Ultimately, any employee that has an interaction with a customer is responsible for some aspect of that customer's experience. In great companies, a focus on the customer is something that everyone takes to heart, whether it's a janitor, a receptionist, a contact center agent, or the CEO. Yesterday I was reminded of a heartwarming example of this from someone who strives to do right by the customer not because they're told to or that it's part of some corporate doctrine but because he simply feels it's the right thing to do.Captain Denny Flanagan is a pilot for United Airlines. Capt. Flanagan has made a name for himself by taking a personal stake in customer centricity, often to an extreme. For instance, Capt. Flanagan once bought 200 McDonald's hamburgers for passengers whose flight was delayed. He periodically calls the parent of a minor onboard one of his flights to notify them if there is a delay. Capt. Flanagan occasionally bestows a bottle of wine to a lucky passenger whose flight instruction card has his signature written on it.
Capt. Flanagan, who was the keynote speaker at Frost & Sullivan's Customer Contact 2013 East conference in Marco Island, FL this week, says he does these things "because it's the right thing to do."
Part of the reason Capt. Flanagan does great things for United's customers is that he recognizes that flying isn't viewed by a lot of passengers as a fun experience. There are TSA screenings, cramped conditions, unexpected delays and other situations that deflate the customer experience. Capt. Flanagan has decided to take an active role in trying to improve the customer experience.
Referring to himself as "the CEO of my sky office" as it relates to his involvement with the customer experience, Capt. Flanagan sometimes speaks to passengers in an airport terminal before a flight is about to take off, tossing out a few jokes in his attempts to help put wary fliers at ease.
What struck me most about Capt. Flanagan's approach is his commitment to improving the customer experience as an individual employee of United Airlines. At best, most of us might see a pilot sticking his head out from a cockpit after a flight has landed, thanking us for flying with the airline. Capt. Flanagan goes above and beyond this. He makes a personal impact on the flight experiences for so many of United's customers.
When we think of improving the customer experience, we often think of it in terms of things that traditional customer-facing employees (contact center agents, sales clerks, etc.) can do better in their roles. But nowadays, customers are interacting with employees from across the organization, including back-office staff such as accounts receivable. And, in some cases, with airline pilots.
Capt. Flanagan says United now has 50 pilots like himself who bestow random acts of kindness upon its customers and they brainstorm with each other on new ideas. We could all learn something from his - and their - approach.