Service Is In The Air

For the past 17 years, one of my annual highlights is attending the Moulding Design Show in Italy. I love it because in my experience, Italy is the worldwide leader in producing the best-designed products that feature superior quality.

Aside from viewing the amazing craftsmanship on display, the weather was awesome and it goes without saying that the food was to die for!

Travelling from Canada to Italy is no easy feat, specifically because there are no direct flights from Toronto to Bologna. Therefore, I’m forced to take the dreaded connector! Typically, I’ll either fly Alitalia or Air Canada, simply because it’s familiar and gets me there quickly. This time around, I decided to take Alitalia Airlines to Italy and KLM Airlines back home to Toronto. Although the two offered dramatically different experiences, I’m not here to bash one airline over the other. In fact, I’m writing to tell the world that service in the air is alive and well, you just may not know it. Allow me to explain…

KLM Airlines did a fantastic job of deescalating a potentially volatile situation.

It was a dark but mild Sunday morning in Bologna. I opened my eyes at 4:15am to begin my first leg of the journey home to Toronto. I had a taxi waiting for me at 5:00am for a 6:25am flight into Amsterdam with a connecting flight to Toronto. I arrived at the airport in Bologna, checked in and proceeded to the KLM lounge while I waited to board the plane. Shortly afterwards, we were on the plane and all was well, until the captain came on and indicated that due to some challenges in the airport, we were going to be delayed by 40 minutes. This is clearly not something you want to hear at 6:15am!

In this situation, the captain of the plane will make an unclear announcement over a speaker that you’re straining to hear, telling you that your flight will be delayed X amount of hours. From there it’s a very annoying game of sit and wait. What happened next is what inspired me to write this blog post.

The captain of this KLM flight bound for Amsterdam came on the speaker, which was clear, and in the most empathetic voice shared the challenges at hand and told us we’d be delayed by about 40 minutes. Directly after that, the flight attendants went to passengers who had connecting flights, to share the news and to give some reassurance that we’d be ok. My connecting flight was not for another four hours but the person beside me was connecting to Los Angels and seemed very flustered. The attendant knelt down to his height and apologized for the inconvenience and said once in Amsterdam, KLM will do their utmost to ensure he made his flight. She apologized again for the inconvenience and said that she would keep us posted.

The KLM crew did a fantastic job of doing whatever they could to appease anxious customers.

The captain kept us informed about the delay while speaking in a manner that felt sincere while mentioning that he would do his best to make up the time in the air by increasing speed. Then after about 20 minutes the captain announced that we were clear to go and that we wouldn’t incur any additional delays. The flight attendants quickly came back and reassured us that everything was great and that we’d all make our connecting flights. You could actually feel the energy of the plane elevate and immediately all was great again.

I figured I’d kill some time by reading but soon gave in to my heavy eyes and passed out. I slept for most of the flight only to be awakened by the announcement that we were landing – I love when that happens! Just as the captain finished his landing announcement, the flight attendant appeared. She again knelt down and apologized for the inconvenience and offered us a $25 voucher for anything KLM. This small gesture was the cherry on the cake but the genuine care and empathy shown by the KLM team left everyone on that flight with a positive emotional association with this brand and their people.

Things We Can Learn From KLM Airlines:

  1. Both the captain and the flight attendants over communicated.
  2. They expressed empathy and care towards their passengers/customers.
  3. Their gestures were sincere, they knelt down to be at our eye level and spoke to us with a smile.
  4. They were composed, professional, aligned and happy when greeting their guests.
  5. They proactively offered a voucher even though they got us there on time. It was a small gesture that made a big impact!

Air travel is the necessary evil to move people around the world. Whether you’re taking a vacation or going away on business, often your flight can make or break the entire trip.

The above experience has shed light on my quest on how to offer my own partners/clients exceptional service. Great service doesn’t always mean giving away free stuff. Instead, exceptional service comes when people are truly empathic to challenges that arise, when communication is truthful and frequent, when solutions are proactively offered and most importantly, that the customer knows how genuinely happy you are to be their partner.

I am truly happy that I chose to fly KLM Airlines; I’m a new fan! Thank you for helping to restore my faith in airline hospitality!

Do you have any stories about service while travelling? I’d love to hear about them, good or bad, in the comment section below.

Tony Gareri

CEO & Culture Enthusiast

Drawing from firsthand experiences, Tony addresses how a culture evolution can lead to improved business results and happier work environments.

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