While some full-service airlines such as Qantas have decided to ditch in-flight shopping, including Duty-Free all together, for many others onboard sales are still a very important ancillary revenue stream. No more so than for low-cost carriers such as easyJet, Ryanair, Spirit or Eurowings.
But even luxury Middle East airlines like Etihad and Emirates drive a lot of money from what their passengers buy during the course of a flight. And those airlines will be looking to you, as cabin crew, to win the sale and maximise the amount the passenger spends.
In the last 12-months, we’ve seen airline recruiters increasingly ask interview questions that seek to identify cabin crew who either have previous sales experience or who will be a natural in the role. They want to find cabin crew who realise the importance of onboard sales for the success of the airline and who will be willing to contribute to this effort.
It’s one thing to provide fantastic customer service when you get to give away everything to a passenger for ‘free’ but it can be quite a different dynamic when you have to ask for money at the end of the transaction.
Clearly, this question is best suited to candidates with previous experience in a sales environment – whether that be a retail shop, restaurant or something similar. Even if you have to recall an example from several years ago, a direct example is best.
What if you’ve never had sales experience?
However, if you’ve never had any sales experience, all is not lost. Even ‘selling’ an idea to a colleague or perhaps negotiating a contract or service in another field of work will give you plenty of opportunity to adequately answer this question. You may also really want to consider taking up some voluntary work to get this experience – even if it’s only short term.
The SOAR model and example
As always, this question invites you to answer with a short story, drawing from your past experiences. Use the SOAR method to structure your answer so that it’s both concise and punchy. Here’s a short example:
- Situation – “A passenger wanted to buy a specific perfume but it was out of stock”
- Objective – “To recommend an alternative perfume or item that the passenger would enjoy buying”
- Action – “Apologised to the customer and displayed empathy. Listened to the passenger’s needs, used product knowledge to suggest an alternative, identified special offers”
- Result – “The passenger found a new perfume which she bought. The perfume was more expensive than the one she originally intended to buy. She loved the perfume and was really happy”
Obviously, this is a very basic example and you’d want to go into more detail, especially in the ‘actions’ section if you were answering this question in a real interview.
Customer service and sales principles
Of course, you shouldn’t just focus on your sales skills – Your fantastic customer service skills should also be highlighted throughout the answer. Think about using some of these key techniques throughout your answer:
- Made yourself available to customers – friendly and approachable.
- Listened to customer needs – used active listening skills, identified the needs of the customer as an individual.
- Showed empathy when necessary – Drew upon past experiences, built a rapport.
- Product knowledge – learnt about the products, benefits, key features, drawbacks, alternatives.
- Showed the product to the customer – offered a tester or trial if appropriate.
- Identified alternatives when necessary.
- Identified special offers or premium versions to maximise sales opportunities.
- Out of stock product? Highlighted other ways to buy the product – such as online for delivery to store.
- Lost sale? Continued to offer fantastic service and encouraged the customer to revisit.
- After sales support.
You may well have your own sales techniques so please don’t be afraid to use these in your answer as well.
For this question, we would highly recommend using an example where the customer did make a purchase – ideally where you have been able to maximise the sale amount while displaying fantastic service skills.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.