I recently boarded a European flight when the plane was delayed. Part of the air conditioning unit wasn’t functioning – apparently even small planes need two, should one break down.

I’m English, and us folks know what a passive aggressive tone sounds like; we practically invented it. The problem wasn’t the unit itself; it was the way the steward communicated with the lady sitting next to me. Ok, so it was not his fault the unit was broken, but when you’re the only representative of a brand, and the company messes up, you can’t respond as if this has absolutely nothing to do with you. That’s what being in business is about. Or you might as well be at home playing solitaire. Perhaps while reading the jobs section of the paper.

Later, you can go home and moan about your day, go into a sulk, eat some chocolate, whatever you want, but you can’t do it right here and right now, on the job. Not while you have work to do, sometimes that is to say ‘sorry’.

A few days ago I ate at a restaurant where I had eaten before. Firstly the waiter approached me quickly as he saw I was eating solo, and remembered me apparently, because he knew I was pescetarian, and opened the menu to the fish. Dinner was excellent and I left a friendly tip. Great service.

Both the Waiter and the Air Steward are neither the most technical, nor the best paid people in the firms they represent, but if they connect with your clients, does it matter? The reputation of your whole firm lies in their hands, at the tip of their tongue, in every interaction with the client you are trying to build. You can have the most gifted, skilled people at the back, but with the wrong people at the front, even in apparently ‘lower’ level roles, the whole thing falls down, because they don’t treat your clients well. They don’t make your clients feel good. They don’t represent you.

Funds Talent - The Waiter and the Air Hostess

A few years back I remember when First Direct opened its doors in the UK. I say opened its doors, but actually they don’t have any. They are a virtual bank, without physical branches. It’s an online and phone service. It didn’t stop them from becoming the fastest growing retail bank in the UK for decades. Their offering was simple: make their customers happy, through great service. That was it.

If you don’t think this is tangible, try looking at the number of awards the Bank has won in the last 5 years; it tops every single satisfaction survey produced in the UK. Just in 2014; Best Banking Brand Award, Most Trusted Financial Advisor, Best Overall Satisfaction Award. Their secret? They don’t under-deliver. Their call centres are UK-based, open 24/7, no robots and answering machines, just people. People who listen.

In a world where we are being constantly marketed to and advertised at, here for the first time, is a bank who believes that simple, old-fashioned, word of mouth, will drive results. And they are not wrong. Their customers trust them, in 2014, a whopping 63% recommended them. Their strong financials show the power of treating your customers right in delivering top-line growth.

Fortunately you can fly small planes on short flights with just one air conditioning unit working, so we didn’t need to put the Air Steward out for too long. The waiter however, I’ll see him again soon. First Direct? Well, that’s my bank.

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