Flying from point A to point BS on any airline

February 5, 2012
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Note well: I am grateful to all airlines and the services they offer me. This column is not written in anger, nor is there any malice intended. It’s just a factual observation from a very frequent customer — and a hope that the airlines can do the obvious.

On the airplane this morning, I’m watching the forced media as the plane prepares to take off. The CEO of the airline comes on a video telling me how much he appreciates my business, how much he wishes he could greet me personally, and how great the service is. Blah, blah, blah.

Meanwhile, people are waiting an hour to check in and pay baggage fees (except on Southwest). They’re waiting another 30 minutes to go through security. Then they’re being warned against carrying too much on the plane, herded in like cattle, given poor to medium service, and offered inedible food and undrinkable coffee. And to top it off, on this three-hour flight, there is no Wi-Fi on the plane.

I wonder if the CEO has ever flown on his own airline?

If you make the mistake and call the airline to book your $1,000 flight, you’re on hold for 10 to 30 minutes listening to insipid messages about how great they are, and then you’re quoted random fees based on the day you fly and return, and the fullness of the plane. Should you decide to change your ticket, another 150 bucks, please.

If the airline sends you an e-mail, there is never a way to respond directly and never a phone number for the person sending it. Rude.

Reality check: Can you imagine you or one of your people sending an e-mail message to a customer who spends $250,000 a year with you with no way to contact you?

Draw your own conclusions about the sincerity of the airlines’ message.

And they win the J.D. Powers award for customer satisfaction. Hello! What’s the category: least crappy?

Loyalty or “forced loyalty”? I have airline reward miles. Lots of them. Does that make me loyal, or am I forced to be loyal based on the city I live in and available flights? Airlines have no idea what loyalty is, much less how to earn it.

I got a request last Christmas — er, I mean last holiday season — asking me to donate my air miles to their charity. Huh? Why are you asking me to give up the one thing I feel is a benefit of doing business with you. Dude, you print the miles — you donate them.

Here are my fantasy airline requests and responses:

  • We surveyed 5,000 flying business people and 5,000 flying vacationers and are implementing 100 of their recommendations.

  • We’re raising all ticket costs by $50 so bags can fly free. This will both shorten lines and speed up boarding. We will be offering other services included in this fee.

  • We’re installing Wi-Fi on every plane and it’s free.

  • We’re now serving edible food and drinkable coffee.

  • Every employee will be taking Jeffrey Gitomer’s YES! Attitude course.

  • Every employee will learn and love to execute basic manners. The words “all set” will be replaced with the words “Thanks for your business.” And all employees will look all customers in the eye when they talk to them.

  • All e-mail communications will have a direct response capability.

  • There will be full disclosure about why planes are delayed.

  • We pledge to be friendly. (I don’t want to “fly the friendly skies.” I want the people in the sky to be friendly. That’s the commercial I’m looking for.)

And none of these requires a major shift in or cost of doing business. In fact, all of these will improve loyalty of customers and employees.

OK, now that you’re nodding in agreement with me, let’s look at the situation at your business:

  • How friendly are your people?

  • What’s the attitude (morale) like in your place?

  • How much have you invested in training them on their attitude?

  • How fast do you serve customers?

  • How fast do you answer the phone?

  • How accessible are your executives?

  • How many frivolous fees do you have?

  • What services are you not offering that your customers want?

It’s easy to see the flaws in others. It’s much more challenging and difficult to see them in yourself.

Epilog: I don’t fight the airlines anymore. I just look at what they do and shake my head. A few months ago, I was especially frustrated at the rudeness to an elderly customer, and I decided to tweet rather than say anything. Rather than tell one fool my feelings, why not get my feelings to 200 million people through social media? 

Here’s the tweet I sent: If you’re looking to succeed in business, follow the airlines. Whatever they do, do the opposite. #gitomer #airlines

Jeffrey Gitomer’s website, www.gitomer.com, has more information about training and seminars, or e-mail him at salesman@gitomer.com

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