When Bad Things Happen to Good People

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March 16, 2015 by Mike Hillwig

Sometimes good customer service requires us to be a good customer.

Back in October, I was having a really rough time at work. My client’s project wasn’t going all that well, and the development team at our parent company was being incredibly demanding. I wasn’t sleeping and I wasn’t eating well. My emotional state was in pretty rough shape as well. Clearly, I needed a break.

I walked into my boss’ office and told him that I needed to take a few vacation days. Brian, my boss, didn’t even blink. He saw the pressure I was under, and he was completely supportive of my taking time off. He asked where I was going. “I’m going to Europe for a week.” was my response. His response was brilliant. “Good. Leave your phone with me.” He was not so subtly telling me that he wanted me to take the time off.

I had some frequent flyer miles on Delta that I needed to burn, so I booked an award ticket to Berlin with a layover in Paris.

This is what a tired Mike looks like. It was taken right before I left for Berlin.

This is what a tired Mike looks like. It was taken right before I left for Berlin.

By the time I reached Berlin, I was completely wiped. Between the exhaustion from work and the lack of sleep on the flights, I needed some rest. When I got to the Westin Berlin Grand, I was ready for a nap. My head hit the pillow, and I was out cold. I think I slept for 36 hours. It was glorious.

When I woke from 36 hours of sleep, I found myself surrounded by pillows. 36 hours of sleep was pretty glorious.

When I woke from 36 hours of sleep, I found myself surrounded by pillows. 36 hours of sleep was pretty glorious.

For the next few days, I ate well, rested, and lost myself in one of my favorite cities on the planet. It’s exactly what time off is for.

On my return flight, I was flying Amsterdam to Berlin on Delta. Not sure that I wanted to do an eight hour flight in coach again, I went to the Delta/KLM desk and used some miles to upgrade. Delta’s business class service across the Atlantic is exceptional.

At one point during the flight, Heather, the flight attendant in the business cabin spilled a glass of wine on my shirt. She was completely horrified at the situation. She worked really hard to help me clean up and was completely apologetic. The purser came over to apologize as well. I kept my cool about the situation, knowing that I’ve been through a rough spell at work myself. If I got upset because someone else was having a bad time at work, it wouldn’t do anything for me. Heather worked hard to fix a bad situation, and I changed into a clean shirt while she poured me a fresh glass of wine. In my mind, she make the situation right.

On New Year’s Eve, I was flying from Boston to Mumbai via Amsterdam to visit my offshore teams. As we boarded the Delta A330, a familiar face offered me a glass of champagne. It was Heather from my October flight! I could see that her demeaner changed, and she was going back into “fix it” mode and started apologizing for our earlier encounter. I just told her that “bad things happen to good people” and that she should forget about it.

This was taken with Boston-based Delta flight attendant Heather on our second trip together. This one was taken enroute from Boston to Amsterdam on my way to India.

This was taken with Boston-based Delta flight attendant Heather on our second trip together. This one was taken enroute from Boston to Amsterdam on my way to India.

Shortly before takeoff, the Purser, Mary, came through the cabin to introduce herself. I asked her if she could come back with Heather. She looked at me quizzically, but did so. When she came back, I presented Heather with one of Delta’s “Job Well Done” certificates. Those are tools that Delta gives to top-tier frequent flyers to reward employees who provide great service. Heather went out of her way to make a bad situation right. I asked Heather if we could take a picture. I knew that the story would be worth repeating someday.

Delta Job Well Done Certificate

I always tell my team that it’s not the mistakes we make that define us. It’s how we handle them that is more important. Heather completely proved my belief. Bad things happen to good people, and good people make bad situations right.

Every once in a while, I have bad days at work. How I adapt and fix those mistakes is often more important than the mistakes themselves.