A Handwritten Note and a Personal Touch

Why a Handwritten Note and a Personal Touch Works Better Than a Loyalty Program

One man on one flight changed my entire view of the airline industry. To go further, he restored my belief that one person can transform the world around them, regardless of circumstances.

Your ability to stand out is not limited by your company, your industry, or your position. And you can change all of them by how you approach your work. Captain Denny Flanagan shows us how.

Like anyone who flies #biztravel a lot, I’ve become numb to the complacent, transactional way airlines in the USA treat their clients. So on a recent Friday I was prepared for a typically underwhelming experience on a day trip to San Francisco. But the trail of zombies walking down the jet bridge to board this 6 am flight showed signs of life when greeted at the door of the aircraft by a captain handing out trading cards with the specs and information about the aircraft we were boarding. It seemed a little odd, especially his warm smile and “welcome aboard” greeting. I assumed it was another market test to answer a consultant’s question, “how would customers react if we pretended to like them?” But then I saw him head to the cockpit.

Confession time; I have no idea what the pre-flight announcements sounded like, nor did I watch United’s new safety video as I’m always well into work with noise canceling headphones on by then. After about two hours a flight attendant delivered a handwritten note to me on the back of Captain Denny’s business card.

I looked around and saw that all of the frequent fliers and business class passengers were reading similar cards and smiling. What a brilliant move. This captain probably created a greater personal connection to his company in 30 seconds than the formal loyalty program has in 30 years. I immediately started thinking about how I could apply this to my business. I encourage you to do the same.

To top it off, just before final descent Captain Denny came on the PA and said words to this effect, “…it was a pleasure to meet all of you as you boarded the plane and to provide you with a trading card about this aircraft. What you may not know is that I signed one of those cards. If you have the signed card, please ring your call button; you’ve just won a complimentary bottle of wine. It’s just our way of thanking you for choosing United today…”

I am not easily impressed. But the experience this man created was such a dramatic contrast to the hundreds of flights I’ve been on that I began to do some research. As it turns out, Captain Denny is a legend on the travel sites and trip reviews. My flight wasn’t an outlier; it was just another demonstration of excellence. The media has picked up on it (http://youtu.be/YK9ex4dQioM), his coworkers are beginning to think differently, and formerly bitter or complacent customers are coming around, one by one.

What’s sad is that it’s extremely rare to find someone who treats their work the way Captain Denny Flanagan does, who in his own words, likes to “work from the heart”. And the special touches? “It takes seconds”. I never thought I’d be schooled and humbled by a United Airlines pilot regarding customer delight. But I am grateful that I was.

Hats off to you, Captain.

Now we all have to get to work, finding ways to work from the heart and delight our customers.


Wade Burgess
About the author: 

Wade Burgess is Vice President, Talent Solutions at LinkedIn. His roles with LinkedIn have included assignments in the central US, Canada and London – as a Senior Manager – Sales and as Senior Director – Northern Europe.  Prior to LinkedIn, Wade was an executive with Mandolfo Associates and OurTech Solutions.  Follow him on Twitter.