Empathetic Customer Service

This is one of my favorite Generational Gems … one which should be passed on to anyone involved with the offer of service in any way.

Once there was a very unique gentleman by the name of Eddie Rickenbacker. He worked as a mechanic and laborer before becoming an American fighter ace in World War I as well as a Medal of Honor winner. He was also a race car driver and automotive designer, a government consultant in military matters, and a pioneer in air transportation.

After surviving the war, he started the Rickenbacker Motor Company to produce automobiles, but the venture flopped. Later, he tried to start Florida Airways, but that flopped too. As a result, he combined Eastern Air Transport with Florida Airways to form his most lasting and successful business endeavor—Eastern Airlines (1938 – 1991). His lifelong leadership of this major international transportation company left an indelible mark on the annals of air travel worldwide. Rickenbacker pushed Eastern into a period of extraordinary growth and innovation. For a time, Eastern was the most profitable airline in the post-war era.

Eastern Airline, one time official airline of Walt Disney World, was known for its exceptional customer service as a result of the insistence and leadership of Chairman Eddie. The following story, told by one of Eastern’s leadership staff members, explains why customer service was high on everyone’s priority list:

In the late 1940s, we were experiencing some major problems mishandling luggage. Rickenbacker tried everything to solve the problem but had little success. The entire leadership team attended a three-day leadership conference in Miami. As we arrived to check in at the hotel, we were informed that our luggage would be delivered to our rooms. We went directly into meetings, assembled for a late dinner, and finally retired to our rooms for the evening. We were shocked to discover our luggage had not arrived.

The next morning we all showed up at the morning session in the same clothes, unshaven, and very uncomfortable. Another day of constant training and strategy sessions, another late dinner, and we again retired to our room to find our luggage still had not yet arrived! Tempers flared, words were shared, and we spent a second very uncomfortable night.

Finally, at 3 a.m., the hotel staff banged on our doors to deliver our luggage. The next morning we arrived at our third day of meetings to be greeted by a stern-looking “Chairman Eddie” who said: “EMPATHY—the grandfather of all wisdom! Now you know how our customers feel!”

Within two weeks after returning home from that conference, we had solved the baggage problem and never again had to deal with it!

This entire country, especially the airline industry, would benefit from a few more great leaders like “Chairman Eddie”!

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

One thought on “Empathetic Customer Service

  1. I just finished reading your story of how Eddie Rickenbacker taught his leadership team how to understand the frustration of their customers and the need for great service. What a great example of true leadership. I immediately forwarded this article to each of our branches with instructions to share it with the entire staff. This story also motivated me to sign up for your daily direct feed as I hope others do as well. Your articles are priceless, please keep them coming. I noticed you’re currently publishing four days a week. Is there any possibility of adding a few days a week? We so look forward to your next offering. Keep the good stuff coming. Thank you.

    Katherine Wheeler

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