My brother-in-law, Bob, is a terrific guy who hated this particular ‘company policy’ at the airline where he was employed.But let’s go back to the beginning. Bob began working for Ozark Airlines which was absorbed by TWA (Trans World Airlines) and eventually merged into American Airlines. He spent thirty years with them and has a plethora of wonderful stories about celebrities, people’s reaction to delays, weather-related experiences, and colorful colleagues. For the most part, despite the pain of losing his pension after the company filed bankruptcy for the second time, he enjoyed his work.
But one aspect of the job that Bob hated has become known affectionately in our family as the “TWA-Twenty.”It could not happen in this day and age of the internet and cell phones. At that time in the 1970s and 1980s, however, flying passengers had no easy way of learning the truth about schedules.
When asked how long before a delayed plane would arrive, the answer was always to be, “Twenty minutes.”A half-hour later, of course, the same passenger would come back to the counter and ask what happened.“Sorry sir, I just checked and it will be another twenty minutes.”
I asked Bob, “But what if you knew the plane was still in Des Moines, Iowa and the customer who’s asking is in Jacksonville, Florida?”
That’s easy, “Twenty minutes.”Bob became a problem-child for dear old TWA, however. He had too much integrity to lie and more often than not told the truth, much to the chagrin of his supervisors.
“You are probably going to miss your flight. I recommend that you check with another airline and see if you can arrange something with them.”The grateful customer accepted his advice and went over to United while Bob’s supervisor seethed.
So how does this story apply to you as an entrepreneur?Truth will out and customers/clients deserve better.
Unfortunately, you sometimes are going to be in the position of delivering bad news: Your product isn’t going to arrive in time; prices have risen; you messed up the order. It could be any one of a million things under the heading “Stuff Happens.”When it does—what is your job? TELL THE TRUTH!
Tell it early in the message whether verbally or in writing. Don’t sugar coat. TELL THE TRUTH.I love the saying attributed to Mark Twain, “If you have to eat a frog, do it first thing in the morning and don’t spend too much time looking at it!”
The “TWA-Twenty” had way too many negatives: It placed the counter-person in the untenable position of telling a bold-faced lie. It totally disrespected a paying customer. It did nothing more than delay the inevitable and set a tone of dishonesty on a corporate level. And as Captain Obvious might point out, it just plain did not work. The disgruntled customer was less likely to choose that airline for future flights when treated like a child.Don’t get caught in that syndrome. Stuff happens. When it does, apologize.
Utilize this formula: Explain in the present, the past and the future:1. Clearly and concisely explain what is going on (present)2. Give a brief explanation of why it happened (past)
3. Lay out a plan for the best alternative and what you will do (future)
The “TWA Twenty” is not an option for a successful entrepreneur. TELL THE TRUTH. What a concept!
Bill Sheridan—SHERIDAN WRITES
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