In William Herman's post Good Customer Service is Sooooo Easy, he tells the story of how one United Airlines captain's attitude and direction elevated the level of customer service and ultimately delighted his passengers (and crew, too). All in the face of relative adversity, complete with (as the author describes) stinking lavatories and poor maintenance.
"What he did to make this happen - at least the stuff I witnessed - was simple, cost virtually nothing and took little time. While the passengers were waiting in the boarding area to get on the plane, the captain took the microphone (uh, oh, I thought, this is gonna be bad) and gave us the complete low-down of the flight plan, the plane’s status, the crew and what was happening at both the departure and arrival airports. No bad news. No delays. It’s not like he had to be out there for bad news, he was essentially out there for no news - just for the customers. He told us that it might get a little bumpy over the Midwest and that they’d try to skirt the storms that were creating the turbulence.
"What made this different from the usual pre-flight blather was that he
1. covered a pretty complete list of the stuff a passenger would want to know,
2. showed empathy to those who might be concerned about turbulence and,
3. DID IT FACE-TO-FACE.
"Instead of being the anonymous voice in the the speaker, he took the time to explain this stuff standing among us. Simple, good, unique."
"Then, as we boarded the plane, the captain stood at the door and handed out his business card (which had a phone number and email address) to every passenger that boarded. I asked him if he should be spending his time doing his pre-flight checks and he told me they were already done. He said: “I just show up a few minutes earlier so that it doesn’t hold up the passengers.” I have to hire this guy."
A quick note on this: Good customer is not easy... it's hard. If it were easy, then everyone would do it, it would be commonplace. But the effort is not lost on repeat customers -- in fact, it can help your loyal customers overlook your small flaws.
"Let me get right to the punch line . . . good customer service is so easy because customers’ expectations are so low. It’s a relative thing. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it shouldn’t be that way, but it is and aggressive companies should be taking advantage of the fact that their customer’s have been beaten down by suppliers for so long that a simple recognition of the fact that they paid money is enough to make them happy. In a world with few initial differentiators and almost no sustainable differentiators, customer service can make all the difference in making sure you beat your competition, get repeat sales and have a customer base that is your best and biggest marketing department."
BTW, my two most memorable flights (besides the always incredible service on Singapore Airlines and ANA) were two that I took on United several years ago, when I apparently was a passenger on a plance with this same cut of captain at the controls (or at least, two of his kind). We were all greeted by the captain at boarding, I received a business card thanking me for flying United, and he shook hands and thanked each passenger as they left.
Another interesting observation from my flights: the captains were both over 50, and one a year from retirement age (as I spoke to him for several minutes during the flight, sitting in coach). You don't find that same level of service on many United flights today. Alaska Airlines and JetBlue flight crews also often thanks passegers upon departure and arrival, which is a nice touch, and one of the reasons I prefer to fly them regularly now.