So next to me on the plane to Washington, DC is a pilot. He looked like he was out of central casting, with Robert Redford-like looks and that same broad smile.
After being reassured he was not supposed to be flying this particular plane, I asked how he started his career.
“A fluke,” he said. “I’d wanted to be a pilot from when I was a kid. But I applied to the Air Force Academy and was rejected. So I thought that was my only chance, and went to Muhlenberg College for communications.
“Things were going well and I became like the head undergraduate newsman. And because of that, I’d need to meet with a lot of people I really had no interest in from the university. One of them, this old secretary – she was probably about 40 but that was ancient to me then – asked if I was going to make a career out of broadcasting.
“Maybe, I stuttered. She noticed my hesitancy, and asked what I really loved. I told her about my wanting to be a pilot but missing the opportunity because of the rejection to the Academy. She said, ‘Then why don’t you do what my husband did. Join the Navy with your bachelor’s degree and they’ll teach you to fly.’
“I went down to the recruiting office that afternoon, took an aptitude test you were supposed to study for that day, passed, and here I am.”
It made me think how often I’d backed off of a meeting I didn’t think was important; how might my life have been different had I done all the little things.
Little things can make such a difference. That same plane ride was tainted not by learning that one of our bags had missed the flight and wouldn’t be in for another ninety minutes, it was that the baggage handler was more concerned with letting passengers know, “It’s not my fault,” then a simple apology that we would be delayed.
Here’s another example: we’re always trying to figure out how to make our products even better. We constantly speak with our factory about how to make the bags even more durable. Even though we have close to a 99% quality rate, we continually experiment with different fabrics, material thickness, changes to construction. Recently we learned about a stronger thread. Yes, it will cost a bit more and lower our margins a bit, but it will also lead to even greater customer satisfaction, less complaints and more revenue.
That sounds like a good trade, doesn’t it, a bit of margin for making your customers happier, and therefore more loyal, which then raises your revenues and thus better your bottom line? We certainly are happy to make that exchange.
I recognize that our thinking is a bit opposite to today’s economic trends. Today’s business environment seems to be all about cutting corners. There is story after story about how to put less labor, less materials, less money into every element of business. But I’m guessing there are very few companies, be they a restaurant, store or drycleaner, that have failed because they spent too much time, money and effort to make their clients happy.
Whether it’s explaining to your staff how to apologize for inconveniences without needing to take any culpability, whether it’s providing discounts to those in uniform, doing something extra for the community, it’s those little things that will separate you from your competition. And ensure that irrespective of how hard your competition comes at you, your customers will remain loyal.