If you are a regular reader, you know I fly a lot and it’s been a great place to experience customer service in real life. This story is one of the most amazing customer service lessons yet!

By Steve Moran

If you are a regular reader, you know I fly a lot and writing about flying is kind of passe (simply because of the volume of flying customer service stories). However, it also is a great place to experience customer service in real life; which is, unfortunately, more often bad than good. But once in a while, I experience something amazing and that is what this story is about.

I am writing this on a two-leg Delta flight — from Tucson to Los Angeles, then from Los Angeles to Sacramento. It is a tale of two flight attendants, almost identical planes, and identical flight duration. Yet, they were two completely different experiences. One sucked, while the other was amazing.

The First One Sucked

I was about the third person on the plane with a nice upgrade to first class. I got the straight-out-of-the-manual, generic welcome from the flight attendant when I stepped on the plane and it disappeared when I asked if I could put my roller bag — which contains thousands of dollars worth of video and audio recording equipment — in the closet. Keep in mind that this is something I do every time I fly in a small commuter plane and the answer is always yes.

The flight attendant “allowed” me to put it there; yet, it was clear that she felt it a big imposition. It was in reality, of course, no big deal — the space was there — so I put my own bag in the closet and lifted it out an hour later when I deplaned at LAX.

Along the way, at every interaction with her, I remained polite and friendly with lots of “thank you’s”. In fact, I worked like a mad man to give her a tiny bit of delight and to get some kind of positive response. She was 100% sold on being professional, to just doing her job . . . resulting in only the bare minimum of human connection with me and every other passenger, so it was not particularly personal.

I could not even get a “your welcome.”

If asked to fill out a customer service post-action report, I would respond that she did her job. Technically she did nothing that would have been called substandard . . . except that all she did was “her job” and not a single extra bit more, which is why she was annoyed when I asked to put my bag in the closet.  

Because she was just doing her job — which was really “just barely doing her job” — it made the flight unpleasant. In fairness, it was not my worst ever flight attendant experience, but simply un-fun.

The Second Was Amazing

Two hours later I was back at the same gate, now wondering if it would be the same plane and same flight crew. While I didn’t care whether or not it was the same plane, admittedly I was hoping for a different flight crew. I was again in an upgraded seat and I was greeted by a new flight attendant named Carla, who had a huge welcoming grin on her face. The whole interaction process during boarding was passionately fun — which included easy banter, laughter, sarcasm, storytelling and sharing simple bits of our lives.

It was amazing, one of the best flight attendant experiences I have ever had.

What’s the Lesson?

I see 3 lessons that apply to senior living:

  1. Once I got over feeling insulted (a completely dumb, emotional reaction), I felt sorry for the first flight attendant. She was missing out on an opportunity to have a joyous experience at work. All she did was earn a paycheck, and — if I am honest — make her employer look not so good.

  1. Carla likely missed how much she made a difference in my life, just by including joy in her interactions. In watching her, she had a powerful, positive impact on her other passengers as well. I suspect she has no real idea about how much she changes lives.

  1. From a management/leadership perspective, it seems that the quality of these kinds of interactions with Delta team members is completely random. If they have great team members like Carla, the passengers have a great experience. If they happen to encounter another “minimum effort” flight attendant, not so much. Delta is missing an opportunity here. They should be leading with and setting up the kind of culture where “minimum effort” behavior is not okay and Carla’s behavior is celebrated!

What is sad is that I believe they (Delta) likely does not even have a mechanism for figuring this out. This is dangerous because if I only had “bare minimum” experiences, I would not care what airline I flew.

On the contrary, if I had only “Carla” experiences, I would pay twice as much to have that every time (well not sure about twice as much, but close). We can . . . and I would argue . . . we MUST be working toward creating Carla experiences for each interaction with our team members. This will, in turn, create Carla experiences for our residents and their families.

There is a 4th lesson that is worth noting and that is that I have no idea what is going on in “bare minimum” flight attendant’s life. Her brother might have just gotten arrested, or her mother was diagnosed with cancer, or her car was repossessed. It may be that what I experienced with her was not her norm and allowances do need to be made for how life gets in the way of us doing our very best. This happens to all of us from time to time.

Yet, for all of that, we need to be figuring out how to bring out the Carla’s in all our team members! If we have “bare minimum” team members — and that is their persistent state — we need to teach them how to be different or make them go away.  

Our residents deserve better and our sector deserves better!