Last year, client projects took me to Orlando eight different times. Thinking back on those many miles of travel and the many bell caps, flight attendants, ticket agents, pilots, hotel staff and cab drivers I encountered, only one person planted herself firmly in my memory. She's American Airlines Flight Attendant, Linda Farrington, and she's impossible to forget.
Something Special in the Air
On a late afternoon American flight from Orlando to Houston, I upgraded to First Class. Upon boarding, I was immediately greeted by a smiling flight attendant who welcomed me aboard, introduced herself as Linda, ask me my name and said she would be pleased to serve me. She took my 'before takeoff' beverage order and when she returned with it moments later, my seatmate had arrived. Linda went through the same regimen with him --- but, this time, upon learning his name, she said, "Frank, this is Jill, Jill this is Frank." Frank and I immediately said our hellos and that often-awkward period of 'who speaks first' was magically resolved. Being an avid student of customer care techniques, I knew, from these first encounters, that Linda was that rare breed of service provider I call UVB (unanticipated value builder). And was I ever right!
Soon after take-off, I visited the first-class lavatory and found that Linda had transformed it into something resembling a five-star facility. The vanity was decorated with a floral arrangement and a colorful cloth display hiding a cassette player, which sent classical music (Vivaldi, no less) flowing softly from compact speakers. Scented potpourri and sprayed fragrances freshened the air.
It wasn't long before the lavatory decorations were a conversation piece that had the cabin not only talking to Linda, but also with each other. Passengers just loved it and one man joked, "I'll just have my wine in there."
Throughout the flight, it seemed just about every service Linda delivered had an 'extra' attached. For example, when she brought out hot towels before the meal, they were piled high on a tray topped by a volcano-like head of steam that made the whole process extra fun! (She did this by using dry ice from the catering cart.)
Never did Linda, a 12 year airline veteran, approach any of us in the cabin without addressing us by name. Some would say that's not so impressive assuming she's serving passengers four at a time and can go back to the galley, and look at the seating chart before she approaches the next four passengers. Maybe so. But consider this: Linda concluded her flight service by standing at the door, and as all of her 20 first class passengers deplaned, she addressed us each by name and thanked us for flying American. ( I could be with a group for a week and probably not do that well!)
Thankfully, I'm not the first passenger to notice this super service. "I have been traveling all over the world for 25 years, raved one of Linda's fans in a letter to American "and I've never experienced a more pleasing flight." According to another pleased traveler, this supercharged-flight attendant "should be set aside as a model of what in-flight service should be."
"Linda consistently receives far and away more customer letters than any of my other 185 flight attendants" reports American flight manager, Liz Reda. "From playing a tape of spirited Irish music for St. Patrick's Day to John Phillip Sousa marches for July 4th, she just stands out by being willing to go the extra mile." Reda explains that many flight attendants prefer working coach, because the passengers are often less demanding. Not Linda. According to Reda, Linda always requests the First Class cabin assignment with particular preference for the large 20 passenger first class cabins on the Super 80 jets.
Value Delivery is the Key to Loyalty
Companies around the world today are struggling to build substantial levels of customer loyalty. The key to loyalty building is to provide value, as defined by the customer. Linda is a value builder of the highest order. Here's why.
Basic value: Some the most ground-breaking work on customer value has come from a Japanese quality expert and university professor, Dr. Noriaki Kano. From extensive research, Dr. Kano concluded that customers experience value at three different dimensions: basic, expected and unanticipated. Basic value are those aspects of product and service delivery that are fundamental, in the customer's mind, to the service or product they're buying. In the airline industry, airline passengers consider an air-conditioned cabin, an operational lavatory and a plane that is safe to fly as basic value factors. While passengers will not give an airline "points" on the loyalty scoreboard for successfully providing these things, just listen to the comments when the air-conditioning in a cabin malfunctions on a hot summer day and you'll find just how quickly these same passengers take points away! Basic value can rob you of loyalty but will never earn you loyalty.
Expected Value: The next level of value is expected value. These are the things that customers are accustomed to receiving from the market leaders. For example, from the airline passenger point of view, expected value would include on-time flight arrival, in-flights drink and meal service, complimentary in-flight magazines, courteous and helpful flight attendants, and frequent travel programs. Because airlines will typically match each other on expected services, no substantial loyal advantage is gained from providing expected value. Airlines must provide expected value to remain competitive, but no loyalty home runs are made in the process.
In today's hyper-competitive marketplace, it's nearly impossible to gain a substantive, sustainable loyalty advantage by simply providing basic and expected value. Unanticipated value is also required.
Unanticipated value: Linda Farrington is a real example of someone providing unanticipated value. She goes beyond the norm. She delights you. She surprises you. She pampers you. She's a classic UVB. In fact, when you talk to Linda about her own service standards, you discover that her 'unanticipated value' style of service has already become "basic and expected" in her mind. She's constantly on the lookout for additional ways she can bring extra value and fun. It's just her style. "This is my job and these customers deserve the best I can give them," says Linda.
And as for this road warrior, I'm in hopes that all of us in business, including American Airlines, will find ways to nurture and grow more "Linda Farringtons" in our ranks. But in the meantime, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'm in Linda's cabin again real soon!
Jill Griffin’s groundbreaking book, Customer Loyalty: How To Earn It, How To Keep It (Jossey-Bass 1997, Second Edition 2002), gained business best seller status in the late 90’s. She was among the first to point out that even customers who are satisfied will readily switch suppliers for greater convenience or lower costs and that companies must do more that merely satisfy customers – they must engender loyalty. In her early career, Ms. Griffin served as senior brand manager for RJR/Nabisco’s largest brand and distinguished herself as one of the youngest brand managers in the corporation’s history. From RJR/Nabisco, Ms. Griffin joined AmeriSuites Hotels where, as national director of sales and marketing, she was responsible for the chain’s nationwide launch. Today, Ms. Griffin is principal of the Griffin Group, Inc. in Austin Texas, specializing in customer loyalty training, research and consulting. Clients include Dell Computer, Wells Fargo, Cendant Hotel Group, Hewlett Packard, Sprint, Raytheon Aircraft, Ford and the U.S. Navy. Visit http://www.loyaltysolutions.com/ for additional information.
Many more articles in Customer Service in The CEO Refresher Archives