How does a drive to increase revenue impact the customer experience and the role of front line staff?

How can one corporate strategy contribute to overall incivility and another reduce it?

Now, my husband and I love American Airlines. With two decades living in Chicago and Miami–both hub cities for the airline–AA is our “go to” choice. But in recent years, the room between seats has gotten smaller and smaller. And as a long-legged gal, I treasure every inch of space.

Last weekend, I had the great joy of delivering my 10-year old son, Tommy, and 8-year old daughter, Lucy, to sleep away camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. To get there, we flew to Atlanta and then hopped in a rental car bound for Asheville.

On the way, we made the requisite stop at Chick-Fil-A for an atypical indulgence in fast food. I have rarely been greeted by a bigger smile than the one I received from the young lady who took our order. Another bit of Southern hospitality: our meal was delivered to the table. Finally, a lovely “greeter” came by and asked if anyone needed a drink refill. We had a nice chat, and on the way out, she gave us all mints. She genuinely wanted to ensure that we ended our experience on a high note.

Now, I do not agree with the Chick-Fil-A owner’s politics, but the relentless attention to the customer experience must be good for both sales and customer retention. This was a stark contrast, over a period of just a few hours, from the experience on our American Eagle flight from Miami to Atlanta.

Again, as previously mentioned, the legroom has shrunk on these flights. And, predictably, I was seated behind a passenger who elected to recline her seat to its maximum position. Not good for me. I asked her politely if she would mind moving her seat forward a bit. Her reply, with attitude: “I paid for this seat, I can do whatever I want with it.” Yikes!

So, I hit the attendant call button for a touch of assistance. He said, with regret, that he had to support her statement and that American Airlines had essentially created two classes in coach and that on every flight there was someone like the passenger in front of me. Entitled to make another traveler uncomfortable and fully willing to do so. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, right? The AA attendant was very pleasant and also remorseful because he knew that there was nothing he could do. So, American’s goal of raising revenue negatively impacted my experience as a traveler, the working conditions of their own crewmember, and surfaced the incivility of another passenger. Luckily Tommy switched seats with me!

How different is that than the decision by Chick-Fil-A to deliver our meal to our table and to staff the restaurant with a greeter offering drink refills and mints? One approach contributes to customer incivility and one aims to disarm it. One makes a working environment easier, the other more challenging.

While we were enjoying our chicken, my son looked outside and saw a sign in the window of Jimmy John’s subs: “Free Smells”. He said “Look mom, its marketing!” and proceeded to explain to me that Jimmy John’s wants people to come in and smell how good the sandwiches are and then they would be sure to buy one.  A marketing strategy simple enough for my ten-year old son to understand.

Now, not every marketing or business decision will resonate with a ten year old. But many of them are teachable moments. In the course of four hours on the way to sleep away camp, Tommy and I discussed a Minions movie promotion at a Miami International Airport shop; the empirical impact of reduced legroom on flights; the experiential value of a restaurant’s friendly greeter; and the psychological value of free smells.

Who knew the trip to camp would be so exciting?