“Welcome to First Class.” said Captain Marty Bell.
Startled, I stopped what I was doing to listen. I’ve taken more than 250 flights in the last two years, and this is the first time I have ever seen the pilot mingle with the passengers before the flight. (Passenger is the airline’s poorly chosen euphemism they substitute for the real word,“customer.”)
Bell came by my seat and looked at my laptop computer he said, “That’s about all you need today isn’t it? What are you writing about?” “You.” I said.
I told him my shock at his person-to-person contact. “I do it all the time.” Bell said. “I talk to older folks, the handicapped, and kids first. The rest of the people see me and talk if they want to. A lot of people are scared to fly and want to see the captain. Heck, I’m scared,” he quipped.
“You do this before every flight?” I asked, hoping for the magic answer of consistency. “Oh yeah. It sets the tone for a great flight.” he said with the voice of experience.
He walked all the way to the back of the plane stopping three or four times along the way. I watched as he tried on a Mexican sombrero, and kibitzed with everyone. This guy was great. Answering questions, helping people with bags. The entire cabin was laughing and in a great mood.
He had completed his goal of setting the tone.
On the way back to the front of the plane, he asked a small boy if he wanted to see the cockpit. The kid’s eyes lit up as he followed captain Bell into the inner sanctum. “Here, sit in my seat,” the Captain said.
The boy was glazed. “Wow” was about all he could muster, but the impression Captain Bell made and the kindness he showed, will last for years.
The child’s mother thanked Captain Bell profusely. He responded with the humility of John Wayne at the end of a movie after he’d single handedly won the west. Bell had won the hearts of the passengers in 5 minutes.
Now we’re ready to take off. Somehow, I anticipate the announcements will take on an unusual flavor.
“Greetings ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Welcome to USAir’s flight number 3231 to Charlotte and New York, LaGuardia. I noticed a lot of you were coming back from cruises and vacations welcome back. The weather up north is a bit colder than here…” A warm, personalized message.
Along the way we were treated to the captain’s personal geography and history lesson about the Kennedy Space Center, DisneyWorld, the Daytona 500 which we passed over while the race was in progress. (Cool!) Jacksonville, Savannah, Paris Island, Hilton Head and Charleston information was imparted. Fun stuff about vacation areas, golf courses, and other friendly repartee. After what seemed like 15 minutes, the plane landed.
As is my tradition on my way out of an airplane, I wanted to thank the captain and crew for a safe flight. As many times as I fly, I still think it’s kind of a modern miracle that you can be in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida at 12:45pm and land in Charlotte, North Carolina less than two hours later. I find that thanking the flight crew affirms the magic, and lets them know how much I appreciate them making my business possible to conduct.
I saw the captain leap out of the cockpit and deplane first. He was standing there in the jetway waiting to personally say goodbye and thank everyone. WOW.
“I’m going to write about you.” I said as I walked out of the plane. “Why?” he puzzled. “Because I had an exceptional customer experience and I want to tell others,” I said.
Marty Bell didn’t just command the airplane, he commanded the respect of the customers inside.
“Make sure you mention USAir. Be sure to tell them about the company,” he shouted as I walked up the jetway.
Captain Bell to everyone on the flight today, you were the company.
That’s the story. But there’s a much more powerful lesson attached to the story. The most powerful customer service lesson I’ve found. It’s called three option opportunity and it’s yours.
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