Wit, Charm and Talent Can Make You Money

— On a recent flight to New York from West Palm Beach, passengers on Song, the new low-cost startup from Delta Air Lines, were settling into their seats after takeoff when they heard this announcement: "If New York's JFK airport isn't your final destination … well, then — tough cookies!"

This was a stab at humor from a flight attendant, perhaps the one who was wearing bunny ears as she greeted boarding passengers. Song isn't an airline for people who like to travel with a minimum of fuss and foolish behavior. The fledgling airline, which hopes to become known for such in-flight entertainment, is hiring people who excel at "auditions" where they must sing, dance, recite poetry or otherwise humiliate themselves. (One aspiring Song flight attendant was hired only after he belted out a 15-minute rendition of "Mustang Sally.") Song President John Selvaggio hopes the playful work force makes the carrier so popular that it won't have to spend much on advertising.

The strategy has worked for years for Southwest Airlines. Now Song is among a number of companies that are building marketing into their product experience, which requires them to program employees to behave a certain way.

Joseph Wheeler, executive vice president at the Forum Corp., a Boston-based marketing consultancy, calls it "branding employee behavior." Whatever happened to the concept of just selling decent products at a fair price?

Fun in Unlikely Places

Those consumers who want fun as much as products are finding it in some unlikely places. Bank of America is the nation's largest consumer bank, but it doesn't want to act like one. That's why tellers at its 4,000 branches have recently started bolting their posts to hop around in conga lines.

On "Hawaiian Fridays" they open accounts and accept deposits in grass skirts. If that sounds undignified, branch manager Carlos Gomez of Orlando took his act on the road: Faced with losing a customer to rival Wachovia, he showed up at the fellow's car dealership and washed two cars. Gomez kept the client.

At Bank of America these antics are the result of mandatory "spirit training," developed because bank brass want employees to have the chirpy demeanor of workers in Disney theme parks. It's a tad creepy — especially without the Goofy costumes — but Bank of America insists customer satisfaction is soaring.

Satisfied customers spend more money. At least at casinos owned by Harrah's Entertainment, where customers who said they were "very happy" with their experience last year spent, on average, 24 percent more than the year before.

In an industry where quick math and a fast hand are the usual marketable skills, Harrah's now vets workers based on their responses to questions that include: "How many really close friends do you have?" and "To what extent do you agree with the statement 'People are glad to see me'?"

When hired, gregarious blackjack dealers and roulette spinners give new meaning to having a game face: They wish gamblers luck, directing them to machines and tables that have produced winners. When customers hit the jackpot, there are high-fives and kudos. The backslapping is supposed to prime gamers to keep spending.

It doesn't matter that the bonhomie is as faux as the Vegas Eiffel Tower. Harrah's Chief Executive Gary Loveman credits it with boosting business in a dismal time for the gambling biz. Harrah's net income jumped 12 percent to $235 million in 2002. Says Loveman: "Customers arrive at casinos feeling lucky; that feeling is ours to lose."

Even if employees lose their dignity.

For more, go to Forbes.com..

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