business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

It was, as Snoopy from Peanuts famously wrote, a dark and stormy night. A bad time to have a flight. But I did and as you can imagine, things didn’t turn out well. But rest assured, this isn’t another screed against United Airlines, but rather, I believe, a business lesson in the challenges we all face and how to make a bad situation better or worse.

So back to the dark and stormy night and my flight from Charlotte, NC, to my home airport near Washington, DC. We’re had an absurdly stormy July in the east, so flights have been nightmarish and once again I was stuck in an airport waiting.

To be clear, I do not blame United for those delays. Weather is way out of their control and frankly, if air traffic control and pilots think it is too stormy to fly, I really don’t want to challenge their knowledge and experience. Of course, it was my second consecutive day of three-hour delays, so I was a tad crabby.

Here’s where it got bad. When my flight finally landed at Washington Dulles airport after midnight, things fell apart. It was a small plane so nearly all the passengers had to check our bags planeside. That means we have to wait in the jet bridge at the arriving airport for those same bags. And wait. And wait. And wait.

After 10 minutes a stunningly chipper United employee came bounding down the jet bridge to check on our bags. He went out on the tarmac and returned a few minutes later still chipper but bearing bad news. It turned out that at that major international airport, United had only one ground crew working (it was late after all), and we were in line to get our bags.

Now it was nearly 1 am and the mood in the jet bridge was ugly. Even the chipper employee couldn’t combat that.

Here’s the lesson, I believe. There are things in every business that we cannot control like the weather. Sometimes those issues create real friction for our customers who, like my fellow passengers, and me, were quite put out even though we know the weather is no one’s fault.

But there are many other things in our control and those are the areas we must address with diligence. United, for example, did nothing to improve conditions in Charlotte where the delay began. Announcements were sparse and useless, no snacks or drinks were offered to calm us and, of course, the lack of a ground crew at our destination made a delay that much worse.

I think retailers can relate to this more than ever. Think of the articles MNB and every other media outlet has featured recently about bad interactions between customers and staffers thanks to insensitive comments about race, sexual orientation and more.

I happened to be with a very smart retail executive last week who bemoaned this situation. As he explained, the incredibly low unemployment rate is creating new pain point for retailers because recruiting is next to impossible these days. Making matters worse is that many of those applying for retail jobs are failing drug screenings as residue of the nation’s opioid problem.

The executive said his company obviously wants every shopper to have a good experience, but it’s impossible to ensure that every staffer will come through every time. Like it or not, people have various prejudices and at times, those feelings spill into the market place.

Now you may think this is political correctness run amok, but every customer wants to be treated fairly so their perception of being insulted is all that matters.

Like the weather, you cannot control or change the upbringing and feelings your staffers bring to the job. People feel how they feel.

But it isn’t all out of your control. As the executive I was speaking with explained, his company has redoubled its training efforts to make staffers sensitive to the vast and diverse population that comes into stores. Plus his company teaches classes in the proper use of social media and has strict rules on who and what can be posted on a company account.

In other words, they are trying to take care of everything they control, which, like it or not, is something we all need do these days. Whatever we can make better, we should.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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