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Always ON

Being ON for your customers

After speaking at a recent trade show, this writer flew Southwest Airlines from Las Vegas to Tampa with a stopover in Nashville. The flight from Las Vegas to Nashville was the type of flight I enjoyed and had expected to experience from Southwest; flight attendants and crew members engaging in conversations with passengers. They were telling jokes, tossing bags of peanuts to passengers, singing, and other various forms of engaging the passengers.

They were quite proud of their additional efforts. At the end of the flight, this announcement was made, "Thanks for flying our airline. If you had a good time, this was Southwest flight #157. If you did not have a good time, this was Delta flight #1."

In Nashville, all but five passengers got off. Oddly enough, we all sat in the same area. There was a discussion among us about our flights as the Nashville to Tampa flight was quite different from the first one. The pilot, the same on both flights, was "matter of fact" with his comments in the one time he spoke to the passengers on the second flight. The flight attendants while also the same as the first flight, gave the type of service that is usually experienced on planes. They served the customary drinks and snacks, but something was missing.

Passengers were not given the individual attention that we had experienced in the first flight. The flight attendants did not give passengers a sincere look in the eye or smile at them. The fun was gone, and now the Southwest flight attendants were performing the job in the same manner that other airlines do.

Our seating group of five commented to each other about the differences in the two flights. One passenger commented, "They are acting like the Delta crew they were just making fun of."

Even as we got off the plane, we watched the flight attendants and crew stand in the usual place in the front of the plane with the traditional meaningless and lack of conviction comments of "thank you" and "good night".

You could easily count the number of passengers ahead of you as they were leaving the plane, and determine if you were to be the recipient of the "thank you" or "good night". As a couple of us would be among the last to get off the plane, we decided to inquire as to why the difference in the two flights.

The response by the Southwest flight attendant, while lengthy and filled with a combination of explanations, could be summarized by the last sentence she gave. "Hey, we can't always be on."

Of course, anyone can have an off day; a headache, a cold, a problem at home with the kids, or dealing with personal finances. Almost everyone has the occasion where they have gone to work with less than an ideal personal situation.

However, when it comes to interacting with customers, co- workers, management, or even the delivery person from UPS, being "on" is not an option.

If you are truly a professional at what you do (sales, installation, service, office support, warehouse or delivery personnel) then your job requires you to be "on" when you perform your duties.

This writer remembers from his days of store ownership when a radio announcer was emceeing a contest in our shop. The announcer, after having performed part of his duties, began to complain about the microphone, the speakers used, the acoustics of the building, and the lack of time to warm up his voice. His remark was, "I am a professional. I have to have things just so when I work".

Tiring of a complainer, my response was, "Gee. I thought being a professional meant you could do your job in any circumstances." I remember that was the last of our discussion for the day.

On the other hand, how many times have you worked with someone who always has a smile on their face? The person who always has a kind word for their co-workers and at least two kind words for each customer. These are the staff members that customers ask for by name.

The pleasant disposition is not something that can be taught. More simply it is a situation that can be pointed out to a new staff person as they observe a co-worker who is enjoying their work or their interaction with the customer.

Imagine the occasion as you and the new staff person observe and discuss the techniques and skills shown. After several of these efforts, you should expect that the new staff person would be able to handle their duties.

Of course, there are just some people who are not suited to work in situations where they are to interact with customers.

This writer remembers speaking to a group in South Carolina last year about this issue. Visiting with one of the attendees some six months later, she said that as I spoke she knew exactly the person in her business that I was talking about.

While her business rarely had a customer issue a complaint, she said she was surprised if the complaint was about anyone other than this one staff member. She went on to say that she had a restless night thinking about the situation.  And when she went to work the next day, the first thing she did was to terminate that employee.

Hearing that story, I gasped and asked what happened next. Her response was, "That was the best thing I ever did for my business. And I felt a lot better afterwards."

Not recommending this as a cure all for any business, there are two other points that need to be made. The first is that the person who is not "ON", is indirectly working to cause all of their co-workers to not be "ON". It is like algae in a pool. It spreads, and it spreads rapidly. Like the algae, it does not just go away on its own; it has to be solved.

The second point is that a management person that is "ON" can do more to get the rest of the staff in the "ON" position than the lowest ranking staff person can do to get their "ON" position to filter up through the business.

Undoubtedly, you know the advantages of you and your staff being "ON". The disadvantages of not being "ON"? Most likely your customers will tell others about their experience. Much like this writer told of his experience of a Southwest Airline staff that decided to "not be ON".

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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