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Are you using your white hair too?

In the days before 9/11, our local airport (Glacier International aka FCA) had a mix of mostly Boeing 737/727, prop and regional jet traffic.

Since 9/11, most of our traffic other than flights to Minneapolis are regional jets or props. When I fly Delta to Salt Lake, for example, I’m usually flying some Delta Skywest regional jet (typically a Canadair model) that is codeshared with Delta.

Before much of the economy cratered over the last year, it wasn’t unusual to see two pilots in the cockpit of these regional jets that looked young enough to have just finished Rush Week at a local university.

Now, I don’t mean to put them down – after all, we always flew safely, never had an unprofessional effort by the pilots and the overall quality of the flight itself appeared no different than any other trip with more experienced pilots – still, there was always a comment or two by passengers when they saw a flight crew that looked like they had been shaving for less than 10 years (in the case of a male crewmembers).

With all the shakeup in the economy and airline industry, these regional jets are now being captained by what appear to be very experienced, mostly white-haired guys who are probably old enough to have flown combat in Vietnam.  As the airlines downsize the number of flights, experienced pilots get pushed down the system to the regional jets.

The smart thing that the airlines are doing – at least SkyWest – is pairing these experienced pilots with the younger pilots who were already flying with them. The ability to let these experienced folks mentor the younger pilots is huge – and it wasn’t something the airlines appeared to be doing prior to changes in the economy.

I talked with several passengers about this during my recent trip to Vegas and all of them found it not only smart business – but comforting to have 30+ years of experience in the cockpit instead of the assumption of 5 or 10 years – even if the younger pilot was doing the flying.

How does this relate to your business?

  • How are your new staff members learning the ropes? How are they getting “co-pilot” experience with the equivalent of your white-haired, experienced pilots?
  • Looking up into the cockpit and seeing a 50-ish white-haired guy brings confidence in the delivery of air travel without saying a word. For all we know, that guy had no more experience than the co-pilot, or came out of a 20 year retirement due to losses in the stock market and might have fewer regional jet flight hours than the young co-pilot. Didn’t matter, at least until we had the chance to find out more. What gives your customers’ confidence about your business’ ability to deliver with safety and high quality? What are you doing to show them the “white hair” or whatever it takes in your line of work?
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A not so little reason why American Airlines loses millions

While it would be easy to squeeze them off one by one, I won’t go into all the obvious reasons.

This one is a bit more subtle but just as deadly to a company. The really poisonous thing is that attitudes like this come from the top down and they are CYA’d all the way up the food chain.

Further comment on this whole airline thing will come in a future post, but for now, just check out Dustin’s experience in today’s triple feature guest post from Dustin Curtis.

Your takeaway?

Two things:

First, little things matter. Ever watch someone try to use your product or website? Ever watch them try to find information in your brochure or find the milk in your store? You make them crazy. Really. Just watch them, but don’t say I didn’t warn you – it’ll make *you* crazy until you fix your business.

Second, customer feedback matters. If you can’t fix it in an hour, a day or a week, people generally understand if you’ll just take the time to tell your story. On the other hand, if you don’t respond or you respond rudely, they’ll remember it for years and tell everyone they know. Not that difficult, yet all too rare.

PS: Dustin – Yeah, I know. The blog badly needs a redesign.

Tomorrow, more from Dustin. Why? Because he understands that little things matter, even to the sweaty guy in the last row on JetBlue.

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Something special in the air

I have to say that I never expected a country-western song to be a guest post, but it is what it is.

For the rest of the story about how United Airlines baggage handlers trashed Dave Carroll’s guitar and more importantly, their customer service and management mistakes afterwards, drop over to

4.5 million views later, it’s more than the old saw that customers who have a bad experience tell 10 people. Nowadays, they can tell everyone, everywhere.

If your service isn’t what it should be, don’t be surprised if you end up going viral for all the wrong reasons.

Of course, that assumes that you care in the first place.

PS: Play close attention to the winner in this deal: Taylor Guitars.

Update: CNN’s Wolf Blitzer covers the story.

Update: United Breaks Guitars – Song 2

Update: A video that was supposedly made by the Mrs. Irlweg referred to in both songs. I don’t know if it’s really her or not. If it is, not a wise move IMO.

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Selling the unsellable

loaded for bear
Creative Commons License photo credit: striatic

Adelaide, a Charlotte ticket agent with Delta Airlines, had undoubtedly heard similar passenger comments hundreds if not thousands of times.

“$15 a bag and $40 for two? What’s with that?”

She handled it well, including laughing at the ( joking) speculation by other passengers that all the luggage fees go to her personally. Still, it was clear that she was handling it off the cuff.

But was she trained by Delta to discuss it in a way that would defuse the passenger’s annoyance and/or anger?

Did her employer offer training for handling the situation so that she would not to simply repeat the corporate mantra (whatever that might be), but actually engage in a meaningful conversation with her customer as they check in and deal with their bags?

It wasn’t clear that Delta had trained their staff – including Adelaide – to deal with that question and do so disarmingly.

Obviously, it’s an unpleasant position to place your public-facing staff, so why not arm them with the perfect response that disarms most clients?

Why not prepare them to handle the situation in a way that doesn’t leave everyone with a bad taste in their mouth?

Sometimes, even the things you don’t sell need to be sold.

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Airlines: What’s more valuable than a customer?

No 296!.....I am NOT a
Creative Commons License photo credit: law_keven

One of the things that is most frustrating and wonderful these days are… airlines.

Why frustrating and wonderful?

  • They teach us far more than how NOT to treat people.
  • They teach us how not to make a fair number of business decisions.
  • They teach us how not to empower our staff.
  • They teach us how not to save money in our business.
  • They teach us how not to attract more clients.

Wonderful when we see examples of things to never do in our own business. Frustrating when they happen to us.


Ever notice that most public-facing airline employees are just about powerless to make a change that makes perfect sense? It’s by design.

For example, a friend recently told me this story about his daughter flying home from college for spring break:

My daughter has an economy class reservation on Frontier for Saturday (less than $300 round-trip and lots of penalties for switching).

She finds out her classes are out early and can fly out on Thursday.

So we check the Frontier website and the flights are booked solid for the spring break weekend and all the flights on Thursday have dozens of open seats.

I call up Frontier and suggest that moving her to an empty seat on Thursday and selling her old seat on Saturday would be gravy for the airline. The one-way tickets are going for $500 on Thursday and Friday.

Even the supervisor can’t make the deal.

He said something about a customer buying a cheap ticket and switching to a more expensive day;  but she wanted to switch from a flight where there were no ticket available to a flight where that has dozens of empty seats.

Classic supply and demand.

Way more important than that, it’s classic supply and demand where the salable asset becomes worthless every day, every hour, every few minutes.

The asset? Empty airplane seats that safely move from place to place in a specific time frame.

Like milk and hotel rooms, airplane seats spoil. Once a certain period of time passes, they’re worthless. And a lot more expensive than milk when they go bad.

Airlines 101: Ignore the customer

We have a customer who is taking a fragile, expendable, time-bound asset (an empty airplane seat on Thursday) and offering to make it more valuable by trading it for a clearly MORE valuable seat on a busy travel day in the future on a prime travel day.

I suspect you’d have to look very hard to find one airline employee who fails to understand the value proposition being offered by their customer. In fact, I’ll bet they all understand it.

Sadly, it appears that not one has the power to take action in the face of that value.

So as my friend says, “Here you have the airlines cutting prices to get people to fly and even the Frontier supervisors don’t have the authority to help Frontier make a profit all because they don’t trust their customers.”

What do you sell?

Every now and then I ask you if you really, truly know what you sell.

Airlines sell fragile, time-bound expendable assets. Surely they know this, but they don’t act like it.

They act, empower their staff and create systems that send the message that they sell something entirely different: Reservations, or something like them.

Why do I say that? Because they treat the reservation with far more reverence than they do the customer.

Once the customer passes by the ticket agent at the gate, in many cases they are treated like cattle at a feedlot. At that point, the reservation is worthless, thus the customer holding it has now become a liability, an expense, and/or a burden.

In extreme situations where a plane has a problem, we don’t hustle the (valuable) customer back to the terminal where they could consume an expiring asset we haven’t yet sold (seats on other planes), instead we devalue them by holding them prisoner on the tarmac for hours.

An empowered captain would return his customers to the gate where they could continue their travel, consume unused and about-to-devalue assets. But that isn’t what happens.

Have you truly empowered your staff? Can they take action to maximize your customers’ experience AND the value of the assets you sell?

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Ignore customers at your peril

Creative Commons License photo credit: WTL photos

On a recent 737-based flight, I got to tinker with Delta Airlines’ updated seat back video system, which includes TV, movies, games, flight information and music.

I was impressed when the first prompt that came up was for a language.

Impressed because it showed that they were thinking about all of their customers, not just the North American-based ones. Think “sources of growth”

I chose English.

One of the things I like to watch during flight is the GPS-driven aerial map with rotating altitude / airspeed / head wind, temperature indicators. I guess it’s the geek in me:)

Having chose English, I assumed I would get an English map. After all, I am a programmer by training.

Silly me.

Instead I got a map that rotated between English (with miles/mph etc) , English with meters/metres, Spanish with miles/mph and Spanish with meters/metres.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t care, but the insertion of 3 additional translations (regardless of which one I wanted) delayed the delivery of information since it had to be presented in 4 different formats.

Why again did they ask me which language to use?

Little things mean a lot

The flight arrived on time (though a later one did not, prompting re-enactments of OJ Simpson running through airports as a spokesman for Hertz). The landing in Atlanta was perfect.

Yet several days later that map application still sticks in my mind.

Just as a test, I switched the panel’s language to Dutch. Some words in the menu were translated, some were not.

The “moving map” with altitude, air temperature etc? It didn’t change at all, still rotating through 2 sets of English and 2 sets of Spanish info.

The same nugget of paying attention easily translates into other businesses.

Little details sometimes make the biggest difference, especially when you set the expectation (which you should) with things like a language prompt.

Congruency. Setting an expectation by doing one thing creates the expectation in other areas.

More airline related posts coming, as is always the case after I travel…just setting the expectation, you know.

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Ryan Air cant even afford to flush?

last signal
Creative Commons License photo credit: _sarchi

So you’re probably sick of me talking about the fact that basing the success of your business solely on the ability to beat everyone else’s price is a mistake.

Some would hold out Wal-Mart as an example that I’m dead wrong. Rhetorical question for those people: How many businesses *other than WalMart* run that way and are successful with that business model?

You may not realize that I’m talking about small businesses, not large, multi-national global corporations large enough that if they were a country, it has been said that it would be the 4th largest country/economy on the planet.

Yet today isn’t about beating up on those guys, so let’s move on.

Instead, here’s a little twist: Let’s talk about how depending on price ends up hurting your service, which ends up revolving back and hurting your price because you can’t seem to find enough margin to flush the toilet.

Airline, Castrate Thyself

Most airlines keep looking at it backwards. Rather than adding value, they are castrating themselves in an attempt to trim another time from their cost per passenger-mile (CPM).

Why? Because they’ve created a “permanent” price war by virtue of the way they position their service. They’ve left themselves with no choice other than to constantly be on the lookout for places to cut costs.

  • Like cutting services, making it less and less pleasant to travel – actually getting to the point where it has become *unpleasant* to fly, not just occasionally annoying.
  • Like alienating their most dedicated customers by gutting frequent flier programs.
  • Like getting rid of their most experienced, most skilled personnel in favor of employees who don’t have to be paid as well.
  • Like cutting back on things are fundamental as maintenance on airliners.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for cost cutting and being careful with your expenses, but there are right and wrong ways to do so.

The problem with that is that someday, you’ve trimmed to the point where the only thing you can trim is the baseline service: which they can’t do. It’s not like you can charge someone to fly from New York City to Los Angeles and then drop them off in Vegas:)

Not so extra extras

So what happens next? You charge for trivial things that people take for granted.

Like buying a ticket on your airline.

Or going to the bathroom at 35,000 feet.

While the bathroom comment was said to “maybe” be tongue-in-cheek, Ryanair later confirmed that they have been in discussion with Boeing about making it a reality.

Wonder if they’ll charge extra for additional flushes? Wonder if people will flush 2 or 3 times as a protest against the fee? People will find ways of silently paying Ryanair back for their transgressions – I don’t think I have to elaborate<g>

Maybe they think those extra fees won’t be considered as part of their price, allowing them to be the low price leader.

I don’t know what they’re thinking, much less if they are.


My analytical side says they know how many times the toilet gets flushed per flight, on average – if not per route. Given that they know the cost, they can easily add .25 per passenger per ticket (or .07, whatever it might be) to cover those expenses.

Meanwhile I have to wonder why that isn’t already built into their overhead.

Imagine a future airline ticket receipt that looks like this:


As for charging you a fee to sell you an electronic ticket, I’m hard pressed to find a defense for that, much less an alternative.

What I can say is that even today, with travel spending curtailed by so many businesses, it would be a great time to be competing with businesses who make misguided decisions like these.

I don’t know their management. I have little doubt that they are smart people or they wouldn’t have gotten to where they are.

But this? Somewhere along the line, they’ve been derailed and seemingly forgotten what business they’re really in.

Meanwhile, there’s Branson

If a different entrepreneur ran these airlines, what would they do differently? What would they do to compete? One alternative is Richard Branson’s way, but there are others.

Your turn. If a different entrepreneur ran your business, what would they do differently?

And why exactly can’t you do those same things – even it’s only a few of them? Start with one.

The photo? You’ve probably figured out by now that the photos in my posts have some meaning. Sometimes they’re a message to a specific person who reads the blog. Sometimes it’s a puzzle for everyone who reads Business is Personal. Sometimes, they’re just another form of sarcasm<g>

Today is different.

I want to recognize a strong photo that I found on Flickr. It’s the last photo that someone took of their dad before he passed away. Such a strong image, I thought I should share it.

Thanks to HR wizzo Tom for passing along the airline stories.

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More on the expanse of mediocrity

As we discussed recently, all you have to do to find mediocre anything is jump on an airplane – with a few rare exceptions – to encounter the worst of everything, including your expectations.

In today’s guest post, Chris talks about the culture of mediocrity that many of us have come to expect.

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Earl Nightingale would be proud

In a regular air travel column in Conde Nast’s Portfolio called “2B” (referring to a first class seat, whatever that is these days), the column’s author talks about Southwest airlines non-standard (for the airline industry) behavior.

Decades ago, Earl Nightingale said something along the lines of “If you enter a market and don’t know what to do, watch what everyone else does and then do the opposite if you want to be successful.”

He also noted, as has Dan Kennedy, myself and others have repeated and witnessed, that people will stand there and watch you do something different than commonly-accepted industry behavior, become wildly successful at it, and yet, they’ll never bother to change their behavior.

The newsletters I mentioned yesterday are a prime example of it, but that isn’t the subject at hand.

As the author of this column asks rhetorically, “Whatâ??s the airline-industry jargon for unconventional wisdom?” – Southwest Airlines.

Much of what they do is common sense, yet none of the struggling “major” airlines bother to emulate any of their strategies as the slide into the tar pits of their industry.

What are you doing simply because every other business in your industry does so?

Is there a good reason, or are you simply following the Pied Piper?

In any other industry, would people DO those things?

Think about it. If you need some context, ask yourself “What would Southwest do if they bought your business?”

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How to make a guarantee say “Buy me NOW”

Several months ago, we talked about businesses that could study the chaos going on at the airport – specifically in the security line – and create a business in short order.

Of course, you could also reinvent your business by doing what Targus and other laptop case manufacturers are doing: Making a security-compatible laptop case to cure one of the most annoying parts of passing through TSA security checkpoints.

Yep, taking the laptop out of your computer bag. I’m not sure which is more annoying that, or taking off shoes. You tell me.

As the NY Times article referenced above notes, one of the risks that the bag makers face is that some yahoo decides that they don’t care if the bag is implicitly TSA-approved, all laptops must come out of their bags.

Anyone who has seen what happens at a checkpoint when a traveler tosses the TSA’s rules back at them knows that its a great way to miss a flight, much less win a free body cavity check.

So what does the bag manufacturer do to combat this obvious sales objection?

If they’re smart – they’ll include a Buy Me Now feature in their warranty.

For example: “If the TSA forces you to remove the computer from our bag, even after opening it on the xray machine belt, we’ll buy back the bag, no questions asked.”

It’s risk reversal 101. Remove all risk and the client is more likely to buy.

Quite often, once they buy, they’ll have no regrets. Getting them past that point with a great guarantee is your job.

Craft a great guarantee. One that says Buy Me Now, not one that says “weasel clauses ahead”.

Many would be tempted to worry about the refund rate. I suggest that you test it at first. My experience has shown that you’ll find that refunds may climb a little.

However, the volume of increased sales that result because of your “Buy Me Now” guarantee will more than make up for the increased refunds.