Well, guess what? The majority of the airlines' customers are back here with me. They're not in the front with the half dozen empty couches waiting for upgrades to step forward. They're back here. We're back here. The customers. The folks whose cash keeps airline from going out of business. The folks whose patronage flight attendants depend on to keep wearing that uniform.
I know their job is hard, but so is Jane Spears'. Jane is a waitress at a very busy restaurant not far from where I work. Jane always smiles. Jane gets great tips. People give up their place in line just to make sure they get one of her tables. Jane is one of the reasons why the restaurant she works for does so well.
Part of the job of a flight attendant is to serve drinks and food. It's only a small part of the job, but they can't avoid it. I am not suggesting that they are an airline waitstaff. Not at all. They do a lot more. But you get my point.
Jane works for tips, and Jane makes a killing. Not every waiter in her restaurant takes home the same amount of cash. But the thing about Jane is that every day, even when she's having a bad day, she is exceptional at taking care of people. She always smiles. She's always fast. She makes everyone want to come back.
When I spend four hours on a plane and watch flight attendants treat customer after customer like cattle, I think about Jane. I think about how amazing it would be if every flight attendant were just like her. Pleasant. Soothing. Fast. Caring. Personable.
The way flight attendants used to be.
I think about how much I would be willing to pay extra for each ticket just to fly with an airline that promises that kind of service. $20. $50. I don't know. When you give your customers something of tangible value, pricepoints become less of a concern.
I think maybe that there's a better way to inspire customer loyalty than through air mileage rewards programs.
I also wonder how quickly most flight attendants would start being more like Jane if they made their money on tips.
This is the part where you stop and read that last line again. That's right: Tips.
Here's the deal: Airlines charge extra for meals now. $7 for a lousy day-old salad. It's just a matter of time before the pretzels and the quarter cup of soda aren't free anymore either. Why not go with the full restaurant model?
Now... flight attendants have zero control over the quality of the food being served on their flight, but they have complete control over how it is served. How the drinks are served.
How passengers are treated.
I'm thinking that if the airlines can't pay their flight attendants enough to make them happy, if they can't train them well enough to make them friendly, then maybe they should let us do it for them with our own cash.
Maybe if flight attendants made a good portion of their money from tips, things would turn around a bit. In-flight customer experience would improve dramatically. People wouldn't get talked down to. Food carts wouldn't be used as weapons.
That's right. Tips. Just like waiters. Bellhops. Maitres D'Hotel. Doormen. Bathroom attendants.
Tips give flight attendants an incentive to work a little smarter. To treat us better. Perhaps to take pride in their jobs again, even.
Imagine what $1 for every third passenger could add to your bottom-line each week.
Imagine what $1 from zero passenger would do to your bottom-line each week.
I know this is going to sound slimy, but I have to say it: *Cringing* This might be a good way for airlines to save money. The slime melts off when you realize that by putting flight attendants' livelyhood in the hands of passengers, you're giving your flight attendants the power and the incentive to boost customer satisfaction and their own cash flow.
Give us cheaper tickets. Give us a small cash refund on our ticket right at the gate. Tell us:
"If you don't have a great experience flying with us today, here's $3 back, but if you do, thank your cabin crew on the way out."
Would some flight attendants leave? Sure. But they would probably be the ones who need to leave anyway. The food cart bullies. Shame on them.
Will this ever happen? Probably not. There are unions to contend with, for one. It would require a huge paradigm shift in the airline industry. It would require a tremendous amount of scrutiny to prevent management abuses. The public would have to be made aware of it. Airlines would have to provide real value to make this work. A lame "please tip your attendants" plea wouldn't be enough.
Airlines would actually have to start thinking about pulling themselves out of the "also in" mentality that has been driving them into the red for over a decade.
Airlines would have to start focusing on their customers again.
Reward miles aren't cutting it. Crappy seats aren't cutting it. Lousy attitudes in the cabin aren't cutting it. Something needs to change.
Tips for flight attendants might not be the answer, but it might be a good start.
Speaking of carts, I remember a time when flight attendants gently tapped you on the shoulder if they needed to get by. Nowadays, they just roll. I guess they'll keep right on rolling until they finally fracture someone's elbow. I've actually witnessed a pair purposely bump people with the corner of their carts to knock them out of the way.
Instead of saying "I'm sorry," they said "please keep the aisle clear, sir."
That wasn't Delta though, or the MD88. This was on an US Airways A-321, where even a lean, medium-built guy like me can't completely fit in what is basically little more than a sardine seat.
As sad as it is, I guess when you spend more time training flight attendants to be cops than hostesses, when customer service is just a line item on a checklist, some of the politeness and basic human compassion that we once took for granted are bound to become a casualty of war.
Maybe instead of a plastic pair of wings on their chest, we should just give them a badge and a taser gun. Maybe we should be read our miranda rights somewhere between the belt buckle instructions and the life vest demo.
"... in case of a water landing, your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will result in the indiscriminate smashing of a giant block of solid metal into the back of your head at the cabin crew's discretion."
What's going on here? What's this week's excuse for the downward spiral of customer care in the airline industry? Money troubles? Security concerns? Profitability issues? Technology limitations?
How about this: Maybe the airlines aren't doing much to make their employees all that happy? Maybe the airlines' hiring requirements have... um... slackened some?
Or maybe the airlines just don't care.
But being that I'm an optimist, I'd venture to say that it's isn't as much an issue of not caring as it is an issue of not knowing what's going on outside of first class.
Perhaps if more airline executives cared enough to fly coach incognito, say, just for the sake of doing market research, they might get wise and fix the debacle that is the airline industry today.
We're talking shambles, here.
We're talking the last days of the Roman Empire.
We're talking terminal denial.
It's just about come to the point where you have to insert quarters into a meter just to use a filthy 2x3x5 bathroom. Don't think it won't happen either.
So yeah, the airlines could do better. A lot better. And some of them are trying. It's great... and my hat's off to any airline that tries to raise the bar a bit and make flying pleasant again. Or fun. Or memorable.
But here's the thing: You don't need clown outfits and superminis on leggy stewardesses to lure me into booking a flight with your airline. As a steerage passenger, here's all I really want:
1) Friendly, courteous gate agents. (No, not just polite. I said "friendly".)
2) Seats actually designed for adults of normal stature, not 5' tall space aliens with a bad case of scoliosis.
3) Friendly, courteous flight attendants. (Yes, "friendly".)
4) Not to be viciously rammed in my sleep by the unforgiving edge of a 200lb food cart.
5) Free meals on flights longer than 3 hours. Charge it to the ticket. Enough with the nonsense already.
6) If I am going to pay $7 for a meal, make it worth my while. I've had MRE's better than this.
7) Prohibit people from carrying their fast food on the plane. It stinks the place up.
8) I don't mean to be insensitive, but if the passenger next to me is so large that he takes up half of my seat, I want a partial refund right there on the spot.
9) Friendly, courteous flight attendants. (It's worth mentioning again.)
10) Take off on time. Land on time. Don't overbook.
Oh, and one last thing. If your airline uses "zones" to load your plane, here's a tip: Don't start with the front of the plane. If zone 1 is in the front of the plane and zone 5 is in the back of the plane, how about starting with zone 5? See, that way, the people in zone 5 aren't in the way when the folks from zones 4 and 3 and 2 roll in. You could load a plane in ten minutes instead of twenty-five minutes.
Just in case you were spacing out just then: Start loading from the back. It's faster.
If you're going to treat us like cattle, at least drive us like cattle. It's the least you can do.
Note: Check out another neat little post on airline experience crafting here.
You don't build anything worthwhile by copying other people. Yeah, sure, it may seem like the safe thing to do, but it isn't.
Welcome to the fabulous world of the "also in".
Welcome to the wonderful world of the "why bother".
Okay, sure, not every product needs to be extraordinary. Not every product needs to be unique. I guess you could set out to publish a magazine that's a lot like Newsweek or Men's Health or Fast Company... only more "average". You could set out to produce a movie that's a lot like Titanic or Sling Blade or Gladiator, but... you know... more "average". You could set out to copy Subway or Jersey Mike's or Quizno's and make a subway sandwich, but... just a little bit more bland. A little bit less special. A little bit cheaper too, while you're at it. I guess that would be swell.
To make up for the blandness, you could always pay an ad agency to try and pick up the slack for you and miraculously come up with a brilliant viral campaign that may or may not have people flocking to your stores.
Yep, you could do that.
I guess you could wake up one morning and decide that your work, the fruit of your labors, could be just... um... average. No more, no less. As long as your business makes money, who cares, right?
Forget the great American novel. Forget the Chrystler Building. Forget the iPod. Forget the Canon EOS 1D. Release your movies straight to video and your books directly to the bargain house. Tell your kids to shoot for a C+. It's okay. Average is good enough.
Instead of designing your own products, find cheaper ones already being manufactured by someone else and pass them off as your own. Hope that no one will notice. As long as the profits are good, why not? Yep, I guess you could convince yourself that it's okay to go that route.
It isn't like you need to actually think about where your company is going. It isn't like you need to give any thought to the relationship you have with your customers. What role you play in their world. Instead, you can just watch what your competitors are doing, and copy their every move. You can keep cutting corners. You can keep telling yourself that's the safe thing to do. The smart thing to do.
You can keep telling yourself that if you make your products cheaper, you will sell more of them. After all, that's how your competitors are stealing your customers, isn't it?
Or is it better design?
Or is it because their stores have red walls?
Why be relevant, after all? Why be relevant when you can just play it safe and follow the leaders?
Is that what we learned to do in business school? Is that what we learned about in History class? In English comp.? Is that the lesson we've learned from watching millions of hours of sports on TV? Succeed by waiting to see what someone else will do to see if it's safe to try it too?
Is that what a a CEO or a CMO is paid to do?
You don't have to answer that.
Not if you don't want to.
Instead, think fast and tell me how many skyscrapers there are in New York City.
(For the sake of expediency, let's just say that there are LOTS.)
How many of those skyscrapers can you actually name?
Only a handfull?
Why is that?
Of the thousands of companies you'll encounter in your lifetime, how many will you actually remember as being worthy of mention? Of having been a pleasure to deal with? A few dozen at most?
Why is that?
Of the tens of thousands of people you will meet in your lifetime, how many will you end up being truly impressed by? How many will you come to count as friends?
Again, why is that?
What does that tell you about average?
What does that tell you about the value of average?
Consider a few names: Starbucks. Target. BMW. Apple. Pixar. Ben & Jerry. Kenneth Cole. Nike.
What is it about these brands that makes them so special?
Is it their ability to crunch numbers? Nope.
is it their ability to copy the guys who came before them? (Um... who would that be?)
Are their products the best in the world? Again, no.
Reality check: Most of your local coffee bars make much better coffee than Starbucks. Target's clothes are no better than old Navy's. BMW arguably isn't Porsche. Apple is nowhere near Microsoft's sales. Pixar doesn't always hit the mark. Haagen-Dazs makes the best Rum Raisin ice cream and Mayfield is pretty awesome too. DKNY, Express Men and Banana Republic give Kenneth Cole a run for his money. Most serious runners wear Mizuno, Asics or new Balance on their feet, not Nike.
So what is it?
Is it their ability to stand out? Sure, but that's only a symptom of their success.
What's key is their ability to a) create something special that their customers won't be able to find anywhere else, and b) do it over and over again.
That's the promise of these brands.
When you buy me, I promise that...
You will look hip.
You will sleep better.
You will save time.
You will smell fantastic.
Your cold symptoms will vanish.
You won't have to worry about quality.
Without a promise, a brand isn't a brand. It's just a mark.
There is no such thing as an "also in" brand.
Okay, now that you've read it, say it.
Really. Say it outloud:
"There is no such thing as an also in brand."
When you're an "also in," what is your promise? What is your purpose?
"We're kind of like Subway."
"We're kind of like Power Bar."
"We're kind of like CNN."
Think about it.
I don't care if you're a mechanic or a graphic designer, a chain of dry-cleaners or a rental car service. If you aren't there for a reason (other than just making money), you're doomed. It may not be today or tomorrow or next week, but someone with a purpose will come along to eat you up. A real brand. A real business.
It's just a matter of time.
If you're going to be a mechanic, be the best damn mechanic in your zip code. Or the most honest. Or the friendliest.
If you're going to design logos and layouts for clients, be the edgiest in your field. Or the fastest. Or the most pleasant to work with.
If you're going to open up a dry-cleaning business, either offer the best quality pressing or the fastest turnaround. Make drop-offs and pickups velvet-smooth. Make your customers want to come back and recommend you to their friends.
I could talk to you about the role that pride plays in building a brand, but I'll save that for another day.
The point is that being an "also in" company doesn't cut it. Not if you want to grow. Not if you want your company to go anywhere.
Not if you want to survive.
Copying other companies isn't a strategy, it's a death sentence.
Word to the wise: Don't be a follower. There's no safety in being second.
Yep, you read right: I am very happy to announce that the BrandBuilder blog has just joined Corante!
If you aren't familiar with Corante yet, go check them out here, here, and here.
One of the many cool things about Corante is that it conveniently groups together a number of blogs you're probably already reading... or should be. (Think Tom Asacker, Johnnie Moore, John Winsor, Jennifer Rice, etc.)
Not too shabby.
Okay, that's it for me today. No worries, I'll be back tomorrow with a real post. ;)
Buying a product. Bringing it home. Taking it out of the box. Pressing PLAY. Turning the first page. Pulling the cork. Clipping-in. Hitting the ignition. Biting into the first slice. Slipping into it. Walking into the new store. Spraying it on. Plugging it in. Connecting the pieces. Reading the owner's manual. Shifting up. Writing your name on it. Clicking SEND on the order form. Taking it for a spin. Just looking at it. Sharing it with a loved one. Holding it in your hand.
It should always feel like this.
It doesn't matter if you're a restaurant, a store, a website, a bank, a doctor's office, a manufacturing plant or a creative firm; ask yourself this: Is the work you are doing today going to have that kind of effect on your customers? On your clients? On your fans?
Is your work really going to connect with the people you are doing this for?
Are they going to fall in love with it? Is it going to impact their lives? Is it going to inspire them? Make them smile? Wow them?
When they talk to their friends about you, will it be with awe? Will they be singing your praises?
Are you a lovebrand?
If not, stop what you're doing. Put your pen down. Look around you. Think about why you're there, sitting at your desk. Think about the project you're working on. It could be a product launch. It could be a new menu. It could be a new floor display. A promotion. A party. A speech.
It could be anything.
Remarkable always hits the mark. Lovebrands always win.
The key to becoming a lovebrand is simply to love your customers first. I mean... seriously. Love them. Fall in love with them.
I'm not kidding.
If you're a coffee shop, love them enough to give them the best damn cup of coffee they've ever had. If you're a retail outlet, give them the best shopping experience they've ever had. Love them like you love a best friend. Do what you know will make them happy. Get to a point where you truly feel joy and pride when they love what you've done for them. When it enriches their lives. When you truly become part of it in some way.
Everything you do should be for them, not for you.
This isn't about like. It's about love.
Either you're involved in a wonderful love affair with your customers and clients, or you aren't.
So, once again...
Buying a product. Bringing it home. Taking it out of the box. Pressing PLAY. Turning the first page. Pulling the cork. Clipping-in. Biting into the first slice. Slipping into it. Walking into the new store. Spraying it on. Plugging it in. Connecting the pieces. Reading the owner's manual. Taking it for a spin. Just looking at it. Sharing it with a loved one. Holding it in your hand.
It should always feel like this.
"Just as with financial performance, measurement is critical to
improvement for brand initiatives. Creating a culture of measurement-driven
brand assessments will help executives better understand how to derive the
greatest return from their investments. (...)
Simple steps based on increasing your understanding of your
customers, and their interactions with your brand, can be implemented through
For instance, the ability to quantify gaps in organizational alignment
behind your brand, or discontinuity in the customer experience (including
metrics such as loyalty, drivers of satisfaction, service levels, etc.) by
segment, region or product, can – and do – have profound impact at the executive
"Something’s become obvious to me: people are curious about this whole word
of mouth phenomenon, but think that it’s an add-on that can be separated out of
an identity project, put a price tag on and wrapped up in a nice little package
all the way over here."
Day 2: Crafting the mission statement. A hot, crowded
room with easels of white paper and a facilitator who knows nothing about your
business. Everyone who is a director level and above in the company is
there—that’s sixty people. You each figure you get one word, so at the end of
the day, you have a sixty word mission statement like this:“The mission
of (your company) is to deliver superior quality products and services
for our customers and communities through leadership, innovation, and
"The ultimate test for a mantra (or mission statement) is if
your telephone operators (Trixie and Biff) can tell you what it is. If they can,
then you’re onto something meaningful and memorable. If they can't, then, well,