A week or so ago, I wrote a post about a book I read titled Do The Right Thing . It was written by a former CEO of Southwest Airlines , James Parker, and told how they came to be known for excellent customer service . It's a great book and I'll be building a staff meeting around it.
I realized something Thursday night. You can't be confident that "the right thing" will always be done unless you start with the right stuff. I was scheduled to fly to Colorado for a seminar after work Thursday on Delta. When I got to the airport everything was listed as on time so I wasn't concerned about making my connection in Atlanta. We got on the plane and pushed away from the gate and the captain came on and said that there would be a delay because the weather was bad in Atlanta, so we'd just stay there and wait for the go ahead. I continued to read a magazine and still wasn't concerned.
After a while, the man in front of me asked the stewardess if she thought he'd get to Atlanta in time to make his connection. She replied, "How do I know? I'm not in Atlanta." When he looked irritated she pulled out her cell phone and looked up his flight and told him it said on time, "But that doesn't mean anything." Now I was starting to worry that I'd miss my connection, and if I did, there was no sense in leaving Asheville at all. A woman behind me asked if she had any idea how long the wait would be and she again gave the answer that she had no idea. Again she pulled out the cell phone and looked up her connection and told her it was on time. Well, at this point if all our connections were on time, we would all miss them. The woman asked her if we would be given hotel rooms and she said, "No, you'll have to pay for rooms yourself, weather is an act of God."Funny how people want to take "In God we Trust" off the dollar bill, but when they want to use Him to get out of paying for something His name rolls right out. If He can't be in other public places, He shouldn't get blamed for missed connections.
Well, now I was realizing that I wouldn't make my plane, I wouldn't be able to go to the seminar at all, and there was no sense in my flying to Atlanta only to pay for a hotel so that I could turn around and fly back to Asheville in the morning. I asked the stewardess if I would be able to de-plane since there was no sense in going on. She said, "They are not going to inconvenience all these other passengers just to let you off the plane." I said, "Well, maybe it would be more convenient for a lot of them to get off, since so many will miss their connections." She ignored that. I then asked if I would get a refund or voucher. She said, "I'm not Delta, I have no idea." Are you kidding me? I'll bet if Delta issued a statement saying that anyone who was Delta would get a $100 bill, this woman would be Delta.
Finally, over 2 hours after we'd boarded, they pulled back into the gate and let us off. The captain was very courteous and apologized for the inconvenience. I went to the desk and the Delta agent there was kind and said that although he couldn't give me a refund or voucher for the full trip amount he had a number I could call. I called that number and was given a voucher for the full amount without any penalties. He was courteous and also apologized for the inconvenience.
So, if you were the CEO of Delta, who would you want representing you? Of course you'd want the captain and ticket agent. Delta probably trains their employees and assumes, or at least hopes they are courteous and polite. But, they have an employee who tells customers that she is not Delta, and she pisses them off. I found myself wondering if a Southwest stewardess would have given me the same response. And that's the thing right there. You never want one of your employees to make a customer, or patient, wish they were dealing with someone else. No matter how great everything else is, that one thing will hurt you. That one response will hurt you. That one careless, uncaring employee will hurt you.
To get the right stuff you have to hire carefully, train thoroughly, monitor relentlessly, and respond effusively to the great stuff your team does. You have to stay engaged and in the loop. You can't assume everything is ok. You have to keep your finger on the pulse of your practice and make sure everyone knows you do. You have to be the right stuff, too.