“Sorry Sir, I can only serve you one cup of water.”

Flugzeug Check SAS Airlines bei Nacht

I am on my way home from an exciting conference in Tromso Norway. “How to attract, train and keep global talent” was the topic of the conference organized by Itim International and the local University. #theculturefactor

The last days were filled with interesting talks to leaders in the field of talent management, organisational culture and cultural diversity. Shaking hands, exchanging business cards, too much coffee and not enough sleep. I was tired and I looked forward to get home to my lovely wife and my two children.

It was the first time that I flew with SAS Scandinavias leading airline, a star alliance partner and I was totally excited when I saw that they offered free WIFI on board.

Finally an airline that knows how to treat their customers. I believe that free internet should be made available for everyone everywhere at all time. Being super excited that I would be able to watch my favorite TV show on this flight I sat down, and couldn’t have cared less about the crappy seat I was sitting in.

As soon as we had reached travelling height, I opened my macbook, tried to connect with the onboard WIFI system, when I realized, that the free WIFI was only for passengers traveling in business class. Every one else can get WIFI access by paying 6 Euro extra. Oh well…

While I was debating with myself whether to pay for the internet access or not,  the flight  attendant came by and asked me very politely what I would like to drink. As usual I ordered my two cups of water. I get very thirsty when I travel and so I always ask for two cups of water. The attnedant turned back at me, and to my surprise he passed me only one cup of water and wanted to carry on. In my very polite way I insisted and asked again for a second cup of water. What I heard than was an answer I definitely did not see coming.

He said: “Sorry Sir, I can only serve you one cup of water”.

I was shocked. I was amazed, I didn’t know what to say. Yes he totally through me off.

I replied to him, that so far it has never been an issue to be served two cups of water on an airplane. Hold on a second; was I really negotiating to get a second cup of water, or was it a second glass of Don Perignon? No, it was water!!!

Well, I guess I got lucky- my persistence payed off. He reached for another cup and served me half a cup of water.

Wohoo! Half a cup. This was a first. Never in my entire life had I been served half a cup of water.

Being a consultant for organisational culture change I thought: how interesting!

What an interesting perception of customer service. And I started to wonder where it might come from. Does it have to do with Scandinavian Culture, which is maybe not particularly service oriented, being very individualistic? Or does it have to do with the corporate culture of SAS?

Flight attendants are the people who should be trained to make you feel safe and cared for on an aircraft. Right?

In a case of an emergency, my life is dependent on the service they provide.

The experience I have while traveling on this aircraft depends 100% on the trust that they are able to build during my stay on this plane. Can it really be that this is the message they want to send to their customers?

This incident made me curious.

Was it my bad karma that I got one and a half cups of water from this gentleman or have other people experienced similar situations with this airline before me?

I found two different websites with reviews for airlines: www.airlinequality.com and www.airlineratings.com. And all of a sudden I considered myself lucky.

The headlines to the reviews sound mostly like this: “completely disgusting”, “horrible experience”, “bad service” or “sad experience”.

You can read from Asa flying from Copenhagen via Newark to Las Vegas “getting served only two complimentary drinks”.

Jennifer from Sweden writing about “only one non alcoholic drink on a long haul flight is not ok…”. You can read about not functioning facilities, safety measures not being explained before take off and so forth.

Now it is always more likely that really unhappy people, having really bad experiences are writing these reviews. But there I was having a similar experience by being served only one and half cup of water.

On the airlines website afterwards I can read about the revenue of the last quarter, their strategy and also about customers and customer offerings.

But actually they don’t write anything about their customer service.

“The primary target group for SAS is frequent travelers in Scandinavia, regardless whether the trip is for business or leasure. The objective is to continue to be the target group’s natural choice by providing easy, clear and time-saving products and services, all linked to an unsurpassed network and schedule with frequent departures.” http://www.sasgroup.net/en/customers-and-customer-offering/

If the companies strategy is to increase customer liability with enhanced offerings, services and memberships but the company culture does not support it, how should this work?

Of course you can say, most people book their flights according to who offers the cheapest option. So yes, maybe it is possible to keep attracting enough customer by providing a big network of flights and some gadgets, tools and apps, by ignoring customer service.

But how about the people working for the company. How would you feel working for a company that doesn’t allow you to serve more than one cup of water to a passenger. A company that apparently doesn’t answer to complains. What do you think would that do to your work motivation. Could you identify yourself with a company like that?

Maybe Lufthansa can tell them a thing or two about how expensive it can get once your employees go on strike and stop working for you.

But I guess that is a different story. And who am I to judge anyway?

In the meantime I kept pressing the button on top of me in the aircraft, calling for the flight attendant and asking every single time for one more cup of water. And to my surprise, I was lucky.