. I’ve worked for different airlines, airline brands, and codeshare partners over a 25 year (and counting) period. To say that I have a passion for aviation would be an understatement. My aviation career crossed paths with United back in the mid ‘80s when I worked as a part-time customer service representative at PBI. These were the heydays of United – the purchase of Pan Am’s Pacific Division, the only airline flying to all 50 US States, and in the late 80s a stock price valued at over $250. This was also a time of great turmoil at United which included a 29-day pilot strike. Overall, United was on cloud nine, and still flying the friendly skies. So, you can see why I’ve had United on my mind and why I have a soft place in my heart for the “tulip”. Recently I visited Chicago, and while at ORD, I couldn’t help but wax poetic as I walked around. While there I only saw 2 “tulips”, both on regional jets.

With the merger of United and Continental (a “merger of equals”) in 2010, the “tulip” began to disappear and was replaced by the Continental “globe”, albeit the name UNITED was chosen to adorn the aircraft. This “Frankenstein” branding was met with swift disapproval from many in the world of branding/marketing and vehemently discussed by many in the avgeek world.

Some would argue that the name United was mud in the aviation industry and that Continental was the “better” of the two airlines, so the newly merged company should have been named Continental. In the end, United understood that their name still held clout in the world and decided to keep the name.

So, here are 6 Reasons Why The “Tulip” should make a triumphant return:

1. Heritage – The “tulip” was introduced in the early 70s by graphic designer and Academy Awarding winning filmmaker Saul Bass. The “tulip” is a combination of the “U” in United and the shield logo which United had used since the 1930s. For many the “tulip” IS United.

The "tulip"

The “tulip”

If shown the “U” I do believe most people (avgeeks for sure) would be able to identify it as United. If shown the globe I believe a greater number of people would say “Continental” than would say “United”. In addition, United has done a not-so-complete, or quick, job of replacing the “tulip” with the globe. You can still catch glimpses on regional aircraft and some marketing materials. In contrast, when Delta merged with Northwest in 2008, the goal was “out with the old, in with the new”. Delta sent out teams of people to identify, remove, and standardize all elements of the brand. As a result Delta’s brand image quickly became consistent across their route system including marketing and promotional items.

2. Something for employees to connect with – If I were to show you this image what would be your initial thoughts?

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Image by “Almaden” at aviation-designs.net

If the slogan for this company were “We Love To Fly And It Shows” would you find it confusing? Not quite hitting the mark? Mismatched? More importantly, if you were an employee of said company, how would you feel? Would you be able to connect?

As a former employee of an airline that saw a few mergers, and a facilitator of customer service, I truly believe if employees do not believe in the message of the company, it is difficult to delivery any promise of great customer service. For any company to deliver consistent, thoughtful, and extraordinary customer service, the people delivering the service must believe the message. If the message is disjointed, confusing, doesn’t add up, this is exactly what will be delivered to the customer. United’s employee need something to rally behind. A message of “merger of equals” and “Frankenstein branding” keeps employees in their “silos”. sUA (subsidiary United) and sCO (subsidiary Continental) employees still have “their airline”. It’s something for them to hold on to. Some may hold on so long that they never move towards working together. This in turn will play out in the customer service that is delivered day in and day out. Contrast this with American Airlines. Approximately 1 month prior to the merger with USAirways in 2013, American decided to change its livery and chose a new look, feel, and livery. Part of me thinks this was by design – new livery, new leadership, new direction, and the upcoming merger with USAirways. Doug Parker (the incoming leader of the merged companies) said of the new livery “maybe we need to do something slightly different than that …The only reason this is an issue now is because they just did it right in the middle, which kind of makes it confusing, so that gives us an opportunity, actually, to decide if we are going to do something different because we have so many airplanes to paint”. Ultimately the employees decided on what the tail of the aircraft would look like (classic AA or “party tail”). By choosing a new livery for the combined company, silos are in effect removed and as a group EVERYONE can move forward in a new direction. It can be difficult letting go of the past. Time will tell how this course of action will play out.

It is my opinion, that having one unified brand will go a long way in helping United employees reconnect with their company.

3. Retro is in – If you haven’t noticed, what’s old is new again. The popularity of retro liveries is a great way of embracing the past. USAirways has done the best job in the industry embracing the family of airlines that are its heritage. And Doug Parker of American has publicly stated that the retro jets will remain in the new American fleet; even introducing a TWA livery in the future. Tapping into nostalgia has a way of unifying groups of people who have a common goal. Seeing the “tulip” evokes in me a time when United was on top of the world. For some, the “tulip” evokes the opposite feeling. As mentioned in the opening, the name United was decided upon as the name of the combined company. If the name United was indeed so bad/so toxic/detrimental, the powers that be would not have moved to keep the name in place. So, to keep the name and not the element associated with the name is confusing from a branding perspective. If seeing the “tulip” evokes such a negative feeling amongst some people, updating or stylizing the “tulip” to be more modern would have been a viable option. If you keep the name, keep the visuals as well.

I recently read that United with keep the retro Continental livery on their B737-900. This is awesome and a step in the right direction.

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4. Mismatched branding doesn’t work – After the merger between United and Continental was announced there were plenty of articles written and many discussions on social media on how ineffective this type of branding can be. I can honestly say that whenever I see a United aircraft now, I don’t think United, I think Continental. I know I’m not the only one with this sentiment. When seeing the current United aircraft there’s a sense that something is “just not right” about it. It misses the mark. United article #1, United article #2, United article #3.

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Now many of you may think “the traveling public really doesn’t care what’s on the outside of the aircraft” and with that I would agree. Again, it goes back to the people, the employees who deliver the customer service around the message of the company. If there’s a disconnect with how employees feel, there will be a disconnect with how they deliver the service. CE Woolman, the founder of Delta Air Lines is quoted as saying “An employee’s devotion to his or her company, dedication to the job and consideration for the customer determine a company’s reputation.” So, if the employees don’t feel quite right about the message, how can they deliver the customer service needed to take the company to the next level?

For employees, losing “your” airline brand or identity is a tough thing. As a former airline person with over 25 years in the industry, I know this feeling all too well. Back in 2006 when Song Airlines was folded back into Delta, it was extremely difficult. Especially difficult because we had proven that the little airline with 48 Boeing 757s could make a huge difference in the passenger experience. Many lessons were learned and carried back to Delta. Many of the lessons, work rules, on-board amenities, and service delivery procedures make up the new Delta. With this I’ve learned that things change (especially in aviation), that lessons are learned, that if you open your eyes wide enough you will see the fruits of your labor. This holds true for any of the mergers that have taken place. There’s always something that’s brought into the new company. If you slow down for a moment, take a good look, you’ll see elements of “your” airline even it it doesn’t physically exist anymore.

5. Rhapsody in Blue – Ahhh, that iconic 1924 musical masterpiece from George Gershwin. United first used this music in its advertising in the mid 80s. The following commercial is believed to be the first incorporating this music (click here). And then there are all of the whimsical artsy commercials which utilized the music as well. I’m sure you’d agree, each time you hear this piece you immediately think of United. Imagine my delight when in 2013 United reintroduced this timeless classic to its commercials. The piece is galvanizing, soaring, aspirational in its tone. As I mentioned I was in Chicago recently and went through the Tunnel connecting terminals at ORD. There is something magical about the all that neon, the colors, the moving sidewalk, and Rhapsody in Blue playing in the background. Rhapsody in Blue IS United.

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Tunnel at ORD

6. Fly the Friendly skies – United resurrected “Fly the Friendly Skies” campaign in September of 2013. Long a favourite of employees and the traveling public, the return of this slogan came about as United begin to focus more on the passenger experience in its advertising and marketing. “‘Flyer-friendly’ resonated in feedback from our customers and co-workers,” Tom O’Toole, United’s senior vice president of marketing and loyalty and president of MileagePlus is quoted as saying. Most of United’s current marketing, including TV commercials, now uses the “flyer friendly” tagline.

On twitter and Facebook you will see the AirlineGuys using the hashtag #longlivethetulip.  We use it to remind United and our followers of the legacy that is UNITED; not to forget or to bury those elements which brought you to this place and time.

Let’s think about this for a moment. Currently at United we have the UNITED name, Rhapsody in Blue, and Fly the Friendly Skies tagline. It seems as though all the elements are falling into place for a triumphant return of the “tulip”.

#longlivethetulip

Sylvester