Steven's Blog

Business people shaking hands and building relationships

Your Best People Build Relationships

Good employees are responsive to customers. Great employees innovate ways to build relationships. In a world where outstanding customer service is frequently the norm, it is customer relationships that count.

I recently boarded the first class cabin of a Japan Airlines flight to Paris. A flight attendant always greets me in English, with a smile and a “Welcome aboard!” But not this time. Instead, the flight attendant greeted me in Japanese.

“Ah, Dr. Bleistein. We’ve been expecting you!” she said, as if she knew me. She continued to converse with me in Japanese, somehow knowing I was fluent in the language.

I fly Japan Airlines first class frequently, so it is not unusual for a crew member to remember me from a previous flight, but I did not remember this flight attendant. I asked her later on how she knew I speak Japanese.

“I check the manifest for the names of all first class passengers and the names of their companies assuming we have the data, and I google them. Most first class passengers get a lot of hits so I know something about them before they board.”

Googling passengers is not the airline’s policy, but establishing a relationship with passengers probably is, and this flight attendant innovates her own way to do so. She treats every first class passenger as a person of note, no matter who they are. With which airline do you think I will book my next flight?

Now I don’t know what it takes to be promoted to chief steward in the first class cabin at Japan Airlines, but this flight attendant probably ought to be short-listed!

In Paris, I was at the counter of a local bistro in the Marais sipping my coffee. I watched as the barista prepared another espresso, but for whom I could not tell. I figured it was for himself. An elderly gentleman walks through the entrance of the bistro and comes to the counter, and before he could say anything beyond, “Bonjour!” the barista slides the espresso in front of him.

“What’s this? Were you making this coffee for someone else?” he asked the barista in French. “No, it’s for you. I saw you through the window walking down the street! I knew you were on your way here.”

I have no idea what the owner of the bistro pays that barista, but whatever he pays, I suspect it is not enough! Do you think this gentleman will ever go to another bistro in the area for his morning coffee?

In Japan, frontline staff frequently trade in superlative customer service, which is mostly a matter of process. Relationship building, however, requires empathy, innovation, judgement, and decisive action in the moment. It is these capabilities that separate the good from the excellent.

So make no mistake. Your good employees will keep your customers satisfied. It is only the best on your staff who will keep them coming back. Click To Tweet Do you know what these employees actually do and who they are?


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