Monday, 7 July 2014

When it Comes to Customer Service, Be a Leader By Shep Hyken

I was boarding a very early morning flight to Dallas.  One of the pilots of the plane, Gerald Higginbotham, was greeting every single person who walked on the plane.  He was so outgoing and engaging.  He welcomed everyone and built rapport with many of the passengers.

He would ask, “Where are you going?”  If they said anywhere other than Dallas, he would say, “Well we’re flying to Dallas, and as long as that is on your way, you’re on the right plane.”  Then he would laugh.

He had lots of little sayings that put smiles on everyone’s faces.  I was sitting in my seat and admiring this amazing display of enthusiastic interaction.  I’ve seen pilots engage with passengers before, but not at this level.

Then came the bad news.  Our flight was going to be delayed by at least a half hour due to weather.  That didn’t scare too many people.  But, a few minutes later we found out it would be at least an hour.  Typically when this kind of news is announced many of the passengers start to get restless.  They want to leave the plane, see a gate agent, call reservations or do just about anything, to feel like they are proactively doing something to avoid missing connections or being late to their destination.  I’m one of those passengers.

But, that day was different.  I was in a different mood and so were many of the passengers.  And it was all because of our pilot, Gerald Higginbotham.  His mood was contagious.  And that is what brings me to the point.

You may have heard the old expression: Enthusiasm is contagious.  Well here’s a new one: Customer service is contagious.  Actually it might be better to say that…

Friendly customer service is contagious.

There is no doubt that Gerald put us into a better mood.  His mood made accepting the bad news easier.  It wasn’t the airlines fault that there was bad weather.  And, by the way, there are many passengers that seem to think it’s the airlines fault when there is a delay due to weather.  But, I digress.  It just seemed that the outward friendliness of our pilot made everyone a little happier, more accepting and more tolerant.

And, guess what else?  The other captain and all of the flight attendants were in a better mood too, and as a result, they delivered an even higher level of customer service.

Here’s the lesson:  A friendly, outgoing, customer focused employee can raise the bar for everyone.  Gerald set a great example for the rest of the employees to follow, and they did.  In a sense, Gerald created the plane’s “culture.” Just like any other company might have a customer focused culture, it starts with leadership.

And, here is a reminder about leadership.  My friend and colleague Mark Sanborn says that you don’t need a title to be a leader.  And when it comes to customer service, anyone can step up and be a leader and role model. So, step up.  Set an example.  Others will follow.  It’s contagious!

Shep Hyken

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