While sitting a plane with a dysfunctional air conditioning system in the sweltering heat in Philadelphia, one of my fellow passengers peered out her window as the gate checked baggage was being carted from the jet bridge to the cargo compartment of the plane we were on. During transit, one of the bags, a bright red roller board, fell from the cart and sat there on the tarmac, unnoticed by the ground crew. The passenger, who was sitting directly in front of me, very politely got the attention of the stewardess as she walked by and informed her of the situation. The stewardess retorted, “Is it your bag?” to which the passenger very politely responded, “no, but I thought you would just like to know.” Without hesitation or any apparent care, the stewardess said, “Well, baggage is not my department, there is really nothing I can do.” With that she turned and walked away.
The passengers around me were stunned. Of those in my immediate proximity, all but the passenger who reported this unfortunate incident, were business travelers in their final leg to get back home. One of them even remarked, “There’s the new US Air for you.”
I bit my tongue, knowing that what I might say would have no bearing on what happened. But in my mind and with rose colored glasses of being a branding consultant, I was furious. At that moment, this stewardess who is supposed to be the face of the US Airways brand, reinforced everything I have been conditioned to expect from US Air – poor customer service, incessant delays, and a general lack of pride in what they do.
I was returning from a trip in which I had discussed with my client the importance of making sure those who have the most customer “face time” are trained and evaluated on their ability to be good brand stewards and I was confronted by the exact situation that is the antithesis of properly caring for your brand. In that simple interaction, the stewardess demonstrated not only that she does not see the US Airways brand as being important but that US Airways as a whole does not see their brand as important. Sure she may have been “trained” to handle that situation better, but she clearly believes she works in a corporate culture where brand is not important else she would have happily handled that situation differently.
How much effort would it have really taken to tell that passenger, “Thank you very much for letting me know, because we at US Air care about the service we provide, let me go and inform the ground crew.” Does creating a culture that is focused on making the miserable experience of traveling for business better through words and simple actions really cost THAT much? Seems like it costs less than having disgruntled passengers in the long run.
I guarantee you that if she had demonstrated even the slightest bit of pride in the US Airways brand, those business travelers around me would have remarked at how impressed they were with her ability to take action and exhibit caring for the brand of the “new US Air.”