Her name is Joanna and she works for Air New Zealand Airlines. She is my most recent customer service hero. It seems we don’t remember the names of people who don’t help us, but we never forget the names of the ones who do.

Because I live in Atlanta and fly about 125,000 miles a year on a certain airline, I am accustomed to the requirements of that airline. They treat me well and most every experience is a good one. I often dread when I have to fly other airlines with whom I don’t have the same relationship.

Recognizing that I would not be afforded the same liberties with the weight of my luggage on this airline, I worked hard to get my bags within the required weight range.  Arriving at the airport there were scales next to the check-in kiosks with lots of signs promising that carry on bags above 7KG would not be allowed on board. I was well below the limit.

Approaching the baggage check-in, Joanna greeted me and my husband with a big smile and offered to help us. As it turned out, as out check baggage went on the belt, it was just a little too heavy. Joanna, very kindly, asked us to move some things into our carry-on bags to reduce the weight. We began making the shuffle.

As we were doing what Joanna asked us to do and had our belongings spread on the airport floor, another employee came by and told us we had to leave the area to rearrange our luggage. She became quite insistent and waved her hands about her, fussing at us and causing quite a scene. We quickly repacked our bags and moved toward exiting the check-in area.

However, there was Joanna again, asking us where we were going. We explained that the other employee asked us to leave. She took us to another station and stayed with us until we repacked and the bags were deemed “close enough.”

Thanking her for her kindness, she responded, “I am happy to help. I know international travel can be difficult. Enjoy your travels!”

That’s how Joanna from Air New Zealand saved the day. So what was different about Joanna and the employee whose name I cannot remember? Joanna knows that some rules are really important, and she has the good judgment to know when to apply them and when to focus more on serving the customer. The other employee was just enforcing rules, which is far easier, but so much less impactful to customer service.

The difference between a poor customer experience and an amazing customer experience is simply one team member that cares about the customer.

There were some other behaviors that Joanna demonstrated that the nameless employee did not:

  1. She greeted us with a warm smile.
  2. She explained the process and what we needed to do.
  3. She was empathetic to our circumstances.
  4. She sent us off with a fond farewell.

For some reason, Joanna felt empowered to use her on good judgment.  It could be her personality and wiring or it could be the training of the airline or both.

If you want to create legendary customer service, then free up your employees to serve the customer first.  If they are required to be compliant to a stack of rules, then they will just heap those rules on the customer. However, if you teach the principle of “customers first,” and select talent with the judgment to apply the principles liberally and the rules sparingly, then you will create more stories in your organization like this one.