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At Your Service October 2016: Sky-high performance

There I was, sitting on a WestJet plane leaving Vancouver for Kauai, Hawaii, with my wife, Sonia. We were in one of the emergency rows and Keisha, one of the flight attendants, gave us instructions in case of an emergency and asked if there were any questions.


November 11, 2016
By Russ Dantu

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Being a bit of a wise guy, I asked if she could repeat the part after, “If there is an emergency…” Then I smiled and laughed. On other airlines, I would probably have been asked to move to another seat. Keisha took it in good stride and told me I better behave.

We joked around a fair bit during the flight and actually got to learn where she was from and how she liked her job. When it came time for the food to come around, I was a bit worried. Sitting in row 13 on another flight, they had run out of food by the time they reached our row. On this flight…the same thing happened! They ran out of those tasty sandwiches before they got to our row. Luckily, my wife and I had had a quick bite in Vancouver before we boarded.

While I am really trying to eat healthily these days when I’m away, I do tend to cheat a bit. When she offered us chips, I accepted (please don’t judge me), and she said they were on the house. When it came time for the drink cart, she also gave us a free drink. She said she was paying for it out of her own pocket because we were wonderful people who were making her job more fun. Hmmm, when was the last time an airline bought you a drink? I remember sitting on a runway several years ago with a competitor of WestJet, for four long hours, when finally the captain said he would buy everyone a drink for the inconvenience. It doesn’t happen often, so this was a pleasant surprise. Keisha was going above and beyond the call of duty. Not that I was upset about the sandwiches, but by Keisha being proactive instead of reactive she diffused any frustration before it came up. This is what happens when companies empower their employees to do the right thing.

Now it wasn’t just Keisha who made the flight an enjoyable experience, Steven, Taylor and Lindsay joined in on the fun as well, not just with us, but with many of the passengers on the plane. Stopping to speak with people between their duties, laughing, and genuinely showing that they loved what they were doing instead of hiding in the back. It was even announced at the beginning of the flight that we had the employee of the month with us on that flight: Taylor. Taylor had the most accolades sent in from passengers last month so he was being recognized for his efforts. Near the end of the flight, Keisha came up and handed me a WestJet card with a code on it. “I really want to thank you guys for being so much fun,” she said. “It’s a fairly long flight and you made it very enjoyable. The next time you book with WestJet, use this code and it will give you an additional 10 per cent off of your flight.”

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I was literally flying high when she did that. “Keisha, how can you do that?” I asked.

She replied, “Russ, I’m a WestJet owner. We need to take care of our customers. We ran out of sandwiches before we got to you. You had every right to be upset but you weren’t. I’m hoping this will make it up to you a bit.”

Wow, free drinks are rare, but I have never had a flight attendant offer me a discount on my next flight.

Here are the lessons we can all learn from WestJet:

First, they take training and empowering their employees very seriously, but the culture they have developed is one that is laid back and relaxed, which the majority of travellers like.

Second, they recognize their employees that do an outstanding job, not just privately but by announcing it to all the customers on the flight. How powerful is that in making your employees feel good about themselves and the job they do?

  Third, I had lunch with someone from finance at WestJet a month ago and he told me that they have an employee suggestion program. Last year, WestJet saved over $7 million thanks to suggestions from employees.


Russ Dantu is a 30-year veteran of the rental industry and has been delivering workshops, seminars and keynotes on customer service for over 15 years. For more information, visit russdantu.com or email russ@russdantu.com.