For this post, I am going to reach back in time just a bit. When you read the final denouement (don’t dare skip to the end), you will understand that for rather obvious reasons this event had to have taken place before 9/11. I tell the story, however, because it is such a beautiful example of brand redemption.
Everyone out there who owns a business and is striving, brick by bloody brick, to build a powerful brand is painfully aware how much damage can be done to their efforts by one careless employee. This is a personal story of how one callow employee sold a brand short and how another seasoned employee ransomed it from the bazaar of brazen behavior.
For better than fifteen years, I escorted tour groups to Australia most of the time placing the groups on Qantas Airways. Because of the volume of business we were producing, whenever I traveled I usually was provided a space-available upgrade to business or first class. On the long-haul, international segments, this was truly a godsend. It was a professional courtesy which I never expected but always appreciated.
On one particular occasion I was flying alone from Sydney to Melbourne, about a four-hour flight. As was my custom, I waited for the check in counter to clear, walked up and handed my boarding pass and business card to the young gate agent and explained that if he would check the record, he would see I was listed for a standby upgrade. As always, I said something to the effect that if there happened to be room, it would be much appreciated. He asked me to leave the boarding card with him and check back after everyone else had boarded.
As instructed, when the last passenger entered the jetway, I returned to the gate to reclaim my boarding pass. A quick glance at the new boarding card revealed I was having a good day and would be flying down to Melbourne in business class. I boarded the plane, stuck the boarding card in my coat pocket, handed my coat to the flight attendant to stow and settled into my comfy business class seat.
A few minutes later the young gate agent, the peach fuzz on his bright red cheeks quivering, stormed onto the plane, found where I was sitting and in the most bellicose and accusatory tone said, “You are sitting in the wrong seat!” Taken aback, I replied, “I suppose that is possible but I am pretty sure I am sitting in the seat that matches the boarding pass you handed me.” “Where is your boarding pass?’, he demanded. “In my coat pocket.”, I explained. He immediately retrieved it, pulled out the boarding pass and in a celebratory tone trumpeted to the entire section, “See, this is not your name on the card.”
I muttered something about it being the card which he had handed me five minutes earlier, gathered my belongings and sulked back to economy amidst the hostile glares of other business class passengers who were obviously aghast that their inner sanctum had somehow been breached by this unwashed Visigoth.
I took my coach seat and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible. After take off, I managed to lose myself in a golf magazine for the next twenty minutes or so. We had just leveled off and the seat belt light had been extinguished when I realized someone was kneeling next to me with a tropical drink of some sort in her hand. This angel of aviation introduced herself (and here the ravages of time and, no doubt, too many similar tropical libations over the intervening years have robbed my memory of her name), explained that she was the chief steward, placed the drink on my tray and began to apologize profusely. “I want you know, I gave that young man a tongue lashing he won’t soon forget.”
While she was attractive and quite feminine, there was yet a commanding presence about her that left me little doubt that she could administer a proper berating when the occasion warranted that would make the crustiest DI (drill instructor) proud. She went on to say that such rudeness was not the way Qantas treats customers and hoped that I would forgive such an indefensible breach of etiquette. I told her not to give it another thought and that I appreciated her efforts to mitigate the damage to my fragile psyche.
She left and I returned to my reading only this time pleasantly augmenting the turning of the pages with occasional sips of my complementary libation. About ten minutes later she returned. “Mr. Denton, I have shared this incident with the Captain and he was equally appalled. He asked me to invite you to join him and the copilot in the cockpit for the remainder of the flight. Just gather your belongings and we will drop them off in First Class.”
I would like to say I was mature enough not to gloat uncontrollably as I slowly made my way through the business class cabin but alas, that is not the case. The next couple of hours were spent in convivial conversation with the cockpit crew. They let me remain there all the way through landing giving me a perspective on final approach I had never before enjoyed on a commercial airliner.
So the moral of this little tale should be self-evident. My estimation of Qantas, already high, only skyrocketed. I have told this story to anyone who would listen dozens of times over the years and now it has found its way on to my blog. Random acts of stupidity can not only be countered but can be redeemed and ultimately crowned by acts of brilliant thoughtfulness, especially when rendered by a Queen!
Do you have any stories of brand redemption you would like to share?