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The Force Within

I’m often asked, “How many people in an organization does it take to create a culture focused on Customer Amazement?” The short answer is: all of them. But, the process has to start somewhere. Usually it’s at the top with leadership. But sometimes it can come from someone inside the organization at a different level. I refer to that person as The Force Within. That person delivers Amazement within the larger group, which may not necessarily be operating at the same standard as he or she is.

I wrote about this in my book The Cult of the Customer (Wiley 2008), and the example I used was that of an airline employee. He stood out, compared to many of his co-workers, as a person willing to do anything within his power to take care of his customers. By coincidence, Ted Janusz, one of our master trainers at Shepard Presentations, just flew to a speaking engagement and shared a story about the captain of the jet who was a perfect example of The Force Within.

With all the negative press that United Airlines has been getting over the last month or so, this is a very refreshing and positive story. It happened to be Mother’s Day on his flight from Columbus to Chicago. Pete the Pilot – that’s what we’ll call him – came out from the safety of his cockpit and grabbed the microphone to make an announcement.

He wished all the moms on board a Happy Mother’s Day. He mentioned his wife and his two boys back home, and recognized what a struggle it was for the moms to pack up the kids, find a parking space, struggle through security, and lug all the stuff the family needs onto the plane. He ended his address by saying, “We’ve done some things wrong, for which we take responsibility. But it’s my personal mission to change your mind – and the media’s mind – about how you view us. Welcome to United.”

Ted landed in Chicago and thanked Pete. His extra effort stood out. However, as noticeable as the effort was that Pete made to give his customers the best experience possible, Ted couldn’t help but notice that other airline employees he encountered during the remainder of his trip weren’t making the same effort. For them, it was as just “business as usual.”

Not every employee of United Airlines, or any business for that matter, is going to have access to a PA system to make the kind of announcement that Pete did. But, even a smile and warm greeting can go a long way to make a customer feel acknowledged and even appreciated.

Maybe your organization is truly customer-focused. Operating at Pete the Pilot’s level in such an organization therefore would make you part of a Force of Many. There are many other businesses that aren’t quite at this customer service rock star level. But that doesn’t mean if you work for such an organization that you can’t be like Pete, operating as a Force Within. That force is positive. It’s very much appreciated by customers. And, like enthusiasm, it’s contagious.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact or For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXVII, Shep Hyken)




  1. Shep, as you mentioned, there are many “Petes” out there. I am happy to count myself among them, because I believe that one person CAN make a difference! No matter what my day started out like, I throw that somber attitude out the door of my car when I get to work and continue to provide the best Guest Service and experience as I can – irregardless of what types of situations crop up during the day. If I can make one person’s day better by showing courtesy and genuine interest in their reason for visiting ( or calling) my work location, this one instance makes the whole day better. To quote a line from Star Wars, “May the Force be with you!”

  2. This is an excellent story. What goes unsaid is how much courage it takes to be a “Pete” when your coworkers aren’t doing the same. It’s mentally drain and you risk being ostracized by your colleagues. As customers, we see a Pete and think it’s refreshing, but I imagine Pete has to make a conscious effort to be that kind of person each day.

  3. Great article, Shep and I love this concept from your book. I returned home on Delta from Orlando last week and our pilot spoke to us at the beginning and end of the flight. I really set a great tone for the entire flight. I love this practice!

    • Hi Jeremy – Such a pleasure to see you at ICMI. Glad the flight home was a good one. May they ALL be good!

  4. Terry Cain says:

    This is a great example of how it take a team of people to create the customer experience, but it only takes one to ruin it for everyone. Captain Pete made a difference but as the research says it takes at least 4 positives to overcome one negative.
    Pete maybe got to the heart with 3.5 but….a net negative impress is likely.

    Great story!

    Terry Cain, Pinwheel

    • Terry, it is great to connect with you again. Thanks for the comment. Hopefully Captain Pete, as a Force Within, will help raise the bar for everyone around him. (May the FORCE be with him!)

  5. I was inspired by your thoughts and the example you shared, Shep! It absolutely takes courage to step out and act in a way that’s counter to what others may believe your company to be or have seen to be true. However, it can absolutely be worth the risk. Showing others thoughtfulness and care have proven to not only be beneficial to our customers, but has also been something that sets our company culture apart. Our CEO has paved the way for this and we have attracted some great potential candidates in the door here for this very reason. It also helps that we reiterate its importance during our online training process – we want everyone in the company to know from the start that we value this!

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