I had the
privilege joy chore of taking the flight from Seoul to Seattle a couple of days ago. If you haven’t had this fortune, it’s a 10 hour flight through 16 time zones where you arrive 6 hours before you left. I’m not a good sleeper on planes so any of these long-haul, multi-timezone flights are hard. This one was especially noteworthy, however.
We flew on Asiana Airlines, a Seoul based carrier that was a special treat. Unlike their state-owned competitor, Korean Air Lines, they focus on the long-haul traveller and do it very well. It is a formula that includes the latest planes (ours was a new Boeing 777-200), all the best amenities (like 110v and 220v outlets in each business-class seat), and very impressive service. There were 13 attendants, plus a flight crew, on a flight I’m sure a US carrier would have had 6 people working. At the start of the flight, the entire staff stands at the head of the aisle and bows to the passengers. In business-class, they pampered us constantly with two three course meals, constant checking on our welfare, and genuine smiles. You really got the impression they cared about you.
Which gets me around to the point of all this. I really needed caring for on this flight. Everything that could go wrong did.
While in Korea, I found I really enjoyed the food. For some, kimchi and other native tastes require getting used to. For me, I took to them immediately. And Asiana offers two meal services: western and Korean. So on the way back I tried the Korean fare. Well my bibambop (sort of a rice and vegetable version of the Cold Stone “mix ins”) was stone cold. Normally it is served quite hot, and my most recent experience at a fine Seoul eatery was served in an iron bowl that had to be 1100 degrees. In this case it was not even warm. But did I care? How could I? The service was so good, the attendants were there with more champagne, taking away empties, adding treats, etc. that I forgot it wasn’t perfect.
Then, within an hour of the start of the flight, my fancy 777 “wonder-chair”, the seat with a half-dozen motors, lumbar adjustments, and a “bed mode” simply stopped working. Wouldn’t budge. It had worked for a while, but suddenly there I was in my full upright and locked position. Not the best way to spend 10 hours. So I inquired of some assistance.
I was swarmed with help. The head of cabin service eventually took my seat apart. She was unable to get it to work as intended, but found all the manual controls, and adjusted it to my liking. Throughout the balance of the flight I was checked on to be sure the seat was where I wanted it, and to apologize profusely for the failure. At one point the assistant purser insisted that I get a nap, and graciously turned it into “bed mode”. I actually slept on an airplane — a true feat for me.
My point in all this is that service really does matter. And more to the point, outstanding service can make up for any number of problems in the product. I’m sure that on a US carrier, I would have had someone who would have done something about my issues with the flight. But I’m also sure they would have done it grudgingly, with a tone of “oh, great, now what’s your problem?” On this flight, it was clear they really wanted to make me happy. And it made all the difference.
Think about it. Here I am, in a quite public forum, raving about an airline’s service. But I had a terrible flight: cold food, a broken seat, and a video system that couldn’t have been more jumpy/flaky/noisy. What do I remember? The service. The genuine kindness and concern of the employees.
I’m a customer of Asiana’s for life. Next time I’m headed to Korea, or anywhere in Asia, I’m going to see if they fly there.
What does this say about your organization? It says that service not only matters, is not only a good thing to have, but it may save you from a whole lot of other faults. It may be the thing that makes that missed deadline, that faulty part, that little mistake go away.
And great service is about the only thing that makes customers-for-life. People don’t become customers-for-life because of low prices. If someone comes along with a lower price, they’re gone. They don’t become customers-for-life because of a good product. As soon as someone offers that same product, they’re vulnerable to switching.
People become customers-for-life because of other people. They feel a connection, a relationship. And they want to continue that relationship. So do whatever it takes to make your organization care about its customers. You may keep them forever.