Thank You, Ann!

American Airlines lost my baggage on Thursday. All ended well … thanks in large measure to former Texas Governor Ann Richards.

I attended a speech Ms R gave a couple of years ago … and, yes, it actually changed my life. Here’s what she said (among many other things): “When you are facing a horrid service situation, which has you fit to kill, take a deep breath and remember, as, say, you approach an employee from the offending company, ‘This woman [man] is the only person on earth who, at this moment, can help me—or not.'”

So, Thursday, AA lost my baggage. I was on a tight schedule, needed my suit pressed ASAP, among [many] other things, and I was … screwed. Moreover, given the state of airlines, the lost baggage desk was, as usual these days, woefully undermanned. As I waited in line, getting more tense with each passing moment, I listened to one traveler after another light into the AA employee manning the desk. A couple of The Irate were truly over the top. (The way I routinely was for years and years—pre-Ann.) My turn came, I took two meditative breaths in which I expelled all bad vibes (yes, I can do this), thought deeply about Ann’s advice, and mounted a charm offensive: Operation You-Alone-Can-Help-Me-and-I-Dearly-Pray-You-Will. We joked a little, commiserated about our different but extreme pickles, and I just kept on smilin’. Several things happened. By behaving in a relaxed, empathetic, life-goes-on fashion, I actually started to feel better myself—hey, this wasn’t a trip to market in Baghdad. More important (selfishly), my “you’re the only one for me” AA buddy bent over backwards and then some to track the bag, double-confirm its current whereabouts, get unequivocal info on the arriving flight, give me a priority hotel dropoff slot, and so on. And I flatter myself by thinking that she, too, ended up feeling a touch better about life—it really isn’t much fun to be ripped, and ripped again, by customers mostly because your employer is in dire straits and understaffed everywhere and has left you on point to take [all] the heat.

That’s my “little tale.” But of course it’s not so little at all. It’s near the heart of what happens on those occasions when human beings take the trouble in the face of trouble to deal in a civil and empathetic and even cheerful fashion with their fellows. That’s not “news” … except that of course it is!

Thanks, Ann. I’m almost tempted to say this is the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten. (And three cheers for me for eventually following it.)

Tom Peters posted this on November 21, 2005, in Service.
Bookmark and Share