“Do more than is required. What is the distance between someone who achieves their goals consistently and those who spend their lives and careers merely following? The extra mile.”
Gary Ryan Blair
Yesterday was one of those days that will eventually happen to everyone if you spend a lot of time on airplanes. But my story today isn’t simply about flight delays and cancelled flights. It is about the extraordinary and unexpected customer experience I received from one American Airlines team member. So please indulge me a little bit with the length of this post as I set up the story…
I was in Tampa, Florida for a meeting and was booked on a flight home to Charlotte, NC that was supposed to leave at 3:56 PM. Unfortunately there were severe storms in Charlotte that brought tornadoes, hail, significant flooding, and heavy winds. The Charlotte airport was closed for several hours and all flights in and out of the region were grounded. Naturally my flight was canceled and I was re-booked for a flight that was to head out later in the evening.
Myself and my colleagues headed to the airport to wait for our flights and see if perhaps we could get out on an earlier flight if at all possible. Given the situation back home, and the damage and loss of life that had occurred due to the storms, it was very easy to keep everything in perspective and just be grateful that my friends and family were safe.
During our wait I had my first interaction with Catherine, the heroine of this story who is one of the exceptional team members at the American Airlines Admirals Club in Tampa, Florida. She assisted my and my colleagues in finding seats on an earlier flight and we all headed to the gate for our ride home. Unfortunately the weather conditions had created such a backlog of traffic into Charlotte that our new flight ended up being canceled after we had boarded the plane. We made our way back to the lounge and I found myself yet again in Catherine’s line. Just as before she was incredibly gracious and re-booked myself and one of my colleagues on a flight for the next morning as our other team member was still going to try get home on a late night flight. We left and started making plans to find a hotel and a spot for dinner.
As we were walking out of the airport I received a text message from American Airlines that our newly re-booked flight for the next morning had just been canceled! At this point the situation was laughable and we both just chuckled and proceeded to the ticket counter to start working on our next flight options.
Now enters the part of the story where I was just blown away. While we were standing there in line my phone rings and it was a call from a Tampa phone number. I answered quickly thinking it was very likely the hotel where I had just booked a room calling to verify some information. To my great surprise and delight the voice on the other end of the line was Catherine, our exceptional customer experience agent from the AA lounge. She said, “Mr. Holcomb I saw that the flight I just re-booked for you was canceled so I went ahead and booked you on the very next flight tomorrow morning. I have also taken care of your colleague and re-booked him as well. I’m sorry this has been such a crazy day but we appreciate your loyalty and business.”
I was literally speechless and quite blown away that she took note of our flights, noticed that it was cancelled, and then took the initiative to re-book the flights for us. As crazy as our day had been, hers was even crazier. She was doing exactly the same thing she had done for me for many many others who were in a similar situation with canceled and delayed flights. It would have been so easy for her to simply go about the business of her day, focus on the next transaction and I would have never know the difference…
I didn‘t have any expectation that she would go the extra mile. I had no expectation that she, or anyone else would be demonstrating exceptional care and attention. After all, there were hundreds if not thousands of passengers who were experiencing exactly the same thing. But that didn’t matter, not to Catherine. She put forth the discretionary effort to ensure that I was taken care of. She demonstrated through her initiative an incredible commitment to delivering an exceptional service experience. I had no expectations at all, and I was blown away by the service I received. As a person who’s professional life has been focused on leadership, and delivering service experiences that matter, I am highly attuned to both good and bad experiences and this one was truly exceptional.
Catherine, thank you for going the extra mile and showing what a difference it can make when one person takes the initiative to truly care about the relationship a customer has with an organization and does so much more than what is simply required as part of her job. I will tell this story for years and my hat is off to you and to American Airlines for both hiring you and empowering you to go the extra mile. You have created an exceptional brand experience for myself and my colleagues. THANK YOU!