Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Be Nice

I have just returned from a long weekend in my favourite city, New York – part vacation, part healthcare fact-finding. The good news – it was Fleet week with thousands of sailors, marines and coastguard in the city as part of the Memorial Day programme, celebrating the forces and honouring the fallen. Not so good – it was very hot and although any City looks better in the sunshine – downtown Manhattan felt pretty sticky.

I had planned for the first blog on my return to cover some pressing healthcare issue, comparing either side of the Atlantic. Plenty of those to follow in future postings but my flight home has prompted this missive on customer service and behaviour.

Most people with a modicum of emotional intelligence know that behaviour begets behaviour. Forget instant Karma for a moment, even if you don’t believe that – you will have experienced that if you are grumpy and rude, you are less likely to get sunshine and roses in return.

And so it was with my flight home from Newark with Continental Airlines. The ‘red-eye’ overnight flight from New York to London is rarely fun but the passengers generally seemed a cheery lot as we all waited at the gate to board.

The bubble of bonhomie was quickly and irrevocably burst as a sour faced woman with a miserable countenance and ugly aura barked orders at her captive audience, warning us only to board when called. One got the impression that this ground stewardess would, given half the chance line any offenders up against the nearest wall to be summarily shot.

I was transfixed as the dark cloud hovering over this person’s head cast a shadow over all before her. Not once did she look at a customer as she checked their boarding card. Not one smile, acknowledgement, pleasantry and not a trace of goodwill or good manners. Her partners in crime were no better. Like the snake haired Medusa with her two Gorgon sisters in Greek mythology - ‘hated by mortal man’ – I felt that this trio of airline staff could turn any one of us to stone with just one glance as they ushered us through the gates of Hades.

It was therefore unsurprising that the mood in the cabin quickly turned nasty as people fought for space in overhead lockers and hustled to get to their seats. For a few minutes – this 7 hour flight looked as though it was going to be a very unpleasant experience. I have never witnessed so much angst and discomfort among passengers on an on-time schedule and I have no doubt that the assault on our senses pre- boarding was directly responsible.

Sadly, two of the cabin crew weren’t much better. When I advised the stewardess that I had no pillow – she looked at me as though I had either eaten it or sold it at great profit. Grudgingly she found one for me. Another stewardess appeared not to have smiled for at least a generation and her facial muscles had probably lost the art.

Luckily, two out of the four cabin staff that I encountered were actually quite pleasant and managed to diffuse potentially inflammatory situations as we all tried to sleep over the Atlantic.

This is a classic example of how individuals engaged in the activity of ‘service’ can influence the environment for their customers. This is especially relevant in healthcare and leisure.

There is a very simple solution. Be nice. It’s good for you, it’s good for your customers and it’s good for business.


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