Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Other Side of the Coin

Last Friday, I recounted what it is like to travel as deadhead crew between bases in preparation for my weekend trip to Berlin. I'm afraid that I didn't paint a very rosy picture of my working colleagues on that flight, customer service-wise. I reported what I saw (indifference) and summed it up by asking, "Who sets the tone, the customers or the crew?"

Well, I flipped the DH coin for my trip back home to Houston from Newark today and was lucky enough to score the opposite "customer" experience. A last-minute equipment substitution and "re-crew" landed my partner Philip and me on a soon-to-be retired Boeing 767-200 (the smallest of our wide bodies) crewed by 6 six-month seniority flight attendants. This crew was the polar opposite of indifferent or detached. They were smiling and anxiety-RELIEVING during boarding; present in the cabin, willing to assist with bags or other issues, graciousness exuded from each of them I saw...it wasn't just one. The flight attendants that I encountered during those first crucial moments of interaction (what we refer to as Phase 1) were fully-engaged with who they were and what they were here to do. In retrospect, I remember distinct positive customer encounters involving 4 of the crew during boarding, alone.

To provide proper perspective, I was just an average passenger (albeit in uniform) in an average economy seat (25K aisle, no extra legroom) on an average mid-afternoon flight from Newark to Houston. So how does one reconcile the vast dissimilarity between my flight Friday Houston/Newark and the one today Newark/Houston? Again, I want to see this situation from the perspective of the paying customer.

In my own adventures in consumerism, I have realistic expectations about the service experience. I don't believe that anyone truly expects "over the top service" from any business on every service occasion. The very expectation of such a thing would likely render attaining it impossible. The Disney Corporation is often credited with the "wow" approach to customer service: deliver something more than the customer/guest expects. But it seems our society is run by the "Marketing Department" and we have been numbed into skepticism by those who over promise and under deliver. It seems to me that the Disney approach is just common sense and the opposite of the "marketing department" approach: under promise and over deliver. But as a baseline and above all else, CONSISTENTLY provide the product or service as promised. CONSISTENTLY!

Which brings me to the troubling aspect of today's flight: I feel as though the "tone pendulum" has traveled full swing from last Friday's flight to today's. While the service and "tone" of today's flight experience were faultless (and not egregiously "over the top" which can be off-putting), they illustrate only too clearly to me, the customer/observer, that we are consistent only in our inconsistency.

Consistent inconsistency.

Isolating a problem is usually the first step toward solving it. But any thought of solution will have to wait for another day...it's been a long time since my 0700 wake-up call in Berlin (just now, it's 2300 Berlin time.)

Think I'll spend the rest of the flight dreaming that they'll all be like this one from now on!

"Sweet dreams" from the guy in 25K.

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