‘Air Travel’


A Tale of Two Storms

Why is it that when two companies are faced with the same dilemma, one of them comes through with flying colors while the other just drops the ball completely? To me, it has everything to do with the culture and attitude that permeates the entire organization, from the top on down.

A few weeks ago while delivering a keynote speech at a corporate sales meeting in Tampa; I spoke about the merits of Southwest Airlines. Afterwards, one of the audience members relayed to me an experience he had with Southwest that proved my point completely.

This guy lives in Chicago. At the time of the story he had a girlfriend in Baltimore, who he would visit every weekend. The story takes place during the summer, when thunderstorms always make flying out of Chicago an adventure.

One weekend he was headed to Baltimore on U.S. Air. While seated in the gate area waiting to board, an announcement came over the PA system which said, “We are expecting thunderstorms in the area. So instead of boarding now and taking the chance you’ll be stuck sitting on the plane waiting for the weather to clear, we’ll just keep you in the gate area.” The upshot: the flight arrived in Baltimore three hours late.

The very next weekend he was again heading to Baltimore, this time on Southwest Airlines. While sitting in the gate area, the same announcement came over the loudspeaker, which told the passenger about thunderstorms in the area. But this time they followed by saying, “So we’re going to speed up the process; start boarding immediately and try to beat the thunderstorms out of here. In fact, we’re going to be extremely annoying in order to get you to move quickly. Let’s see if we can get those thunderstorms chasing US all the way to Baltimore.”

Needless to say they left on time and landed on time; why is that? Culture, that’s why.

The US Air people were most concerned about “Not screwing up and making people angry.” In the back of their minds they were probably saying, “What happens if we board them and the thunderstorms hit before they take off? All those people will get stuck sitting on the plane and we’ll look like idiots.” As if sitting in the gate area for three hours was a FAR better alternative.

The people from Southwest were only concerned with succeeding, and as you know, if you’re long time reader of this blog; listen to my Monday Motivational Minute; or read my book, The Best Damn Sales Book Ever, “Not failing,” is a lot different than succeeding.

The troubling part of this story is the lack of effort put forth by the people from US Air. There was nothing stopping them from doing the same thing Southwest did; except the different attitudes and cultures of the two airlines.

At Southwest, the attitude is, “Let’s do whatever it takes to get this plane out of here on time.” At US Air (and many other companies), the attitude is, “We did what we were supposed to do. Everything would have been OK if it weren’t for the thunderstorms, which is something totally beyond our control.”

First off, you will never be successful doing just what you are supposed to do. Like the people at Southwest Airlines, success only comes to those who do MORE than they’re supposed to do.

Second, while thunderstorms are not something you can control and could be unexpected, the most successful people and companies constantly prepare for the unexpected. While we never know what’s going to happen, you can rest assured that something always will happen!

The kind of culture and attitude found at Southwest Airlines (and any other successful company), always starts at the top. While innovation is a bottom up process that starts with the people closest to the action, an outstanding culture, attitude and commitment are top down qualities that start with upper management and permeate every corner of an organization.

By the way, BAD culture, attitude and commitment do the same thing no matter how large or small your company. If you want to learn more about forming solid client relationships and delivering amazing customer service, I’m offering Make My Life Easier: What the 21st Century Customer Really Wants, plus my other video and CD packages, at a 40% discount until February 11th, 2009. Click here!


San Francisco to Ystad, Sweden

I’m in a hotel room in Ystad, Sweden. It has been a hectic, tiring but exciting week. My trip began last Sunday when I flew to San Francisco. On Monday, I delivered an all-day seminar to a group of insurance agents from State Farm Insurance. Right after I finished, I showered, changed, packed my bags and left for the airport for a VERY long flight to Stockholm, Sweden; arriving there on Tuesday evening.

Wednesday afternoon I was the keynote speaker at a meeting for a large Swedish dairy company. The audience consisted of many of their retail customers, along with a few suppliers and partners. It was not only my first time speaking to a Swedish audience, but also my first time visiting Sweden.

Although I had no idea what to expect, everything turned out great. The audience was terrific, not very different from most of my audiences back home. People are people wherever you go and one thing we all have in common is deep down we all want to succeed, and if you have something to say and can deliver it in a way that’s entertaining, energetic and both easy to understand and implement, the audience will respond.

On Thursday, Hans Olsson (my representative who set up my appearances) and I went to visit with a Swedish Venture Capital firm who is showing interest in bringing me to Sweden next year to speak to the many companies they have a stake in, which is very exciting. Not too long after that Hans and I flew from Stockholm to Ystad, a small town in the south of Sweden, about fifty miles from Copenhagen.

Yesterday (Friday), I delivered a four hour public seminar to salespeople and business people from the area surrounding Ystad. We had about 250 people in the audience and I doubt it could have gone any better than it did. Again, the audience was fantastic; enthusiastic and very anxious to find out how they can be even more successful.

I don’t think anything here in Sweden has surprised me because, never having been here before, I went in with a completely open mind. Both hotels I stayed in (Stockholm and Ystad) were terrific. The service everywhere (hotels, restaurants, cabs) has been excellent. My only regret is there really hasn’t been enough time to see as much of Sweden as I would like, though I’ve enjoyed what I have been able to do.

I’ll be heading to Copenhagen on Monday for one day then flying back home Tuesday, October 2nd. It has been a great trip and I look forward to visiting again soon.


Trip to Boulder Junction

Have you ever gone into a situation with very low expectations and come out surprised beyond your wildest imagination? That just happened to me this past weekend.

Sunday night September 16th, I was booked to be the keynote speaker at an annual sales meeting for Uline, a company that specializes in shipping and packing supplies.

The meeting was being held at a corporate retreat named The Red Crown in Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin. Where’s that, you ask? Turns out it’s in the wilderness of northern Wisconsin. You can fly into either Milwaukee or Minneapolis and then take a REALLY small plane to Rhinelander. I have been a road warrior for over 21 years and I have NEVER heard of Rhinelander. From there it’s another 45 minute drive to the meeting facility.

My speech was scheduled for 7:30PM Sunday night. Normally, when I’m speaking that late I just fly in the same day and leave the next morning. However, considering how out of the way this place was, I decided to fly in Saturday and leave Monday. As you know from reading this blog, I try not to place a lot of trust in airlines, especially when I know I can’t fly Southwest. But then this created a problem.

There was no room available for me at The Red Crown on Saturday night. There was another corporate meeting going on there that day and it would only be available for the Uline meeting starting on Sunday.

The Uline people told me they would make other arrangements for me and ended up finding a room at The Big Bear Hideaway in Boulder Junction; about 10 miles from the Red Crown. They told me I could move to the Red Crown on Sunday or just stay at the Big Bear both nights. I chose the Big Bear and, oh man, am I glad I did.

Don’t get me wrong The Red Crown was nice; beautiful setting right on a gorgeous lake; fantastic staff who couldn’t be nicer; but in the rooms, no TV; no internet access and no phones.

Now I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from the Big Bear Hideaway, but it wasn’t much: boy talk about never assume. This place was beautiful. They call it a Bungalow Retreat, but it’s much more than that. The bungalow I stayed in had two bedrooms, a full kitchen; living room; and dining area and that’s just the downstairs. Upstairs was even bigger and just as nice. In every unit, the refrigerator is stocked with drinks; there is a basket loaded with all the kinds of snacks you love, but shouldn’t eat; a full stocked wine rack, a big screen TV (where I got to watch the Giants embarrass themselves against the Packers): one of three TV’s in my unit and free wireless internet.

The Main Lodge had a fully stocked bar, with premium liquor. I ordered a shot of 21 year Glenlivet and when I asked “What do I owe you?” Bill, the manager said, “We don’t have a liquor license, so we don’t charge for drinks.” Now I’m not much of a drinker, but I know people who could put a real dent in their budget.

Jeff is the owner, but Bill the manager took care of me as if he’d known me my whole life. He picked me up at the airport Saturday and drove me to The Big Bear. He drove to The Red Crown on Sunday and picked me up after my speech. On Monday morning he was up at 4AM to drive me back to the airport for a 6AM flight. There is no request too big at the Big Bear; they have 24 hour concierge service.

As for Boulder Junction, it’s beautiful. Lakes everywhere; great kayaking; fishing; hiking; boating; biking; terrific place!

Now for the biggest surprise: Saturday night, I asked Bill to recommend a restaurant in town for dinner. He mentioned “The Outdoorsman." I asked what kind of restaurant it is and he said, “Upscale.” Now I’m a born and bred New York City boy and real picky about restaurants; I like good food. I never expect much when I’m in a place like Boulder Junction: WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! Let me tell you about The Outdoorsman.

If this place were in New York City there would be a line out the door. The food was amazing. I had duck as my main course. Now I’m not saying it’s the best I’ve ever had, but I sure as hell can’t remember ever having better. I even had dessert (homemade blueberry pie) which is something I hardly ever do. Not only was this one of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten in, but the service was great, everyone was so nice (not surprising when you’re in the Midwest), and the prices more than reasonable.

I’m ashamed to say, like so many other people in this world, I assumed and prejudged. I felt so stupid about my attitude; I was so narrow minded and agenda driven I could have been a member of the mainstream media.

So if you’re ever up in Northern Wisconsin, or looking for an out-of-the-way place to kick back and relax, check out the Big Bear Hideaway in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin and don’t forget to eat at The Outdoorsman; guaranteed you’ll love it.


Follow Up to The Northworst Experience

A little while back, I wrote an entry about a bad experience I had flying on Northwest Airlines. What I didn’t mention in the article was that I had, at the request of the gate agent, filled out a feedback card detailing my complaint. I didn’t want to fill it out for one very good reason: they all go to the same address! 1 Garbage Can Drive!

But the gate agent told me that the CEO of Northwest reads and responds to every one of these, so I filled it out. You would think, after 21 years as a business traveler I would know better than to fall for that, but I am an eternal optimist.

I really want to believe that there are crappy companies out there who do want to get better. In fact, I’ve seen it happen. Citibank, Direct TV, Food Lion, and Verizon are just some of the companies who at one time or another, in my experiences as a customer with them, were awful, but managed to significantly improve their service to the point where I like doing business with them.

Unfortunately, Northwest Airlines continues to be Northworst. Naturally, I have never received a reply from my comment card and I sincerely doubt I ever will, since it’s been over 6 months from the time I sent it in. Oh well, I guess some things never change.


Trip Report: Phoenix and Detroit

I spent this past week speaking in Scottsdale and Detroit, and I can honestly say this was one of the best road trips I’ve had in my 21 years as a speaker. First, I have a free companion ticket whenever I fly Southwest since I fly them often, so I was able to take my wife, Linda. Second, each one of my seminars (3 of them) went beautifully.

I delivered a full-day seminar for State Farm Insurance in Scottsdale, and two seminars for the Yes! Network in Detroit. The Detroit seminars (one on prospecting, the other on goal setting) will be coming out on DVD within the next few months. Keep checking this blog for a special offer on these DVDs when they are released.

What made the trip even better was that the airline, hotels and car service were absolutely perfect! Not one problem. So I’m plugging each and every one of them.

I traveled Southwest all the way. The flight from Raleigh to Phoenix arrived 40 minutes early! We stayed at the The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale. Not only a beautiful resort, but the staff couldn’t have been nicer. One night we ate at a restaurant in the hotel named Deseo. Fantastic food, great service; I recommend it highly.

Then it was off to Detroit where our flight landed 10 minutes early. We were met by one of my favorite car services in the U.S.: Metro Car. Their drivers are always on time, friendly and courteous. The cars are immaculate. If you ever have to fly to Detroit on business and need airport transportation, call Metro Car at (800) 456-1701.

Now for our most pleasant surprise of the trip. The Hampton Inn at 169 Loop Road in Commerce Township, Michigan (248-624-8100). When it comes to budget hotels, I’ve always liked Hampton Inns. They’re clean, the people are nice and you get a free breakfast. But this Hampton Inn went above and beyond our expectations.

The room was terrific. The bed was amazingly comfortable. We had free high speed internet access, both wired and wireless. The staff was fantastic. They had a free shuttle service that took us and picked us up from wherever we wanted to go. Of course, they had free breakfast, along with with a take-away breakfast bag. Check it out if you’re ever in that area.

The flight back home landed in Raleigh about 10 minutes early and, of course, Thorpe’s (919-544-4363) the best car service in the U.S. was waiting for us.

When you have a trip like this, you wonder why can’t every hotel, airline and car service fulfill the same expectations? This was not brain surgery folks.

In fact, it was as simple as attitude, commitment and caring.