A lesson from the aviation industry for plumbing contractors

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By Jim Hinshaw

I recently had a flight to Philly and met an airline attendant that could change the face of flying. Now, I realize that some of you may wonder, what does a flight attendant have to do with my business in the plumbing industry. But I had an encounter with a flight attendant on a US Airways flight that was stunning and the lesson applies to all of us as well.

My son, Mike and I were flying out of Denver on a direct flight to Philadelphia with carry-on bags only. I travel all the time so I have a good idea of what will and will not fit in the overhead bins. My bag always fits unless it’s a small commuter jet. However, this was a brand new Airbus 321. And I mean so brand new it still had the new plane smell to it just like when you buy a brand new car. Mike and I sat in seats 12C and 12D, across from each other and right where we wanted to be with both having aisle seats. For clothing I was wearing my travel uniform and an Under Armor shirt to keep warm. As we walked in, and attendant named Jeff challenged me about my baggage. He said, rather loudly and firmly, “Hay, Under Armor, put that carry on down!”, as if in demand without request. I kindly protested and said, “I know it will fit, I’ve done this many times before”. Jeff asked, “What seat are you in?” And I responded, “12C.” He said, “I’ll put it up for you.” Now, it took me a minute to understand that comment since I would never have imagined that phrase coming out of the mouth of a flight attendant. So I said, “Great, that would be just great” and handed over my bag. He then asked me if I wanted my briefcase up there next to the carryon as well! I thought, wow, It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Jeff was a middle-aged guy, but looked to be in good shape. He turned to my son and said, “where ya sitting?” Mike told him, 12D, and once again Jeff said, “I’ll put those bags up for you.” So he was not simply doing a mercy bag lift for an old guy like me, he did it for everyone, young or old. In fact, as the rest of the passengers came down the aisle, he lifted each bag up. About 200 bags or so in all. I had a chance to chat with Jeff later on because it was a 4 hour flight, and found out some things. He lives in Phoenix, and enjoys working out but isn’t able to make it to the gym like he used to. So now he works out in a way by lifting bags on each flight instead. That equates to lifting about 30 pounds approximately 200 times each flight and about 3 flights per day. That could be as much as lifting 18,000 lbs. per day. Now I am aware that lifting bags on a plane is not the same as a 150 lb barbell, but it’s still quite an exercise.

I told Jeff that if word got out, he would ruin it for flight attendants all over the world. He laughed and said not much chance because no one knows him. I told him I would do all I could to change that because he made such a positive impression on Mike and I.

So you may think this is a one in a thousand flight experiences and will never happen again, right? Mike and I flew back on United and had another encounter that was just as amazing. We got on and sat in the back of the plane this time in row 22. When the food cart came by during the flight, Mike ordered an item and I said, “I’ll pick it up.” The flight attendant responded, “Nope. It’s on me!” Another WOW moment in an already marvelous trip. And It gets even better. About 2.5 hours into our 4 hour flight, Mike and I went to the rear of the plane to use the facilities. A couple of passengers and the two flight attendants were standing there chowing down on more of the food, etc. Now when Mike and I travel, we always like to chat with the attendants to find out where they’re from and when they’re going home etc. A woman in an exercise suit asked what we wanted to eat or drink. We thought she was a flight attendant off duty or something and perhaps heading back home. Not so as she was just another passenger. The flight attendants asked us what we wanted. We replied with what we wanted and I went to pull my credit card out when they both said, “It’s on us! No charge!” Those are generous and inspirational words to hear when you are on the road. We stood back there and talked with them for about an hour. It really was a memorable trip for us. After a while, a 2 year old boy came running back being chased by his dad. We ended up playing with the boy for 10 minutes while his dad had a chocolate bar. And you guessed it, he got one for free!

Is there an application for our industry? I believe so. Let every employee know that they are in charge of customer relations for your company. They’re basically your ambassadors in a way. Anyone who has any interaction with customers are part of the sales team and contribute to the perception of the company. IT takes just one person to make someone feel good or bad about a company. After getting home, my wife asked how the trip went? I told her it was unbelievable. She asked me to clarify since unbelievable can go either way. I said it was unbelievably good. Both US Airways and United are high on my list of companies I want to do business with simply because of the actions of a few employees.

So while it may be just another install to the installation, they must make it special for every customer And I want to be clear about something. I’m not saying you have to give away your products and services, but you do have to connect with the customer and connection with them emotionally and positively. That is how business is done today. As an example, I had a horrible flight out of New York a few years ago on a small commuter jet heading back home. Except we never made it home. We ended up with a mechanical problem and landed in Philly I think. However, they would not let us off the plane as we sat there for 3 hours. Then when they did let us off, we had to go into the boarding area only and could not leave because we were going right back out. It was a horrible experience. We got back on the plane where it took 6 long hours to go the rest of the way as we at on the runway for another 2 hours. Guess which airline? The same one we flew last month. So I had made a mental decision not to fly them ever again. I can count on one hand the number of trips I have taken with them in the last 5 years actually. However, this one employee, Jeff, changed my mind completely. He made me realize that one person can make a difference both good and bad.

You see, it’s not about giving away your products and services, it’s always the extras that are so unexpected that people remember. Everyone “expects” good service from everyone today. It’s the small things, even a free soda or candy bar. The airlines weren’t in the business of selling food or free baggage lifts but in air travel sales. But it was the generosity in the baggage lifts and small food items that made the difference. Is it not worth it to give a way a soda or candy bar sometimes when passengers are spending a few hundred dollars for a flight sometimes? The cost is peanuts compared to the reward of more passengers. This same principal applies to contractors and your business as well.

One employee can connect with the consumer, and they will feel good about your company because of what that one person does. So let your employees know how valuable they are in the process of keeping customers. Because they are.

Thanks, for listening, we’ll talk later.

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