Scape_Goat_Blame_Game“Employees will always treat customers the way they are treated by management.”— Misti Burmeister

On my flight to Cabos, Mexico, earlier this year, I changed planes in Houston, Texas. Unlike the first flight, which was at max capacity, this plane had several open seats closer to the front. Tempted as I was to switch, I nestled into my assigned seat – 30C.

Just before we pushed back from the gate, a flight attendant kindly let us know she’d be happy to move passengers into better seats … for a few extra bucks!

“The people in economy-plus have paid an additional $70 to sit there,” she explained. “It wouldn’t be fair to those passengers if we let anyone else upgrade for free.”

Thank goodness I didn’t move, I thought. I’m too cheap for that! And moving back would have been embarrassing.

Thirty minutes into the trip, the flight attendant told us she’d be handing out customs forms so we could get a jump-start on filling them out.

“Our airline doesn’t supply pens,” she added. “If you don’t have a pen, you better cozy up with your neighbors, who paid for theirs, or ask to borrow one.”

I was surprised – by both the pen situation, and how the flight attendant explained it. This was not some start-up airline. Certainly they could afford pens! Seriously, my accountant nets a fraction of their budget, and I have a purse full of his!

Thankfully, I had my own pen.

Needing to stretch my legs, and feeling curious about the airline’s company culture, I approached the flight attendant and asked, “What’s it like working for this airline?”

“I’ve worked in the industry for 25 years,” she said. “It’s terrible.”

Then why would you stay?! I wanted to scream, but instead asked, “Do they nickel and dime you the way they insist you do with customers?”

She considered my question for a moment. “The new thing is all about on-time departures,” she said, with a touch of irritation. “We were an hour late on this departure, and it’s being blamed on the pilots.”

“Blamed?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s all about accountability now. Teams compete for the most on-time departures, and someone has to take the blame for the late ones.”

“Whose fault was it?”

“Well, it was the pilots’ fault. They didn’t get enough sleep to keep within regulations. Their flight was late yesterday due to weather.”

“So the pilots get blamed for issues which are out of their control?”

“Well, someone has to take the blame.”

On the way back to my seat, I wondered what would happen if the airline stopped nickel and diming customers, and stopped playing the blame game with employees, and instead started asking good questions – like “How can we serve our employees better, achieve better on-time departures, exceed customer expectations, and ensure max capacity for every flight?”

This strategy could provide such a boost to the bottom line that the company could actually afford pens … and have happier employees.

Three simple steps any business can take to move in the right direction:

  1. Decide. Being remarkable is a decision, one many employees would happily make and push hard to achieve, once they know what success looks like.
  2. Reward. Employees will always treat customers the way they are treated by management. So when you leave employees feeling appreciated and valued, they’ll pass on the good vibes to your customers. If you nickel and dime them, they’ll nickel and dime your customers, until said customers take their nickels and dimes elsewhere.
  3. Listen. Ask your employees what seems to work well and what doesn’t. Provide them with easy ways to give feedback about what would make their experience even better. 

Anticipating customer needs is one of the most talked-about aspects of sales. Of course, the greats take it a step further and begin by anticipating the needs of their employees, trusting their intentions are to do remarkable work.

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Join the Conversation: How do you know when a leader/company is asking the right questions?

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations and Hidden Heroes

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