Who will your customers mimic?

Reading I flew to San Francisco yesterday on United.  (Only one mechanical delay, so they are improving.) 

One of my pet peeves is when the flight attendant is doing her safety spiel….no one listens.  They keep talking, reading or whatever, but they are not listening. 

Do I think most of us need to hear the speech again?  No.  I just think it's incredibly rude.  (props to Mom and Dad for the manners lesson).

So…I always make a show of putting away whatever I am reading and pay rapt attention.  I always hope I am setting an example and others around me will follow suit.

Well, the guy I was sitting next to on this flight did not.  He calmly kept reading his magazine, completely ignoring the flight attendant.

Oh, did I mention he was a United employee in full uniform?

If your employees don't get it and don't care about setting a good example, your customers never will.  What rule/expectation do you need to reinforce with your employees next week?

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12 comments on “Who will your customers mimic?

  1. Zane says:

    Wow! It’s a perfect example of what happens when you systematically demoralize your employees to the point they don’t listen to each other, even when in a leadership role, in a public setting, on a life-saving routine.

  2. Cam Beck says:

    Man, can I relate — to absolutely repetitive and boring preflight safety spiels. I think our friends from Made to Stick provided some good insight in how airlines could present this better to attract attention from the passengers.

    Is it more impolite to quietly ignore the person who is blandly going over the same information you’ve seen a hundred times or to subject the audience to the same information in the same way you’ve seen it a hundred times?

    Here’s my favorite preflight speech of all time:
    http://www.snopes.com/rumors/pilot.htm

  3. Cody Webb says:

    Personally I don’t think they, including the attendant giving the speech, expect, nor care, if you are listening. For the most part people could stand up there and give the speech themselves. It’s the law to give instructions on safety, but if you already know then I don’t think you need to give heed to anybody that comes along demanding your attention.

  4. Lewis Green says:

    Drew,

    I just returned from a business trip to Toronto. I occasionally made eye contact but didn’t listen. However, I do make sure to create a mental note of the exits and to remember that my seat cushion is also my flotation device.

    By the way, if there is anyone on the plane who does not know how to use a seat belt, God help us. Cam is exactly right. Treating customers like idiots is more insulting than ignoring the flight attendant forced to demean us.

    On the other hand, good manners are important and I get your message.

  5. Zane,

    That’s sort of what I thought too. I get that most of us have heard the speech a million times. But if the company/airlines feels it is important enough to repeat at every flight…then the employees need to understand and believe in its importance too.

    We can’t expect our customers to “follow the rules” if the employees don’t.

    Drew

  6. Cam,

    I’m not sure who wins the “more impolite” award for this incident.

    But what I am sure of is that the employee’s behavior did absolutely nothing to reinforce in the consumer’s mind, the importance of that information.

    And honestly, even if the airlines were more clever (an oxymoron I know) those of us who fly a lot would still grow weary. And there is someone on that flight who actually needs to hear some of that information.

    My point is…employees need to be let in on the secret and trained as to how to behave when they are in front of the public. Because they send messages with every action or inaction.

    Drew

  7. Cody,

    I’m not sure I agree. Whether I need to listen to it for the millionth time or not…someone on the plane probably is flying for their first time. And short of the seatbelt instructions, it may be new information.

    When someone behind you is talking, you can’t hear. So I think it’s just not that big of a deal for all of us to be quiet for 3 minutes.

    But…none of that is the point of my post. My point is…how your employees behave when they are in front of the customer is very telling to the customer. So you’d better have training etc. in place.

    Drew

  8. Lewis,

    This is a great lesson for me in post writing. Somehow, my intended message got lost because of the example I chose. (Hey, a great idea for a new post!)

    My point was…how the employee behaved when he was in front of customers further diminished the importance of the safety message. If our employees do not understand our values and rituals and why they are important…they can sabotage them with their behavior and comments.

    I’ll try again with a different example in a couple days! 🙂

    Drew

  9. Amanda Acton says:

    Drew—
    I think this is a perfect example of how important branding is for the front line employee, and how hard it is for that employee to “get” what we do. Obviously this employee didn’t understand that when he puts on the United hat, he is a trademark for the airline.

    I work at a local nonprofit and give a schpeel every month to new employees about how important their actions are in building our brand. (I once told my husband about this speech and he replied, “Oh, you’re THAT person!”) I try to emphasize that a brand is more about personal experience than any logo or brochure I can create. I use examples such as Enron or Wal-Mart to drive home this point—how many commercials do you think Wal-Mart puts out that says that, although they’re cheaper than the competition, they’re also dirtier, more crowded and less fair to their workers (all responses I’ve got from employees)?

  10. Amanda,

    Especially in the beginning, someone has to be the brand evangelist. You have to infuse the importance of branding and the definition of branding (it is not about a logo) throughout the entire organization.

    Otherwise, employees — as you suggest, won’t get it. So when they are asked to do something, they won’t put enough importance on the outcome to be consistent and deliver the customer experience you are trying to craft.

    Good for you for being THAT person!

    Drew

  11. Susan says:

    Canadian carrier West Jet takes a different approach to communicating with their onboard customers. They make their communications engaging and fun while still getting across the meat and importance of the message.

    I’ve flown West Jet several times and the safety speech is often preceded by a joke, or some light kidding between the onboard staff. Some of the banter might be scripted (I’ve heard the one about dimming the cabin lights to improve the appearance of the onboard staff a couple of times now) but is still engaging and not interruptive like the more officious, monotone spiels served up on other carriers.

    Corny? Maybe. And although I’ve noticed alot of the laughter is polite, pretty much everyone listens to the safety speech.

    Like all messaging in this day of constant interruption – if you want my attention, earn it.

    Maybe United (and other carriers) should take a page from West Jet’s play book.

  12. Susan,

    It does sound like the major carriers could and should learn from West Jet. Your description reminds me of SouthWest and their playful attitude.

    Personality — any personality, beats the monotone of delivering a message that you’ve delivered a million times. If the employees don’t care about it, the passengers will not care either.

    Drew

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