UnCommon Leadership – The Frontline Delivers For Delta!

04.17.13 | Posted in UnCommon Leadership

It seems that something is in the air with regard to airline employees. Last week our guest blogger John Arnold wrote about a very positive experience he had recently with an airline employee who made a difference for him that day when the flight was delayed by two hours. For leaders at the C-Suite who are driving change and creating shareholder value, we ultimately depend on those on the frontline to deliver on the vision that we see with the changes we’re driving. There have been many business leaders that have used some version of this quote,  “if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers and ultimately they will take care of your shareholders.” John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods is purported to have said this and in the early days of his company, this philosophy came alive after a flood wiped out its only store.

On a flight last week, I personally witnessed what John Arnold wrote about. Flying from San Francisco to Atlanta, I was sitting in the exit row seat close to the main entrance and watched in amazement as the most caring, attentive flight attendant took the time to connect with almost every person entering the plane with his helpful attitude and warm smile. He went the extra mile for those needing a little help, especially with families. It was very apparent they were particularly important to this man as he took the time to explain things in detail to the kids. There were two young teen passengers traveling by themselves and he was especially generous with his instructions and care. I can honestly say I have never witnessed this type of customer service displayed by this flight attendant in my entire 35 plus years of being a frequent flyer, most of which has been on Delta. He had taken customer service for his employer to an entirely different level!

Early in the flight, I got up to talk to him and found his name was Ford Monroe.  I told him exactly what I just wrote above. He lit up and said, “You have made my day” and I said, “And you have made mine.” We talked for awhile about his long time service with Delta, how tough things had been at times and how we both were seeing some hope returning into the attitudes of the front line employees. He told me he loved his job and it was obvious this man walks his talk and is filling the lives of the people he touches with love and joy!

I then told him how sad it was to have witnessed first hand the decline of Delta (and other airlines as well) and how it appeared from my seat that Delta was, in fact, starting to walk the talk that was coming from their CEO Richard Anderson. The Red Coats (employees who have been promoted and they function to provide support for Delta employees and passengers at the terminals) are back and that gives the employees a badge of honor to wear and proudly represent the airline and its values to the public.  I am personally experiencing some of the highest levels of service from Delta employees that I have seen in years. And back to those Red Coats –  they are there for people like me too, and it matters. I remember how disappointed I was when they quit that concept in 2005 while going through bankruptcy. All of us loyal to Delta knew how bad it was just by the loss of that symbolism. After that part of the conversation Ford commented again, “You’ve made my day!” I honestly don’t think his feet touched the floor the rest of the flight! What a joyful man who is representing Delta above (pun intended!) and beyond!

Later in the flight I got up and went to the back of the plane as I was contemplating writing this blog and wanted to put a face with the story by getting my picture taken with Ford. I then encountered two more incredible Delta flight attendants Cathy Williams-Sitt and Bennet Yee. We talked about the changes in Delta and they were willing to admit, after I had asked how their voice was heard in the company, that it was finally happening in a meaningful manner, but only after some fits and starts where they weren’t being heard from the front line. They were very happy, and attentive people who said they loved what they were doing and excited to see the company heading in the right direction. At that point, I decided I had to have my picture with all three of them, as it was obvious this flight crew was different! I hope you enjoy the picture as much as I enjoyed meeting and talking to these incredible flight attendants. I can honestly say that this was absolutely THE best crew I have ever experienced.

This story has a final chapter. If you know planes and long flights, you know our equipment had to have at least one more flight attendant, the lead attendant. His name was William Marshall. He heard about the picture taking and discussions I had with the other attendants.  The two of us engaged in meaningful dialogue prior to the end of the flight. What can I say? Customer service at this level is infectious and contagious! I don’t who is the most generous, caring one of the four flight attendants, but it doesn’t matter. They were all highly motivated to really care for the passengers with high-touch service and are representing Delta at a premium level.

Delta, take the values and love of these four people and bottle them up in a shampoo bottle. Examine who they are and what they model and then give all of your other 80,000 employees a bottle and ask them to use it everyday. You will never look back as a company if you do. Larry Bossidy said it best: “People first, strategy second.” Without people like Ford, Cathy, Bennet and William any strategy will fail. Richard, these four flight attendants are displaying the vision you have set for Delta. They should be doing commercials for Delta as their voice and actions are really the ones we customers are seeing!

That day, UnCommon Leadership was on display for an entire plane of passengers to experience! Hats off to the best flight crew ever and I sure hope I get to fly with you guys again soon!

Onward and Upward!

Ed Chaffin

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