On a flight to Amsterdam recently, I was reminded of the Saturday Night Live skits featuring sorority girls from, yes…Delta, Delta, Delta. An essential feature of the characters was their insincerity. They had energy, enthusiasm but it was a façade.


The lead flight attendant reminded me of the skit because he was mechanical and at times, sarcastic. Finally, he went over the top. While approaching Amsterdam, we were served coffee. Well, I wasn’t because I was asleep. Fair enough. When I awoke, I asked for coffee. It didn’t appear. The third time I asked, the robot flight attendant yelled at me. Yep, raised his voice saying “I’ve told them three times to get you coffee!” I am supposed to be happy with “I told them”?

Fast forward to the return flight. Boarding the flight, loaded down with shortbread cookies and chocolate from Duty Free, I was feeling so very happy with the trip (mix of business and fun). We boarded and I immediately thought about the grouch. The memory dissolved when I met Susan. She is a delightful woman who went about her duties with efficiency and warmth. The fight home was great. Each and every flight attendant not only did what we expected; they did it with grace and sincerity.

I hope that Delta knows that Susan, her colleague Dorothy and the rest of the crew on Flight 31 (June 13th, LHR>ATL) are shining examples of Delta’s best. They left quite an impression. So did the grouch on Flight 74. Not the impression Delta wants.

Employees like the one on Flight 74 take up an inordinate amount of time, because they are ones companies hear about. Why? They inflame us. They disappoint us. They make us resent the money we spent to acquire the goods or services they offer. We can’t forget them and we tell our friends. Sometimes we write newsletters.

While I won’t soon forget the grouch, I want to lift up Susan, Dorothy and their colleagues. They are shining examples of why enthusiasm, sincerity and commitment far out strip compliance for making customers happy.

If you run a business, team or small group, here’s what you should do:

  1. Look for people who embody sincerity. They are avatars, tell everyone.
  2. Keep your eye on the ball-whatever that is for your business. Focus on the outcomes, not checking things off a list.
  3. Don’t reward mere compliance-highlight and celebrate commitment.
  4. Share stories of happy customers-not just in your external marketing. Share the message internally so employees can see the impact they have!
  5. Keep the technicians and bureaucrats away from customers.

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