Published on: April 18, 2017by Michael Sansolo
United Airlines reminded us all last week that there are no private mistakes anymore. Everyone is always armed with a camera and the ability to broadcast widely. A colossal blunder - like dragging a passenger off an airplane - doesn’t stay quiet for even five seconds.
But the truth is, those kinds of mistakes are rare, which is why they get so much attention. The normal course of business mostly goes on without any notice beyond grouchy comments on Yelp. Yet those more normal situations present endless opportunities for small acts that can reward good customer behavior and cement relationships.
And that’s something we need to rethink.
Permit me a personal example. Early last week, before United became THE story, Delta airlines was having a lousy week. Weather problems in Atlanta give Delta the equivalent of back pain for the rest of us. Suddenly nothing works right.
As luck would have it, I was flying Delta and my flight was delayed by nearly three hours because the plane was delayed from Atlanta. The ground crew could only do so much, but they tried; putting out snacks by the boarding gate was one way to at least show some sign of apology.
Then they screwed up. When we finally starting board, the ground crew told us that 35 people would need to check their carry-on bags “voluntarily” in order for everything to fit on the plane. It’s a request I’ve heard before and because I wasn’t in a great rush I decided to volunteer.
That’s something that won’t happen again.
First, once the plane was ready to go, it was apparent than the overhead baggage compartments weren’t completely full. So the credibility of the request for volunteers was a little overstated and I felt fooled.
Second, Delta had countless small ways to thank all of us who volunteered, which in the process would have incentivized future cooperation. They could have given us a coupon for a drink or a discount on a meal, neither costing the airline very much. At the minimum, they could have marked our bags as “priority” so they would have appeared at baggage claim in the first wave. That gesture would have cost nothing.
Instead I cursed myself as my bag came off in the very last group at my destination. My lesson was learned; my good deed was punished. Next time I won’t volunteer and who knows, I may post a video of my bag being dragged off a flight!
Many years ago a Middle Eastern diplomat decried the lack of progress toward peace by saying his counterparts “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” That’s a mistake in business as well.
Often we are presented small opportunities to make a difference and in the process turn ambivalent customers into fans or supportive customers into advocates. Such moments often don't cost more than a little bit of focus.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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