The Curse of Arrogance

Southwest Airlines has been my favorite airline for a long time – I’ve written about them often in this blog and talk about them often in my speeches. I’m a Southwest fan not only because of positive experiences, but also because their success and almost cult-like following has been a great case study as a speaker and consultant.

But I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the last several flights I’ve had with them. It seems that more and more of their employees have adopted what I would call an “attitude of arrogance.” Since most interactions are with flight attendants, this trend has been most noticeable with them. Whereas in the past just about every flight attendant was personable, funny, and helpful, I’m seeing more flight attendants being standoffish, mechanical, and (even worse) impatient with passengers who might be struggling with overhead bag space or trying to find seats for the whole family.

On a Southwest flight last week, in fact, I watched a flight attendant work herself into a huff as a mom was making sure her children all had seats before she sat down. Yes, the mom was slowing down the boarding process, but the flight attendant should’ve helped out rather than embarrassing the mom in front of a planeload full of passengers. By helping, the flight attendant would’ve sped up the process and saved the mom’s dignity and peace of mind.

Southwest has never been a perfect airline; I’ve seen a few less-than-stellar Southwest employees before. But those instances were rare. But lately I’ve noticed “unSouthwest-like” behaviors becoming more common with more employees. I don’t know about you, but I feel let down when a trusted organization violates a trust that has been built up over many years. It almost feels like a close friend violating a trust. And once an organization begins to lose the trust of their loyal customers, lost loyalty isn’t far behind.

I’m hoping that Southwest Airlines hasn’t gotten too big for its britches. But the attitude of some of their employees is one of resting on their reputation. It’s as though they’re saying to passengers, “We’re doing you a favor by allowing you to fly an airline with a reputation as legendary as ours.” Well, they should study the fates of other once successful companies that started taking their success for granted such as General Motors, Circuit City, Woolworth’s, Eastern Airlines, Washington Mutual, Bennigan’s; and the list goes on.

The lesson here is that no matter how stellar your organization’s reputation is, that reputation is very fragile. Customers might be willing to forgive the occasional blip in service, but they won’t forgive arrogance. They have too many choices, and every one of your competitors would be giddy to get your customers’ business. Each of your employees must be hungry to build solid customer relationships, and the only way to do that is to treat customers with the care and respect that demonstrates that you value their business and are honored that customers have chosen to do business with you.

Do your customers feel you VALUE their business and that you are HONORED they’ve chosen to do business with you?

Is there even a hint of arrogance creeping into your performance?

16 Responses to “The Curse of Arrogance”

  1. Clicked on your LinkedIn update to read your post. Thanks for sharing your observations.

  2. Clicked on your LinkedIn update to read your post. Thanks for sharing your observations.

  3. Hi Dennis – this is exactly why I am no longer flying Delta exclusively. I actually switched to Southwest, because of my last few experiences with Delta. As a frequent flyer, I expect a better attitude from their customer service representatives and flight attendants.

  4. As a SW 19 year FA-I’ve got to comment. The level of rudeness and entitlement of the public has reached a very high level. I’ve seen passengers trash our planes-only to comment, “you clean it up.” To get my attention, I’ve had passengers poke/pinch/pat me on the backside. I’ve had passengers scream/curse foul language when they not satisfied with an answer that doesn’t “suit them. I’ve had mothers whose kids are totally out of control -could care less- much to the discomfort of other passengers. I’m supposed to be their nanny and raise their children.
    I think your blog is one sided. I invite to you a fly a 4 day trip with a very entitled arrogant and rude public and witness for yourself-what it’s like to fly the line.
    And may I add…that terroist threats are a new part of the equation regarding passenger behavior. Passengers do not like the new rules and often yell rudely at me- as if I put them in place- when new rules are put in place. I’m really nice on that airplane and I have the customer happy letters to prove that. But comments like yours tell me-you’re rather unrealisitc. I’m sorry no one sang to you -or didn’t dance about on the 5th straight flight they flew that day (yes we often fly them)….and there’s no excuse for apathy…but what about the public? Are they not at least- responsible to behave accordingly? Apparently you don’t think so.
    Comments like yours Dennis -just show me another form of entitlement. Oh FA- please entertain me and put up with my arrogant behavior because “I’m special.” Get a grip.

  5. As a SW 19 year FA-I’ve got to comment. The level of rudeness and entitlement of the public has reached a very high level. I’ve seen passengers trash our planes-only to comment, “you clean it up.” To get my attention, I’ve had passengers poke/pinch/pat me on the backside. I’ve had passengers scream/curse foul language when they not satisfied with an answer that doesn’t “suit them. I’ve had mothers whose kids are totally out of control -could care less- much to the discomfort of other passengers. I’m supposed to be their nanny and raise their children.
    I think your blog is one sided. I invite to you a fly a 4 day trip with a very entitled arrogant and rude public and witness for yourself-what it’s like to fly the line.
    And may I add…that terroist threats are a new part of the equation regarding passenger behavior. Passengers do not like the new rules and often yell rudely at me- as if I put them in place- when new rules are put in place. I’m really nice on that airplane and I have the customer happy letters to prove that. But comments like yours tell me-you’re rather unrealisitc. I’m sorry no one sang to you -or didn’t dance about on the 5th straight flight they flew that day (yes we often fly them)….and there’s no excuse for apathy…but what about the public? Are they not at least- responsible to behave accordingly? Apparently you don’t think so.
    Comments like yours Dennis -just show me another form of entitlement. Oh FA- please entertain me and put up with my arrogant behavior because “I’m special.” Get a grip.

  6. Beth – First let me say that I appreciate your response to my blog post. You are clearly passionate about what you do and you clearly articulated your disagreement with my position. I respect that.

    Please remember that I am a long-time Southwest fan. I’ve flown your airline for many years because of your reliability and service. But, I can’t ignore what I’ve experienced recently. The particular incident I cited in my post was not an unusual occurrence with your open seating approach – families making sure everyone has a seat. What was embarrassing was how how the situation was handled.

    In the past, I’ve seen such situations handled with grace and courtesy. That wasn’t the case this time, and as mentioned in my post, I’m seeing this more often on Southwest recently.

    As to your reference to entitlement mentality and rudeness of passengers, please keep in mind that I worked at Walt Disney World for twenty years. Screaming children, angry guests (you haven’t lived until you’re the one standing in front of Space Mountain telling guests it’s closed for maintenance for a month) are all part of the job. That was made clear to me when I joined the company.

    You mention the trash passengers leave on the plane expecting you to clean it up. Well, that’s part of the job in just about every service industry. Part of every Disney cast member’s job is to pick up trash off the ground – they certainly don’t expect the guests to do it; nor should they. The job is to take care of the guests and make them feel special.

    Our customers (or guests) ARE entitled. They paid for the ticket and should expect our best every time. None of the situations I’ve recently observed involved passenger belligerence or unreasonableness, just normal confusion or concern.

    I don’t expect a song or dance on every flight (although I appreciate the creativity). What I do expect is understanding and courtesy. And I believe I’m entitled to it, just like every one of my clients is entitled to the same when dealing with me.

    So, we clearly disagree on this issue, Beth, and that’s okay. But I do appreciate you taking the time to comment.

    Dennis

  7. Beth – First let me say that I appreciate your response to my blog post. You are clearly passionate about what you do and you clearly articulated your disagreement with my position. I respect that.

    Please remember that I am a long-time Southwest fan. I’ve flown your airline for many years because of your reliability and service. But, I can’t ignore what I’ve experienced recently. The particular incident I cited in my post was not an unusual occurrence with your open seating approach – families making sure everyone has a seat. What was embarrassing was how how the situation was handled.

    In the past, I’ve seen such situations handled with grace and courtesy. That wasn’t the case this time, and as mentioned in my post, I’m seeing this more often on Southwest recently.

    As to your reference to entitlement mentality and rudeness of passengers, please keep in mind that I worked at Walt Disney World for twenty years. Screaming children, angry guests (you haven’t lived until you’re the one standing in front of Space Mountain telling guests it’s closed for maintenance for a month) are all part of the job. That was made clear to me when I joined the company.

    You mention the trash passengers leave on the plane expecting you to clean it up. Well, that’s part of the job in just about every service industry. Part of every Disney cast member’s job is to pick up trash off the ground – they certainly don’t expect the guests to do it; nor should they. The job is to take care of the guests and make them feel special.

    Our customers (or guests) ARE entitled. They paid for the ticket and should expect our best every time. None of the situations I’ve recently observed involved passenger belligerence or unreasonableness, just normal confusion or concern.

    I don’t expect a song or dance on every flight (although I appreciate the creativity). What I do expect is understanding and courtesy. And I believe I’m entitled to it, just like every one of my clients is entitled to the same when dealing with me.

    So, we clearly disagree on this issue, Beth, and that’s okay. But I do appreciate you taking the time to comment.

    Dennis

  8. Dennis:

    Both you and Beth made good points about customer service but I am gonna have to side with Beth on this one. You are completely unfair by attacking the SWA brand. That’s right, you’ve attacked the SWA brand by taking one instance and portraying as the kind of service one can expect when choosing to fly that airline. Conservatively speaking, SWA operates over 3,000 flights a day, 365 days a year – you do the math. In order for you to even substantiate the title of this post you’d need about 3,000 examples to be fair. To speak on the behalf of an incident which did not directly involve you then making it public, is just wrong. Do you know the actual duties of the said flight attendant in your post? Did you follow this flight attendant all day long and experience what she did or was this a snapshot of about 20 seconds of time? Just for your information, according to DOT reports out of “all” airlines Southwest consistently has had the least amount of customer complaints month after month and year over year and I’ve been tracking those reports over 11 years. This is an airline which moves more passengers from point A to B than any airline, period.

  9. Ron, I’m guessing from the tone of your comment that you work for Southwest – so I understand the tone. If, however, you read my blog post again, you’ll see that my comments are not based on a single incident, but several.

    Have you ever complained about customer service, Ron? If so, did you first observe every employee of the company every minute they were on the job as you suggest I should have? Did you first inquire about the employee’s other duties or how many other customers they’ve served? Of course not. Customers base their opinions on what they see (or hear) – it’s all they have to go on. All you have is that snapshot you reference in your comment. And I said, I’ve witnessed more than one snapshot recently.

    I’m fully aware that Southwest is highly rated – that’s why I’ve written about Southwest in two books and reference them often in my presentations. I’m a fan, Ron, and Southwest continues to be my favorite airline, and that’s the source of my recent disappointment. I’d hate to see them become “just another airline.”

    The power of social media is increasing the importance of customer service exponentially. Please take a look at an earlier post, Customer Service and Twitter (posted May 27, 2009) Customer Service and Twitter, for some thoughts on the subject.

    Thanks for commenting, Ron. I respect your opinion and wish you the best!

    Dennis

  10. Ron, I’m guessing from the tone of your comment that you work for Southwest – so I understand the tone. If, however, you read my blog post again, you’ll see that my comments are not based on a single incident, but several.

    Have you ever complained about customer service, Ron? If so, did you first observe every employee of the company every minute they were on the job as you suggest I should have? Did you first inquire about the employee’s other duties or how many other customers they’ve served? Of course not. Customers base their opinions on what they see (or hear) – it’s all they have to go on. All you have is that snapshot you reference in your comment. And I said, I’ve witnessed more than one snapshot recently.

    I’m fully aware that Southwest is highly rated – that’s why I’ve written about Southwest in two books and reference them often in my presentations. I’m a fan, Ron, and Southwest continues to be my favorite airline, and that’s the source of my recent disappointment. I’d hate to see them become “just another airline.”

    The power of social media is increasing the importance of customer service exponentially. Please take a look at an earlier post, Customer Service and Twitter (posted May 27, 2009) Customer Service and Twitter, for some thoughts on the subject.

    Thanks for commenting, Ron. I respect your opinion and wish you the best!

    Dennis

  11. Dear Mr. Snow,

    Thank you for flying Southwest Airlines! Our Customers hear those words prior to take off and after landing each time they grant us the privilege of serving them. Perhaps it sounds rote, but I assure you, it’s heartfelt. Simply put, without our Customers, we don’t have an airline. I am Mike Hafner, and I’ve proudly worked for Southwest Airlines for 29 years. For the past three years, I’ve had the honor of serving our Flight Attendants as their Vice President. I was forwarded your blog post “The Curse of Arrogance” by a concerned Flight Attendant on December 26, 2009.

    Admittedly, the first time I read your post—it stung quite a bit—not only my heart, but thousands of very hard working and dedicated Flight Attendants. In fact, it stings each time I read it, but that’s a good thing; taking a good look in the mirror from time-to-time is necessary—especially in the service industry. I proudly say the vast majority of Southwest Airlines Flight Attendants knock it out of the park daily! I’m appreciative of the outstanding service they deliver, their LUV for our Customers, and their passion for the success of our Company. I could go on and on about their acceptance of change—in this ever-changing industry, their pride of their profession, their eagerness to remain involved in Company initiatives, and their continuous suggestions to make a better cabin experience for our Customers — but as a Customer Service expert who has studied Southwest, I imagine you already know this. Simply put, I couldn’t ask for a better Team to work for.

    Now for the sting: In the Customer Service business, you know there is not much room for having a bad day. Inevitably, life happens to people (including Flight Attendants), and they are faced with serving the public through it all. However, there is no excuse for poor service or a bad attitude. At Southwest Airlines, our expectation of delivering excellent Customer Service is high. In fact, anyone who grants us the privilege of serving them on one of our 3,100 + flights a day is due that high level of service. Sting and all, I thank you for sharing your experiences and for allowing us future opportunities to demonstrate the Southwest Spirit that you’ve grown to love. I hope the next time you fly with us you’ll find that we are not resting on our reputation, but that in fact we take the Customer Service business seriously, if not ourselves. I hope you will find that Southwest Airlines’ 10,000+ Flight Attendants overwhelmingly rule the skies in being friendly, hard working, helpful, and grateful for your (all Customers’) business. I am optimistic that when you fly on us next, you will find—what I already know—that Southwest Airlines has a magnificent Team of Spirited Warriors prepared to serve our valued Customers.

    Mr. Snow, I agree that arrogance can kill a company, and while I can assure you that the more than 35,000 total Employees at Southwest Airlines fight every day to avoid that, I understand it is our responsibility to prove it.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to share your experiences.

    Happy New Year!

    Mike Hafner
    Vice President
    Inflight Services

  12. Mr. Snow,

    Reading your essay it is obvious you have never had a job serving the public. Essentially, the flight attendant of 2010 has to be schizophrenic: smile, be warm and attentive and provide customers with a positive experience on board the aircraft, yet simultaneously, and at a moments notice, turn into a terrorist-fighting, militant. Smile at Joe Dipstick in 20B, yet also consider him a potential terrorist. Stand unprotected in the aisle serving Diet Coke to fat Americans, with your back exposed to everyone, kneeling and bending at people’s breath level, yet also be on the watch for fires, turbulence, and hijackers. Poor Mister Snow. Flight attendants are too grumpy and arrogant for him? Well, imagine if his place of work was constantly at risk for a terrorist attack, and potentially everyone around him, ENCLOSED IN AN AIR-TIGHT TUBE FOR HOURS ON END, could be a terrorist. how would HE react to everyone? Happy HA-HA-HA? Someone lives in an air-tight container here, Mr. Snow. And it’s you—a bubble.

  13. Mr. Snow,

    Reading your essay it is obvious you have never had a job serving the public. Essentially, the flight attendant of 2010 has to be schizophrenic: smile, be warm and attentive and provide customers with a positive experience on board the aircraft, yet simultaneously, and at a moments notice, turn into a terrorist-fighting, militant. Smile at Joe Dipstick in 20B, yet also consider him a potential terrorist. Stand unprotected in the aisle serving Diet Coke to fat Americans, with your back exposed to everyone, kneeling and bending at people’s breath level, yet also be on the watch for fires, turbulence, and hijackers. Poor Mister Snow. Flight attendants are too grumpy and arrogant for him? Well, imagine if his place of work was constantly at risk for a terrorist attack, and potentially everyone around him, ENCLOSED IN AN AIR-TIGHT TUBE FOR HOURS ON END, could be a terrorist. how would HE react to everyone? Happy HA-HA-HA? Someone lives in an air-tight container here, Mr. Snow. And it’s you—a bubble.

  14. Patrick,

    Like some of the others who have commented, I’m guessing you’re a flight attendant. Let me address your points:
    1. I’ve worked with the public for over 30 years – so your first premise is incorrect.
    2. How many times have you, at a moment’s notice, needed to turn into a terrorist-fighting machine? The odds would lead me to guess none. And yet that’s the rationalization you use throughout your comment. What about the very friendly flight attendants on my flight yesterday? No appearance of schizophrenia in the group.
    3. When applying for a flight attendant job, shouldn’t the person already know that they’re going to be working in an air-tight tube, serving Diet Coke, kneeling and bending, dealing with turbulence, etc. I would hope a job applicant would know the job responsibilities before applying.
    4. Your characterization of your customers as “fat Americans” is revealing of your overall attitude.

    Patrick, if you’re a flight attendant, you’re clearly unhappy in your job. Why are you still doing it?

  15. Dennis:
    I linked here from the WSJ and your comment posted on Scott McCartney’s blog post.

    SWA is my preferred airline. 90% of my travel in the past few years has been with them. From what you say I’m sure I don’t travel as much as you do, so you have more observations that me.

    That said, I just have not seen any service degradation at SWA. Their fares are not always the lowest anymore, and that concerns me. I’m also not happy with some of the changes to boarding procedures which let you buy your way to the front of the line. But their customer service attitudes are the same as they usually are. Those are my observations.

    Perhaps you need to spend a month not flying SWA to put your observations in perspective.

  16. Dennis:
    I linked here from the WSJ and your comment posted on Scott McCartney’s blog post.

    SWA is my preferred airline. 90% of my travel in the past few years has been with them. From what you say I’m sure I don’t travel as much as you do, so you have more observations that me.

    That said, I just have not seen any service degradation at SWA. Their fares are not always the lowest anymore, and that concerns me. I’m also not happy with some of the changes to boarding procedures which let you buy your way to the front of the line. But their customer service attitudes are the same as they usually are. Those are my observations.

    Perhaps you need to spend a month not flying SWA to put your observations in perspective.

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