Good customer relations help businesses take off

I loved the story last week about the Frontier Airlines pilot who treated a whole planeload of passengers to pizza when their plane was grounded in Wyoming due to heavy rain. The pilot, Gerhard Bradner, rang the local Domino's Pizza outlet at 10pm and told them he needed pizza for 160 people, pronto. The Domino's team were about to head home for the night but they whacked their aprons back on, hurriedly cooked 35 pizzas and delivered them to the airport to some very hungry cabin-bound passengers.

This story is a great example of customer service - and I'm all about exceptional customer service. The reason is simple: if you go the extra mile for your customers, they'll go the extra mile for you, in the form of repeat business and positive word of mouth. You can't have a successful business without happy customers. Impress your customers with standout service and, in return, they'll contribute to your business's success.

For me, the story of the proactive pilot was a great illustration of three important business lessons.

One, always go the extra mile for your customers. Wow them by being thoughtful and caring. If things aren't going smoothly, or it's not business as usual, figure out what you can do to ease their pain. Most importantly, take responsibility before you're asked to. It's easy for anyone to come up with a solution when the customer is standing in front of them, demanding it - it's doing so before the question is asked which is most impressive.

Two, think of your customers as humans. So often businesses forget this, and instead think of their customers or clients as being a number or (strangely) just someone who is there to make their job harder. I sometimes tell clients to think of their customers as though they are their mother - are you treating your customers the way you'd want your mum to be treated?

The pilot did - instead of thinking he had 160 grumpy passengers to deal with, he put himself in their shoes and wondered how they were feeling. Hungry was obviously his answer!

Three, empower your staff to make decisions and do the right thing. Passengers were hungry, the pilot ordered them dinner. Simple. But not all companies run this way. In some places, the amount of hierarchy and red tape involved would have ensured this simple gesture never saw the light of day. It would have perhaps needed approval from someone in management, HR, legal advice . . . In some companies, the idea would have been vetoed as soon as it was floated, or it wouldn't have even been spoken aloud because the staff member would know they'd be quashed. Good businesses trust their staff to make decisions based on what is right for the business, and then act on those decisions.

I also whole-heartedly approve of the way Domino's responded. The manager was sending his team home for the night when the pilot rang. Instead of saying, "sorry but we're closed", he called his staff back and they all got stuck in. They went over and above to make a customer happy, even though saying "yes" to firing up the ovens at 10pm was not the easy option. They also acted as a team, all working towards the same clearly defined mission: to feed 160 people on board a plane within half an hour. The store manager, Andrew Ritchie, told the paper that they usually handle that amount of pizza in one hour, but they rose to the challenge and did it (and delivery) in half that time.

Ritchie also said that the team was "super excited" about their mission. "It was definitely one of those ‘challenge accepted' moments in time," he said. Which is another great business lesson: get your entire team on board and excited about what it is you've set out to do and you have a good chance of succeeding. Sounds simple - so what are you going to do differently to get a big word of mouth (referral) impact on your business!

Zac de Silva is a business coach

Sunday Star Times