I was recently traveling on a business trip from Vancouver to Kansas City on United Airlines. It was a fairly typical business trip, listening to cab drivers talking about the weather and traffic, witnessing check-in agents typing fanatically into a system that really shouldn't need that much typing, looking at border control officers trying not to judge you while they judge you, etc, etc. Now, I travel a lot so I am used to being treated as a seat number rather than a person and I tend to be on auto pilot.
On this trip I was connecting through Dallas (one of the most mundane airports I have ever visited) and after my one hour layover, it was time to board my second flight. This is where I met Frank. Frank was the agent whose job it was to run our boarding passes through the scanner and let us board the flight. He was in his late fifties, of African American decent and looked like a long term United Airlines employee. However there was something different about Frank, as I watched him call up the different sections of the plane. He greeted every passenger by their name, shook their hands, and took the time to make a unique comment or greeting. Frank was making people laugh, he was getting high fives and even some hugs from complete strangers! And as I watched, I was amazed and impressed by what this normal employee based in the Dallas airport was doing to delight customers and turn a mindless experience into something that was fun and enjoyable. Now, if I were an executive at United or any airline for that matter, I would spend a day or even a week with Frank to figure out what makes him tick and how I could replicate that X factor.
Unfortunately the reality is that Frank is probably an unsung hero at United, management probably do not know what a unique experience he is delivering, and passengers like me don't have any easy way to tell them.
This story demonstrates the importance for investing in customer feedback loops that are easy and timely for consumers to use. Forget about comment cards and 1-800 numbers, we are a Facebook and Twitter generation. If I can't let you know my feedback and comments quickly, and preferably through my smart phone, "right now" I probably never will. The disappointing thing here is that all the technology required to be able to recognize employees like Frank exist today, but companies have their heads in the ground and are not embracing the possibilities.
Until companies start to recognize the role of real-time feedback in their operations management systems, employees like Frank will continue to be overlooked and companies like United will continue to be perceived as delivering weak customer experiences. So you have to ask yourself, how many Frank's do you have in your business? and how long before they leave to join a company that does recognize their contribution?
Finally, I just wanted to say, "Well done Frank, where ever you may be."