What is your service philosophy? Is this something you’ve thought about? My service philosophy is simple, yet honed over a career of serving others: It is to be the best part of someone’s day.

I try to view the world with a sense of awe. While I don’t always succeed in this view, most of the time life amazes me.

For example, I am still awed by flying. It is simply magical to me that I can wake up in Colorado and go to sleep in North Carolina. Getting on a plane feels like a luxury and a gift… except when it doesn’t.

A while back, my husband and I took a quick weekend trip from Colorado to western New York. The flight out was smooth and uneventful, which, frankly, is a minimum expectation. As airline passengers, we know we’ll pay for a ticket and often we now must pay to check baggage. In addition to being slightly dehydrated and likely hungry, we accept long security lines, tight quarters, and uncomfortable seats. While not ideal, all of these things are part of the experience.

What happened on our return flight was something quite different.

There were no notifications of changes to our 6:00 a.m. flight, so we arrived in plenty of time to board. We sat at the gate and waited. And waited. But we heard nothing from the airline desk. Eventually, we learned the front tire on the plane needed to be replaced. Now, I may think flying is magic, but I understand there are also mechanics involved. The regional airport didn’t have a tire replacement and decided to fly in a backup plane from another airport—an ordeal that would take more than eight hours.

I can be frustrated with the airline for not having a backup plane within a couple of hours and I can be frustrated with a crew that doesn’t notice the issue the night before, but I try not to stew over things I cannot control. Moreover, I realize I have a choice of when and how to spin my wheels.

I also know that my real character shows up when things are difficult, not when they are perfect.

Things happen, of course, but it got me thinking about service (as most of these situations do). The staff of many airlines seem to have become as cynical and angry as the people they serve, and it shows.

But regardless of the type of organization, we all serve others in a variety of ways that have the potential to enhance experiences. Here are key ways I think an airline could improve service and be a leader in the industry:

Clear communication is vital.

Provide passengers with consistent, clear, and ongoing communication. Make more announcements to tell the audience what’s happening. It’s nearly impossible to communicate too much.

Listen.

I’ve worked in a variety of service roles over the course of my career, and while I know it is difficult to hold space for someone who is belligerent, people want to be heard. And to be clear, hearing is not the same as patronizing or placating. We all know when we are being lied to, and we hate it.

Show empathy and give a moment.

Take a moment to put yourself in your passengers’ shoes and empathize with their plight. Making something a shared experience can actually improve any situation.

Being kind goes a long way.

Empower employees at every level of the organization to serve the customer. My guess is the ticket agents and people hired to listen and solve problems are not actually given the authority to do so. In turn, they feel as helpless as their customers.

Reward staff.

You know the airline counter staff takes a certain amount of abuse from customers, so what could be done to show appreciation? Would shorter shifts or more autonomy help? Reward people for solving problems in a way that is respectful and generous.

Do unto others…

Whenever I’m in a situation where I am treated badly by someone in service, I know very clearly this is how their leaders treat them. If you want your people to treat others well, it starts with you.

Get creative.

Empower people on the ground to be creative. What if the employees were encouraged to find solutions that would shift the entire customer experience and instead turn the passengers into loyal customers? On our trip, after learning the flight delay would be eight hours, a father spent a significant amount of time contesting a refund request for his family. This is certainly an appropriate option. A baby girl ran out of milk and, due to the size of the airport, there were no options to get more milk. An employee could have offered to retrieve the needed item. While the provided donuts were a nice gesture, a lunch option would have been more appropriate with such a long flight delay.

Empowering staff to make decisions and accommodate individual situations, instead of treating people as an inconvenience or hassle, could greatly improve passengers’ experiences.

Service should not be a rare gift, but a constant expectation.

According to the book The Power of Moments, studies show dependability and competence meet customer expectations. Yet, many of our service experiences don’t even meet this minimum expectation. It is not enough, and it should not be accepted. Employees are encouraged to show up, do their jobs at a bare minimum, and nothing more. They’re taught to maintain smooth waters and not make waves. Which is why most service experiences hardly meet expectations, let alone exceed them.

What if we personally break the script and encourage our teams to go above and beyond? Consider what could happen if leaders across industries encouraged a philosophy of making a difference in someone’s life!

We are in service roles, regardless of title.

If you think this doesn’t apply to you, let me be clear, we are all in service. Consider, how you will serve? And how you challenge your team to serve?

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