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Exceptional Customer Service – Capt. Denny

United Airlines pilot Captain Denny Flanagan is a legend. Just Google his name and you will find hundreds of personal stories about him. One of my wife’s business acquaintances flew with Captain Flanagan last week, and reinforced that Capt. Denny is still at it – wowing the customers with consideration, competence and good humor. I was so impressed with the story, that I asked if I could retell it here. Here is the direct first person account (with the traveler’s name and employer changed to protect his privacy):

As I entered the departure area for a United Airlines flight from Orlando to San Francisco on March 1, 2010, I saw something I had never seen before. The captain of our flight was standing in front of the counter with the desk microphone giving a short welcoming speech. He welcomed the passengers to the upcoming flight, told us he was glad we had chosen United, gave an update on travel conditions expected to be smooth, informed us that we would be twenty minutes early due to prevailing winds, once again emphasized how happy he was we had chosen his flight, and asked us to let him know if any of us had any needs.

As we entered the plane, he stood at the door welcoming us and handing out business-size cards with a description of the Boeing 757 we would be flying that day. About once a year I might see a pilot at the door but this was getting to be beyond the normal pilot.

After about two hours of flying, I got up to use the rest room. As I returned to my seat, one of flight attendants stopped me and said, “The Captain wanted me to give you his business card.” The card had the name of Captain Denny Flanagan from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and even included his cell phone and e-mail address. The handwritten message on back was special:

Dr. Doe. You are a valued customer and your business is Greatly appreciated. Please let me know how we can exceed your expectations. Capt. Denny

Because I have a lot of miles on United from before going to [current employer] where I mainly use Southwest Airlines, I had used a free upgrade into First Class and my 1 million mile flying status may have contributed to my getting this handwritten card – the second time in fifteen years.

An hour later the flight attendant told the passengers that the Captain had handed out the plane trading card when we entered the plane and he had signed two of those cards. If we had a signed card, he wanted us to have a gift of a bottle of wine. Two call button signals went on and she proceeded back with two wrapped bottles of wine.

Upon return I wrote Captain Flanagan highlighting what I had experienced and thanking him for being a great ambassador for United. Within hours I had this rather remarkable response:

Dr. Doe,

Thank you for your kind words. They are appreciated. Statistics shows that for every compliment or complaint that there are 100 others thinking of doing the same thing. Feedback is so important to know you are on the right track.

In the service business the recipe for success is quite easy. Choose your attitude for the day, anticipate your customer’s needs and exceed their expectations. I have a few work philosophies and they have proved effective over the years;

— I believe that each customer deserves a good travel experience whether on United, American, Continental………train, bus, taxi or with your best friend in his car. You deserve a safe and comfortable ride.

–Treat each customer as if it is their first flight and have no expectations. .I lead by example and this helps motivate the crew to do a better job. When they see me stow bags, assist moms with strollers and answer questions as if it is the first time I heard it they are brought back to their new hire days.

–It is easier to keep the customers you have than to find new ones….United has a devoted sales team to find new customers and it is time consuming and expensive but necessary. My job is somewhat easier and less expensive and that is to provide a safe and customer-oriented service. If I do my job then the folks in the sales department will have less pressure on themselves.

John, Thanks for flying “The Friendly Skies” of United Airlines. Your business is greatly appreciated. If you are ever on one of my flights again stop up to the cockpit and say hello. If we have time I will go out and buy us a Starbucks.

Capt. Denny

(Cell Phone Listed)

I learned so many lessons from Captain Denny in his response. I hope this five hour experience I enjoyed last week will inspire you to choose your attitude, anticipate the needs of others, and then exceed their expectations. Servant leadership is something else I think about when reading the Captain’s e-mail. May others be motivated as you share this brief story.

WOW – I was really impressed reading this, and I hope you are inspired as well! Go Capt. Denny!