Monday, June 20, 2011

June 20th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
A couple of weeks ago we looked at the challenge of the ‘slap-on-the-head’ feud aboard an aircraft bound for Accra, this week I want to take some time to understand the ‘customer service’ differences between successful aviation operations and our day-to-day lives, especially in the “seller’s-market-mentality” that is growing.
Those of you who have flown internationally will remember the ‘Welcome Aboard’ when you entered the door of the plane.  When you enter that plane you are, essentially, moving to a small country for a few hours.  The moment the wheels leave the tarmac, you are going to be aboard a ‘country’ of a few hundred people who do not know each other, neither do they know the customs and rules of that country.  Furthermore, the chief, driver, captain, pilot-in-command (PIC), commander – or whatever name you prefer – is now the president, chief-of-police, justice minister and decision maker for any challenge aboard their ‘airborne-mini-country-in-a-flying-Pringles-tube’!!!
Should anything go awry, the Captain has ultimate decision making responsibility – no need to ask for permission in the case of emergency – able to use the phrase ‘saving lives and seeking forgiveness is preferable over seeking permission and losing lives’.  With this ‘responsibility’ comes the need to ensure that all runs smoothly in his craft.  Experience has shown that ‘un-informed people are un-comfortable and un-predictable people’.  Therefore, you are made ‘welcome’, you are shown where to sit, even though all the seats are numbered and lettered, it is never assumed that YOU know what is going on, you are provided the guidance, supported and reassured.  Announcements are made about ‘seatbelts and telephones’, and then inspection takes place, in case you did not hear or understand the order.  This is, under normal circumstances, done with ‘sir/madam, please, do you need help with your seatbelt, raising of your seat back or switching off your phone?’  - all is done to keep the passenger informed, supported and to avoid ‘raising of tempers’. 
Announcements, instructions, the opportunity to ask questions (and get an answer) is part and parcel of the flying experience – principally to ensure that ‘peace and order prevails aboard the flying nation’. On every flight passengers are told what to do to in case of an emergency, even though the likelihood is miniscule!  In the event of delays all are informed.  Informed customers, supported and guided customers are ‘happy customers’, and, in the event of an emergency, safer customers.  Even when things are not going as smoothly as one would like, the Captain announces ‘please sit down and fasten your seatbelts because things are about to get bumpy, we are sorry for this inconvenience and thank you for your co-operation’.  The key thing is that the people aboard understand what is going on around them, what is about to happen, what to expect and they feel reassured and cared for.  This aviation ritual has much to teach us in our day-to-day dealings in our daily lives and business transactions.
Daily life carries a few surprises! I am not exempt, and will therefore narrate two fictional events based closely on actual experiences over the past few weeks!
Entering the car park of ‘Sellers-paradise’, herein after called ‘the store’, the security man, dressed in his mis-matched and poorly ironed polyester ‘suit’, slaps the side of my car and knocks his truncheon on the window.  As I wind down the window, I am greeted with ‘where to’.  No smile, no incentive to be polite back.  Finally, after a few gruff exchanges, I find myself stepping out of the car to see an employee of the store urinating freely against a wall.  This reassures me that there is no need to respect neither the building nor its contents, probably not even its employees.  Entering the front door of the building, the receptionist, playing solitaire whilst eating kenkey with one-man-thousand, lifts her head, looks at me, and returns to her food.  I ask ‘where is the sales department’.  A simple sideways shake of the head sends me down the corridor, lined with a few used water bags and cobwebs. 
Entering the sales office, I can’t help noticing the thick crust of dust on the mosquito netting.  ‘Morning.  Do you have widgets?’ I ask.  ‘We have all widgets. What you want?’ gets snapped back.  ‘Size forty five, I retort.’   The response warms my heart ‘we have forty’.  So I ask for twenty of them.  ‘We don’t have size twenty.’  Gets stated back in my face, and a scornful look thrown with disdain at my feet.
‘Um, OK. Please may I have twenty, size forty five widgets.’  I ask in my clearest West African English.  At this point, some vernacular exchanges are made with a colleague out of my sight.  ‘Forty’.   Frustrated, I explain ‘I only need twenty, thank you very much.’
Now, our air-conditioned T-shirt and chale-wottie slopping sales rep shuffles to the shelf.  He picks up a size forty widget and thrusts it at me.  ‘NO’ I blurt, in a raised tone.  ‘I said forty-five’.  With a look that one would give an errant goat, the sales rep says ‘we have size forty’…. And so it continues… I am in a position of ‘un-welcome’ from the gate, a position of ‘disrespect’ from the way the employees treat the building and now in a state of frustration that the sales man cannot simply put together the sentence ‘I am so, so sorry sir, but we only have size forty widgets. If that is suitable, how many would you like?’  not rocket science – but simple communication and explanation – treat the workplace like the cabin of an aircraft – support and explain – communicate!
Later, I take a child for a blood test and the conversation goes like this.  ‘Go to C Lab’ ‘Where is that’ ‘you don’t know’ ‘if I did I would not ask’  ‘it is behind that building’.  And so I set off.  Finally, four people’s directions later, I find the lab.  I enter and ask ‘where should I take this request form’.  Nobody answers.  I stand in a queue that is not marked requests, because it is the only queue in the building.  Finally, I get told ‘go to cashier’.  I get to the cashier, to find them absent.  Returning to the friendly ‘director to cashier person’ I get told ‘go-come’.  Now, my John McEnroe side starts to erupt.  I can be really pleasant, but after being made to feel unwelcome, treated like an idiot for not knowing the ‘custom’ in that building for that day with those staff, I tend to resemble a fire-work display.  I just can’t help it. 
All it takes is correct signage, coherent procedures, clear identification of who-is-who, clear description of what to do and where to go, and above all, explanations of what is going on now, what will go on, and how it will happen.  Treat the workplace like an airliner – filled with clients who matter!
Lack of communication is rude and offensive – even when it is not meant to be.  The current ‘be happy I am selling to you, and stop trying to be treated like somebody who pays my wages’ attitude has to stop, if it doesn’t, the business operations will.  Just imagine your operation as being in an airline for 24 hours… what do you see?
Have a nice day!
 Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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