In last week's screed, "How the Heck Did That Happen," there was talk of personal brand, ownership of a business by an employee, and making the customer feel welcome and comfortable.
To recap, I was on the road from the Uintas to the Ozarks (that would be Salt Lake to St. Louis if your geography is airport-centric), and was analyzing all of the customer-service touchpoints in that experience, from curbside at SLC to barside at a major chain hotel.
In conclusion, some of the day's experiences were excellent, others were fleeting and unmemorable.
But it had me thinking about something that impacts the way each of these people treated me during that day.
I had asked my surprising and interesting server in the bar, "What is the one way you want your core customer to feel about your business?"
She said, "I realize that my customer has been traveling, and I want them to feel comfortable and welcome."
Ultimately, it left me with a new question.
WHAT'S MY PERSONAL BRAND AS A CUSTOMER?
As a customer, what is the one way I want my service provider to feel about me?
This seems especially significant in light of the uniquely 21st century challenge of air travel.
Once, air travel was an idyllic and puffy-cloud land of women in pencil skirts and white gloves and men in hats and ties.
The experience has devolved to the level of bus travel.
People love to hate airlines.
They hate hate hate airlines.
And maybe it's worth starting this tale at my front door.
Last week, before I left for the Ozarks, a friend came knocking.
HE WAS THERE TO BORROW SOME DRIED BASIL
Yes, we have that kind of neighborhood.
Friends come around to borrow ingredients.
This fellow who came for the basil has an interesting personal brand.
Speaking superficially, he is the Jerry Garcia of high-school biology teachers.
He has long hair and a bushy beard, and wears a lot of tie-dyed clothing.
That's really the only resemblance to the late leader of the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia was a juvenile delinquent who grew up in San Francisco and was sent to the army for stealing his mother's car, and died of a heart attack while in an addiction recovery facility.
My friend grew up on an army base in rural Utah, is science-minded, and is dedicated to shaping young minds for tomorrow in the face of great odds.
THE HIPPY-ISH FAÇADE BELIES A DISCIPLINED AND RESPONSIBLE CHARACTER
So when he came knocking, dressed in a tie-dyed T-shirt and olive hiking pants, his long hair pulled back, I opened the door, he looked at me, and he said, "Fancy."
I had on khaki pants, loafers and a dress-shirt. I said, "I'm flying."
He said, "I know. I do the same thing when I fly."
Apparently, he understands that if he gets on a plane looking like a hippy, he will not experience the best service.
We both try to dress a little better than the rabble. In surveys, flight attendants admit that they treat passengers better if they're dressed better. And neither of us wants to be one of those people who gets on a plane wearing pajamas.
THERE MAY BE NO BETTER PLACE TO EXAMINE CUSTOMER BRAND THAN IN AIR TRAVEL
In a business that is hated by a great number of the people patronizing it, I have learned to enjoy it.
That's because I've learned how to do two things.
1) How to control the experience to my benefit.
2) How to be a desirable customer (even though people who know me may consider it an act).
And it really doesn't take that much.
Controlling the experience requires trying to always be early, understanding your options, and making a modest investment. In many respects, air travel is cheaper than ever. By paying a little more to obtain the conveniences, it's easy to mitigate the unpleasant, mass-transit aspects of the experience. TSA Pre-Check, Clear, purchasing certain upgrades, getting credit cards that afford benefits like premium lounges and early boarding, it all helps mitigate the stress.
BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, THING ONE INFORMS THING TWO
Not controlling the experience leads to stress.
Resistance is pain. Especially if one approaches air travel as an antagonistic experience, it can end up being antagonizing and painful.
Imagine walking into a retail store and saying, "I hate this place! Serve me now!"
How inclined is anyone going to be to serve you?
Just for fun, an exceptionally skilled salesperson may try to win you over.
Most will just try to stay away.
IMAGINE WALKING INTO THAT SAME STORE DRESSED IN PAJAMAS AND BEDROOM SLIPPERS, CARRYING A PILLOW AND SUCKING A PACIFIER
Yes, I've seen it.
And it sends a message.
Yes, I might sound elitist.
But in an overcrowded, over-busy, overbooked environment, snap judgments are inevitable. "Hey there, uncouth slob, what can I do for you?" You get what you give. When you're George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic, you can travel first class looking like a rainbow-haired wild man and people will love you. I've seen it happen. The rest of us? We have to work a little harder.
By going in dressed well (and that doesn't mean being dressed expensively or being over dressed, just dressed in clean, business casual or smart casual), a customer doesn't allow for anyone to make the same snap judgments as if one was dressed in sweat pants and a T-shirt with a profane message about your mother.
By smiling and returning smiles, a rapport happens. Sure, there are times when it doesn't work. Gate agents can be nasty. Trying to win over those pissy people can be a challenge worth taking.
AND ULTIMATELY, ACTING LIKE YOU BELONG THERE SCORES BIG POINTS
Not acting entitled, acting appreciative, and making it clear that being locked together in an aluminum tube for 5 hours will be a pleasure, one becomes the Desirable Customer.
Yes, this probably sounds very Norman Vincent Peale.
So what? It works more often than it doesn't.
My core customer service professional is someone who works hard, is underpaid, and tries to keep a smile on her face despite enormous odds in an environment that is ever more like working in an urban bus station.
What is the one way I want my core customer service professional to feel about me?
That I'm going to make her job easier and more enjoyable.
YES, YOU'VE HEARD ME ADMIT TO BEING A CURMUDGEON
Yes, I can be a cantankerous lout.
I am able to wear a mask!
But, the Fabulous Honey Parker?
She is an ace at this.
She makes people love her.
One time, she got out of her seat to go to the lavatory.
She was gone for about 20 minutes.
When she finally returned, she was clutching a dozen little bottles of bourbon to her chest.
Seems she'd made friends with the flight attendant in the galley.
AND HEY, FREE BOURBON
The bottom line: both Honey and I have worked in service industries.
Maybe that gives us empathy for the people who serve us.
Yes, we both have the capacity to make a customer service agent cry.
But guaranteed, even if we do, neither of us will never be that person you see at the customer service counter yelling, "Do you know who I am?!"
Because nobody wants to know that person or who they are.
It's a brand that everyone has experienced, and feels one way about.
And it's never the good way.
Fly big. Fly with fun. Fly with a smile. And you become a customer brand that professionals enjoy serving. Or over-serving with a dozen bottles of bourbon.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.