Annie Walton represents both the best of United and the best of Sydney to her customers
Author A. AVERYL RE
CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE Annie Walton likes to tell the story about one particular customer on a canceled flight whose wife said to her, in a thick Texas accent, “Annie, you’ve got to get Bob on the plane because he’s got to go to a lunch.”
Wondering what could be so important about a lunch that the man’s wife would be so adamant, Walton found him a flight that day, and he made it on time for his appointment. Walton later saw the man on television: He was in a rocket blasting off from Cape Canaveral. “It wasn’t a lunch,” she clarifies. “It was a launch.”
Getting an astronaut to the launchpad on time is all in a day’s work for Walton, who’s based in the Star Alliance lounge at Kingsford-Smith International Airport in Sydney, Australia. United has two flights arriving at the airport every morning, with one going on to Melbourne and returning that afternoon, and two more flights departing to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“I look after 4,000 people a month in that lounge,” Walton says. And while her station may be only a small desk with three drawers, “I make that little counter of mine into something that everyone remembers. There are so many other carriers in that lounge, but I make sure [my customers] know exactly who we are in Sydney.”
Making sure everyone knows all about United Airlines is a job that Walton believes she was born to do. She was working in television and public relations when a headhunter recruited her for United’s Red Carpet Club some 23 years ago. When the airline later closed the Red Carpet Club, all the products — and Walton — moved over to the Star Alliance lounge. She didn’t miss a beat in taking care of 150 to 200 customers a day, five days a week; many of those are repeat customers who remember Walton because she makes a point of remembering them.
“I know everyone’s name,” she says. “I have a photographic memory, so I never forget faces.” Remembering names and faces, Walton adds, is part of a bigger effort to respect the fact that “every single person in front of me is different. I have learned not to judge and I realize that sometimes I cannot give them what they request — but I can try.
“They are individuals, and to the best of my ability I try to understand what each person needs.”
Walton’s compassion and understanding come through loud and clear to customers, who have written hundreds of letters through the years praising her. Part of her attitude comes from being a native of Sydney, where, she says, people are welcoming and laid-back. She and her United co-workers want to relax at the end of the day and know they did a great job.
“It’s not just about flying. It’s about everything. It’s about giving the best customer service you can and making everyone feel important,” she says. “I also let people know I’m glad they chose us. I tell them, ‘I realize you have to make a choice, and I hope you will choose to stay with us. But don’t forget — if you don’t, you won’t get me!’ A little bit of humor goes a long way.”