Monday, March 29, 2010

What a flight attendant taught me about business

Quick Sprout

What a flight attendant taught me about business

Posted: 25 Mar 2010 01:00 PM PDT
flight attendant
Over the past few years I have been traveling on airplanes a lot. So much that I started to pay attention to the flight attendants because although they are taken for granted, they are actually pretty smart.
Here is what you can learn about business from them:

Customer service is important

When you first hop on a plane, you'll notice that you are usually greeted. And when you are about to take your seat and put away your luggage, the flight attendant is there to help you if you need it.
In addition to that, once the plane takes off, they give you beverages and light snacks to keep you happy.
And if that's not enough, you can request almost anything from them without even leaving your seat. All you have to do is push the "call" button and the flight attendant will come to you and ask you how they may be of assistance.
So what's their purpose of doing this? Well if you are happy you are most likely to keep on flying on that airline, right? Happy customers means repeat customers, which means more money for the airline company.

Customers aren't that smart

Before the plane leaves the ground, what's one thing that the flight attendant does? She gives you step by step instructions on what you need to do before the plane can take off.
For example she walks you through buckling your seat belt and how to put on an oxygen mask in case the cabin pressure decreases. And just in case things get really bad, she even shows you how to put on and use a flotation device.
Now although you probably already know everything the flight attendant is telling you, you can't assume that everyone else does. With your business you need good instructions and documentation in case users are confused. This is a good way to make sure your customers are getting the most out of your product or service.

Options aren't always good

With the beverage service the flight attendant usually tells you what drinks are available. And although there are multiple options for you, typically they limit the number of them. For example if you are interested in drinking juice, your options are orange or apple.
Here are the reasons flight attendant don't give you hundreds of options:
  • More options equal higher costs – it's cheaper to buy a 12 pack of coke than it is to buy 12 different flavors of soda.
  • Time is money – if you give someone a hundred different options, it may take them a while to choose one. On the other hand if you give someone two options, it's a lot easier for them to make a choice.
  • Less is more – it's proven that if you give someone too many options, it won't increase their satisfaction.
If you want to increase your profit margins and have customers that are more satisfied don't give them too many options. Some of the most successful businesses like Craigslist are very simple.

Sometimes you have to be strict

If you are a geek like me, you love to check your emails on your cell phone right before the plane takes off and you probably even try to text message while you are in the air.
And to top it off, you probably don't want to wait until the plane reaches 10,000 feet before you can pull out your laptop.
If you try breaking any of these rules, the flight attendant comes over and tells you nicely that you can't do it. And if you still don't listen, they usually come back and tell you again in a stricter voice. At this point you'll probably end up listening to them because you're afraid of what's going to happen if you don't.
With your business you can't always let customers walk on you. Although you want to keep them happy, you need to understand that customers aren't always right. And if you let one walk on you, there is nothing stopping the rest from doing the same thing.

The best up sell, don't seem like an up sell

I fly on a lot of airlines, but the one that seems to be best when it comes to up selling customers is Alaska Airlines. Here are some of the things that the flight attendant up sells you on when you don't realize it.
  1. First class – flying in first class comes with a lot of perks, but it isn't cheap. For example first class passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight get free food and a portable movie player. If you happen to fly coach like me, you can also get food and a portable TV, but you have to pay extra. So when they announce this on the loud speaker, they make sure that coach passengers know that first class passengers get a free meal and portable TV, while the coach passengers only have an option to purchase them.
  2. Free trip – one of the most successful up sells that I have seen is a free trip in the continental US. To get this free trip all you have to do is apply for an Alaska Airlines credit card. And although Alaska is giving you a free trip, they are making money on you because the credit card companies are paying them more money for each customer that signs up.
  3. Free can convert into paid – on Horizen flights flight attendants typically offer one type of beer and wine for free. If you want a better brand of alcohol, you have to pay 6 dollars. The flight attendant doesn't really push you to buy the higher quality alcohol, but a popular trend I have noticed is that someone will drink the free, mediocre alcohol, and when the beverage cart comes around the second time they'll pony up the 6 dollars for the "good stuff". Remember, when most people drink alcohol, they typically don't stop at 1 drink.
If you are trying to up sell your customers, be smart about it. Don't just push them into paying you more money, but instead ease them into it. There isn't anything wrong with giving your customers a trial of additional products or services you offer in hopes that they'll purchase them.

It's the small things that keep people happy

The best flight attendant I have ever met was on a JetBlue flight. From take off to touch down, he was entertaining and literally had almost every passenger smiling.
Right before the plane took off, he said all of the standard stuff that most flight attendants say, but he told us that our estimated flight time to Las Vegas, Nevada was 2 hours and 30 minutes. The problem with that was everyone on the plane was expecting to go to Los Angeles, California and not Las Vegas. People started panicking, but when he said he was kidding passengers started laughing.
To top it off, when we landed another plane was still at our gate so we had to sit in the plane for an extra 10 minutes. In most cases passengers would have been angry, but the flight attendant started asking us trivia questions, such as how many international flights leave Los Angeles every day. Passengers started to throw out random numbers and within seconds everyone started to play along.
And to make things even worse (better), right before the plane got to the gate the power turned off for no reason, so the pilot had to restart plane. Right when this happened the first thing the flight attendant said was, "I'm glad that didn't happen while we were in air" and once again everyone started laughing.
So if you want to please your customers, you also have to focus on the small things. Having a perfect product or service is great, but that personal touch really makes a big difference.


Reading a Harvard Business Review is a great way to learn about business, but it isn't the only way. Look around you, the things you take for granted can teach you a lot about business.
You didn't expect to learn anything from an flight attendant, right? I didn't either, but both of us did. So don't take people for granted as you can probably even learn something from a 5 year old.

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