In my line of work, I am a customer service aficionado. I can tell within seconds whether or not someone is engaged, enthused, and eager to serve, or if they are detached, disengaged, and despise their work. This week was a busy travel week, taking me through six airports and as many flights. In my travels, I’ve come to appreciate that flight attendants each have their own style in the way they manage customers. Even though many people consider flight attendants to be wait staff elevated to 30,000 feet, their primary focus is passenger safety. Customer service is essential but always balanced with the need for safety first. Like healthcare workers, they must follow stringent regulations delivering key messages at key times with tightly scripted messages. In fact, the messages they deliver are so tightly scripted that many of the flight attendants wear dull, bored expressions while delivering a dull and boring message. I sometimes wonder if they are not just on autopilot but actually sleepwalking. But not Peggy C….
Flying Delta from Milwaukee to Cincinnati this week, I was delighted to meet Peggy C.—charming, good humored, and fully engaged. So much so that I would gladly recruit her to assist in customer service training.
Here’s what I noticed. When delivering the tightly scripted safety regulations, Peggy C. made it her own. Sure the key messages were there, but she was anything but bored or boring. She had a smile on her face, a lilt in her voice, and made an otherwise boring message interesting. Even though I fly at least a dozen times per month and have heard this message hundreds of times, I listened attentively when Peggy turned on the microphone.
When healthcare leaders ask staff to script key messages for greater continuity in the patient experience, there is often pushback. I frequently hear staff members say, “You don’t have to tell me how to speak. I’m a professional.” I can understand that reaction to some degree, but let’s face it: we’re creatures of habit, and we tend to fall into patterns of communication that we may not even be aware of.
The pushback from staff is sometimes passive aggressive. They won’t fight the scripting request head on, but they make it clear that they don’t like it and will only go through the motions in order to fulfill a requirement. Picture the nurse standing at the foot of the patient’s bed, arms crossed, voice flat, and with an irritated tone asks the classic, “Is there anything else I can do for you? I have time.” How likely is the patient to ask for anything regardless of his or her needs? Not likely. Who’s had a good encounter there? No one. If it’s really all about the patient, then it’s up to staff to deliver messages that patients will hear, remember, and feel good about.
What I’ve learned from flight attendants is that even with stringent safety regulations and tightly scripted messages, the great ones manage to stand out. Why? They know that even though it’s the 110th time they’ve delivered this message, it could be the first time for their listeners who may need to recall key information in a crisis. They know that—even though safety is their first obligation—attention to customers’ needs seems number one (like in healthcare).
Peggy C. made us all feel safe, welcome, and appreciated. And frankly, her script has far more boring content than anything I hear in nursing. If she can do it, so can we.