Create the Freedom to Proactively Communicate

Are you and other employees at your organization free to serve customers well? Or do strict procedures, checklists, and the overall busy atmosphere restrict how welcoming, communicative, and personal team members can be with customers?


As a traveling consultant living in Denver, I fly a lot. The airline industry is a tough business to be in. When airline staff truly care about their customers, it’s really obvious. One memorable trip, I was traveling from Houston Hobby Airport back home.


This flight was full, and staff were begging fliers to get into their seats so the plane could push away from the gate on time. We taxied out to our runway. The plane lined up and the pilot boosted the throttle. Jets screaming, we began rolling – and immediately the pilot slowed the engines and taxied us off the active runway.


In my experience, this doesn’t happen often. Once a plane is in position to take off, the crew doesn’t give up that position casually. As we taxied to a waiting area, the pilot announced that a passenger was having medical issues. Rather than take off and have to deal with that issue at 35,000 feet above sea level, he felt it was best to check on the passenger on the ground, close to medical personnel if they were required.


I was sitting up front and couldn’t see which of my fellow passengers was in distress. I figured it’d be a while before we knew anything, so I said a little prayer for the passenger, cranked up the iPad and began reading.


Within five minutes, the pilot was on the PA updating the situation. He explained that the passenger’s doctor had evaluated his condition and approved him flying today. The pilot had a call into the airline’s medical staff to see if they were OK with going ahead with the flight. The pilot said we could use our cell phones to notify family or friends that our arrival would be delayed into Houston.


Communication Made the Difference

The frequency of communication was unusual. Normal behavior by flight crews is to focus on solving the problem; informing passengers about what’s going on is WAY down the to-do list. This pilot was proactively sharing the status of the issue while demonstrating a sincere concern for the ill passenger.


Ten minutes later the pilot announced that we’d gotten clearance to fly on to Houston and our ill passenger was comfortable. The flight computers indicated we’d arrive only fifteen minutes late, for which he apologized. We were next for departure; the jets were restarted and we headed to Houston.


As we reached cruising altitude, I reflected on the pilot’s behavior. The pilot’s proactive communication enabled us, passengers, to know what the cause of the delay was and what the team was doing to resolve the issue. He kept us updated, simply and efficiently.


A Personal Touch

As we approached Houston Hobby, the flight attendants came through the cabin and handed every frequent flier a business card from pilot David Starkes. He’d written a personalized note on each card for each frequent flyer, thanking us for our business and our patience during the flight’s delay. That’s amazing customer service.


Companies should take heed: with purpose and values clear, let players do their jobs on their playing field. They’ll be inspired to do what this pilot did, keeping customers fully informed rather than simply focusing on the issue at hand.


Contributed by S. Chris Edmonds, Founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group.



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