November. Dubai. Emirates business lounge. ‘Home’.

I do a lot of flying. It comes with the territory and let me say right upfront, travel is not as glamorous as it is sometimes made out to be! Any frequent flyer will know this to be the case. Travel has taught me many things and by ‘travel’ I don’t mean the destination but rather the journey itself.

I have learnt the shortcuts, developed patience when it comes to the waiting game and walking into various airport lounges almost has a, ‘welcome home’ familiarity about it. However, the essential element in any journey is the transport itself – the airline. I have tried a few and one stands head-and-shoulders above the rest – and here I am referring to Emirates. There are both leadership and customer service lessons to be learnt from experiencing first hand how Emirates go about their business.

They make you feel as though they are flying for you. Well of course they are, but how often have you been made to feel as though ‘they’ (those tasked with your travel safety and comfort) are doing you a favour? On Emirates is all about you. They don’t do this as a matter of training (although clearly there is a great deal of training that has taken place), but rather they convey this through their attitude.  You feel it at a deeper level. It is just present and you don’t feel as though it is only switched on the moment you walk on-board. I don’t know how they get this right but it is something that Emirates would do well to safeguard and ensure they perpetuate in transmitting their staff.

They have systems that allow them to stay ahead of the game. It seems as though their staff anticipate bottlenecks or problems and are able to be proactive rather than reactionary. I recall once waiting in a shower queue in the Dubai lounge when a ground staff member asked the boarding times of those waiting and then took those with the most pressing timeframe, to the hotel where additional shower facilities had been arranged. No fuss, no big deal – just thoughtful intervention that hadn’t been requested and wasn’t expected. The queue wasn’t even that long.

All flights get delayed and Emirates is no exception although that said, I have experienced a remarkable punctuality whilst flying with Emirates. However during a recent  – and minor, boarding delay at Moscow ‘s Domodedovo’s airport, I witnessed a remarkable action. We passengers were standing at the boarding gate like a lost tribe as the Emirates personnel were busying themselves getting the logistics in order. One staff member needed to make a couple of trips between the boarding gate and the aircraft – she ran.  It was impressive for not merely the fact that she performed this feat wearing high heels (I wouldn’t know how difficult this is in case you are wondering but can only imagine it can’t be that easy!) but because, as with the shower, it really wasn’t necessary (from a customer point-of-view). It was, as I say, a minor delay but clearly there was a sense of urgency amongst the staff to meet expectations. I have often been caught up in flight delays where the aggravation is compounded by the lack of urgency and seemingly ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude displayed by the staff present. Infuriating isn’t it? But these are times when they are doing you a favour remember! Again, a small and isolated action – but one that spoke volumes for the underlying attitude and mind-set.

They know who you are. Of course as a frequent flyer I have built-up some travel privileges. However, over the years I have done this on more than one carrier but the way Emirates recognises it’s regular customers, has outdone my experience on other airlines. Even when not flying business (which is fairly frequently) I will be sought out and welcomed on-board. The first time this happened surprised me as much as it did those around me! Nothing dramatic or overstated, but rather, just a quiet sincerity that is routinely practiced. This little touch is appreciated of course and speaks of a system that thinks about the client / customer. How often have you experienced a ‘system’ that does exactly the opposite when it should be serving your best interests?

On my recently flight from Moscow there was a mother with a 10 month old baby opposite me. Not always a good thing to be stuck within earshot of an infant! The Emirates staff were fantastic throughout the flight. They made a point of ensuring the mom had everything she needed and routinely played with the baby to give the mother a break. They took a picture of the couple and then gave it to her as a memento of the flight. This little initiative is the type of thing that could easily be routine but it is the way in which it is done that impressed me. Nothing was too much trouble and it was done with a friendliness that went beyond training.

There is a seamless integration of excellence at all levels of the Emirates customer experience. From the check-in to the actual flying experience care is taken to ensure consistency and excellence flow throughout. Again, in my experience this has seldom been the case with other airlines. There might be a pocket of excellence but the ‘next step’ undoes the good generated. When Emirates have control of the customer experience chain, there is a consistency that reveals integrated systems and training designed to provide seamless customer service. I have been impressed at how they have got this right when so many fail to do so and don’t seem to really care that they have failed to do so.

I have yet to meet a disengaged or grumpy Emirates staff person. They all seem to want to be there, they seem delighted to be serving you and bring charm, energy and efficiency to all they do.  This can only speak of an organisational culture that has got it more right than wrong. I am sure there must be exceptions to this rule but I am yet to find them. Good customer service has to be built on a healthy corporate culture and environment. Good training can only go so far, authentic excellence in the customer experience demands something beyond mere training and certainly Emirates have it.  It would be a good research case study to undertake and maybe one day I will ask the airline for permission to do precisely that – some behind the scenes investigation to understand what it is they do to motivate their staff.

You would think they are paying me to write this wouldn’t you! They’re not. I love encountering service that delights and surprises (in a good way) – and am always intrigued as to the ‘why’ behind such service. Most times it is down to a remarkable individual but Emirates seem to have been able to master this at an entire systems level. I find this really impressive. I am sure there must be some bad stories out there – how can there not be in this industry? However, I bet the positive stories concerning this carrier vastly outweigh any negative ones.

All this reflects on leadership excellence. Clearly there is a leadership philosophy within Emirates that is being lived. So often there is a significant dislocation between what is said about leadership and how it is practiced.  For this level of customer service there must be a powerful leadership philosophy that is being lived by those at the very top. Organisational culture starts at the ‘head’ and Emirates leadership must be doing something right. I suspect that any deeper investigation of Emirates would reveal some wonderful leadership insights and lessons. Another story, for another day perhaps.

Yes, Emirates get it right – as demonstrated by the friendly person who has just this moment relieved my table of its multiple breakfast dishes. I almost feel like recalling her to get her name, as it seems someone ought to get some credit for what I have experienced. But if I were to do that, I would need to get several names and that list?  – Well, it would be an awfully long one! That, and collecting names might just be interpreted in entirely the wrong way!

Nearly time to board (again) and so let take my leave of ‘home’ to return home.

Safe travel.

P.S. And the thing Emirates doesn’t get right? They are the shirt sponsors of Arsenal! Now how can that be a smart move?

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