Nick Hilton Princeton
Good clothes for men and women.

A Memoir

The Present and How It Got That Way

 

What Is Good About Good Service?

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Back before the mega-merger I was partial to United because they went where I went most often: Chicago, Denver, Milano. I had to fly Continental to Charlotte on one occasion; same old routine, hurry up and wait at security, at the gate, stand in line, wait again on the jetway, excuse me, excuse me, jostle down to my seat, search for some overhead, finally sit, fasten the seat belt and look down to see I've lost the cufflink from my left sleeve. The Tiffany ones, gold ovals with NH my parents had given me for Christmas. Shoot up from my seat and jostle back through, panicky searching the waiting area. No luck. "We gotta go," the ground crew is saying. "What happened?" asked a concerned-looking woman crew member as they began to close the plane door behind me. I told her. She said, "Let me call maintenance to see if anyone picked it up, hon.”

The plane revving up, I returned to my seat, despondent, looked up to see this happy-faced attendant coming toward me, holding out the gold cufflink. "Maintenance found it. They'd taken it back to the office, but someone ran it down to the gate and passed it through the window to the captain. And here it is." This was like a religious experience. I didn't know you could open plane windows. I was used to "So sorry sir. Nothing we can do." The experience converted me. It was Continental religion from that moment.

So. What was it made me abandon United Premier and all those frequent flyer miles to become a Continentalist? Of course it was the cufflink episode. The extra effort. But it I think specifically it was the look of happy triumph on that woman's face as she came down the aisle: happy to help, proud of herself and the company. That happiness erased the barrier between me, the customer and her, server. The lost cufflink was not just my problem, it was Continental Airline’s problem too. We were in it together. Isn't that the emotional underpinning to any successful relationship? Beyond that, doesn't this kind of interaction give everybody a feeling of belonging, of being cared about? Don't we all seek that from our first breath to our last?

That’s the thing. It’s not the maître d’ coming to ask you if your food is OK; it’s not the things you expect to happen happening; not the candy on your pillow or a coupon in the mail; it’s We're In This Together. When the client has a problem it's everybody's problem. It's a team effort, and everybody's on the team. In this relationship there is never a conflict of interest. There is no reciting OurPolicy. There is just us and the solution. This is nothing new, although the business-book-writing community seems to find it out every couple of decades and make it sound new again, the concept is as old as time. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is our policy manual. Not just one page; just one sentence.