I have traveled on South African Airways before and been decidedly unimpressed. I once took a flight to London where they ran out of food and the toilets stopped working all on the same flight. To make things worse we could not even distract ourselves from our misery because the sound had gone on the in-flight entertainment. When we complained about the fact that we had had to pay good money to subject ourselves to this sweaty misery and starvation the air-hostess essentially told us she didn’t care and that it was not her problem because she ‘only worked’ for SAA. I of course wanted to jump in with ideas for training and I felt empathy for her that she saw herself as ‘only an employee’ rather than somebody who (because she interfaced with the consumers of the service) was of extreme value to the success of the brand.
But today I am very pro our national carrier. I had a reasonably early flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Now usually I am bizarrely early for airplanes. I am in the line first to check in, usually leaving at least double the amount of time that I think I need to get to the airport because I know that silver bird waits for no-one and it is such a sick feeling when you are told that the plane is boarding and you are not on it. This morning it was especially important that I got my flight because I was going to Cape Town for work. But, alas, I got stuck in terrible traffic and literally arrived at the airport 5 minutes before the flight closed, which is not something I have ever done before. To my relief when I first approached the check-in I was told I was in time for the flight, but to my dismay I was told immediately afterwards that I was declined a seat because the flight was full. But then to my huge relief I was told that they would put me on the next flight, which was only 25 minutes later.
So not only did they do this for me (which is probably standard practice) but everybody in SAA uniform went out of their way to be polite, efficient and friendly. Then to my amazement, when I got on the plane I was brought a vegetarian meal (having refused a meat one) because I had been the person who had had to wait for the next plane. The air hostess seemed to know about me and rushed off to find me something to eat even if it meant her having to go our of her way to do so. This, all because I was late and had to get bumped.
But this is an important lessons for anybody in the service industry. I did not blog about my bad experienced, because by the time I got home I couldn’t be bothered to. But I felt I wanted to share my good experience. There are some valuable lessons to be learned from SAA today:
- a negative experience can be turned into a positive customer experience if you respond to it right
- consumers want to remember the good experiences they have had with you and it doesn’t take a whole lot to create that positive image
- what the staff at SAA did today was not earth-shattering and it did not cost SAA any money, but I felt important, which endears me to SAA
I think it’s really about paying attention, giving something extra that is simple and yet unexpected and making sure that your staff all feel important enough within themselves to commit to doing that, regardless of their position in the company.