Gitomer: A humanizing airline experience
Friday, October 11, 2013 7:00 AM
As you may know, I’m a regular flier. About 200 flights a year. Mostly on major airlines, but because I’m more interested in flying nonstop than in getting travel miles or points, I take whatever airline is most convenient for my schedule.
This past Friday, I found myself flying Alaska Airlines from Atlanta to Portland, Ore.
There are only a few Alaska gates, and they’re hard to find, in the Delta-dominant Atlanta airport. FYI: Alaska is part of the same SkyTeam co-op airline alliance as Delta. That’s where the similarity ends.
The Alaska ticket agents were amazingly friendly. Actually smiling, laughing, engaging, helpful and friendly. I hope airline employees at your airport act that way.
NOTE WELL: Yes, there’s an occasional ticket agent or two who are friendly and helpful, and there are some friendly, helpful agents in Charlotte, N.C., that I’ve known for more than a decade. But these Alaska people were amazing.
I engaged them in a few minutes of lighthearted conversation and asked them what the hiring criterion was. That’s when the startling admission came, “We’re actually Delta employees who were hand-picked and retrained.”
Hand-picked and retrained. What does that tell you?
WAIT A MINUTE! Retrained? It’s the same computer system and the same baggage criteria. Just cross out “Delta” and substitute “Alaska” right? Right.
“We were trained to greet and treat customers in a different way,” said one of the agents. “You know – smile, chat, be friendly, thank customers as you look them in the eye, and not use certain unfriendly words and phrases like ‘policy’ and ‘all set.’”
Wow! There’s a concept.
Yes, I boarded the plane happily and on time. Yes, the flight attendants matched the ticket agent’s and the gate agent’s friendliness. In-flight service – all five hours of it – was excellent.
These flight attendants were gently professional, and friendly, not assertively demanding or almost rude when telling me and others to “turn off electronic devices.” I fell asleep between ordering and receiving food. Next thing I knew, a flight attendant was gently rubbing the side of my arm, and smiling as she helped me put my food in place. Classic.
Well, that would have been the end of the story had I not spent the weekend with a 10-year Alaska Airlines employee. I told him about my experience and he just smiled.
I asked him what makes Alaska different.
Here is his eye-opening response about the big things Alaska does better than other airlines:
• It starts before training. It’s all about whom they hire. It’s about finding the BEST people.
• No test at time of hiring. Interviews are human to human. They ask questions and go with gut feelings.
• They select people they believe will be hard workers. People they believe will go beyond what’s expected. “North” of what’s expected.
• They select people they believe have a natural inclination to take ownership. People who are caring and friendly.
• They don’t just train front-line employees; they train all employees. They have found that front-line people are buoyed by internal employees if attitudes are consistently positive throughout the company.
Alaska Airlines’ leadership and management is “by example,” not “by the book.” All employees feel valued and are happy to serve. And customers love it. It’s humanized and natural. It’s caring people serving traveling people in need.
What’s your culture? How consistent is attitude throughout your corporate environment?
How is that affecting your morale?
And more important, how is that affecting your customers?
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