On Saturday, I was flying from Orlando to Washington D.C. for an IAAPA meeting. As I approached my gate in the terminal (at 6:00 am, I might add) I heard something you rarely hear in an airport- singing. Someone was singing, “have a, have a, have a great day”. As I turned the corner, I saw that it was the employee at the Hudson News stand. I would find out later that his name is Tony.
I started watching the reactions of people as they either made a purchase or walked by and Tony would sing. One time it was “have a great day”, another it was “you are our best customer”, “come back and see us”… He had a few signature lines that he performed with gusto each time. At first the reactions ranged from joy to mild curiosity, with only a few annoyed glances.
I had to find out more, so between “shows” I asked Tony about his background.
He has been working this job a little over a year and a half, and before this was a bank branch manager. When he was laid off, he picked up this job to hold him over until he could get back into the banking biz. He said to me, “my show starts at 4 (am) and ends at 2. I’m happy to have a job and to be alive. I want people to know that we appreciate their business and I want to make them smile.”
Here is Tony in action.
Tony told me that the day before he had a full terminal give him a standing ovation. When was the last time that you were compelled to give a standing ‘O’ – especially at the airport – or for customer service that you received? Tony must be doing something right.
I should point out that not everyone was in love with Tony’s antics. Some people just wanted a newspaper and to be left alone. That didn’t deter Tony. Same gusto, from 4 to 2.
The great thing about his actions is that it had a positive impact on the passengers who didn’t even buy anything. As I walked up to speak with him, I overheard someone say, “I hope he sings this time.” He was definitely the topic of conversation, which made the time waiting in the terminal just a little more bearable. I even heard other people mimicking his signature, “ch ch” as we got on the plane.
How many Tony’s do you know? Is he the norm or the exception? The big question is, can this be duplicated by others in other companies? How about in YOUR company? That’s tricky.
It seems like Tony would act this way no matter where he worked. So it’s not the environment and I hate to say it probably wasn’t the training, either. To me this sounds like a person who has made a choice to make the best of the situation, with Hudson News and their customers as the beneficiaries.
To me the lesson here is twofold.
1. Great service starts with great hiring, and is supported by caring leadership. Put the wrong person with the wrong outlook in front of your guests and get ready to spend lot time performing service recovery. Square peg/round hole doesn’t work for carpentry, and it certainly doesn’t work with people.
2. If your expectation and standard is “Tony”, don’t settle for less, because that’s exactly what you’ll get. Make your standards wherever you want, but be ready to support those standards with recognition and feedback. And in a case where someone is just not cutting the mustard, be ready to “set them free to pursue other opportunities”. You’ll be doing yourself, your team and the employee a favor. Nothing breeds poor performance more than keeping unproductive employees around past their expiration date.
So if you are ever in the Orlando airport between 4 am and 2 pm, get yourself over to gate 54, terminal B and listen for Tony.
He’ll be the one you want to hire.