I fly a lot. So I encounter many of the good folks who keep our airplanes and airports remarkably efficient, given the number of flights, people, and bags that run through a major airport on any given day. Since I’ve moved to Sugar Land, Texas, I now wind up on more Southwest Airlines flights in a year than I would have typically when I was based in Georgia, where Delta dominates. As loyal as I have been to Delta over the years, I truly love flying Southwest. They have never put on airs and pretended they have an upscale flying experience. They safely get you from here to there, and in the process, generally have a lot of fun with their passengers.
Whether it’s the goofy message on the intercom, or their whimsical vibe (they used to offer peanuts that said “FRILLS” on the package, and would go down the aisles throwing peanuts like a ballpark vendor saying, “Who says we have no Frills?”), dressing up (for Halloween), or dressing down (I really liked the casual shorts and polos in the summertime), regardless of the time of the year or the stress of traveling, the Southwest crew is there, always professional and always fun.
Except on this particular Friday. I was flying from Oklahoma City back to the Houston Hobby airport. There was crazy bad weather in the Houston area that evening, so we were delayed about two hours in boarding, and once boarded, had another hour wait while on the plane. All of the Southwest crew was handling this with typical aplomb, except for one flight attendant manning the front part of the cabin. I have no idea if she was the lead on this flight, but based on the interactions with the other attendants, I think she might have been. I spoke with her several times–basic stuff, simple travel questions–and she was just surly in her response. It was evident she was annoyed I was asking her a question. Even her on-air announcement was terse, chiding passengers for non-compliance with instructions instead of the gentle ribbing typical of Southwest announcements in a similar situation. Even my row mates agreed she was “off” today.
Here’s the thing: this was one Southwest employee out of 6 or 7 I interacted with that day. And she was the only one that was “off.” If I compare her attitude to what I encounter on a regular basis from other airlines, it was really not that bad. But because Southwest continually produces such a great experience for me, and creating those great experiences is a part of their corporate culture (and advertising), it’s all the more evident when missing. I am certainly not leaving Southwest over this one incident, but I am writing a blog post about it because it stood out as so abnormal from my typical experience with Southwest.
Does your business have a customer-facing component that creates a compelling user experience? If so, what are you doing to make sure that you are consistently creating that experience over and over, regardless of what may be happening in the lives of the people who provide it? You must not leave this up to chance; constantly train and retrain to emphasize the importance of maintaining that great customer experience. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that creating a mediocre experience will ameliorate this issue–your customers will be gone for good. Come to think of it, if you drive all your customers away, you will not have to worry about the customer experience at all. Don’t go there … identify flaws in your experience delivery and fix them.
Also published on Medium.