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Why treat loyal customers’ like children?

I fly lots. Lots and lots. The result of which is a massive accumulation of loyalty and miles. And a range of experiences so diverse I could write a book. That is, I would write a book if the airlines actually listened to customers.

Years ago on returning to Dell I discovered that Michael Dell had put a pretty simple mantra in place – one that came to define our social strategy. It was this: listen to customers and respond. You don’t always have to do what they want, but where it makes sense, you’d better. Why can’t airlines embrace this simple strategy?

Take United. They are investing millions to convince us that the recent merger is brilliant. And yet for those of us flying across the pond it is just terrible. The food is disgusting. The staff indifferent. The seats old and cheap. And the entertainment anemic. I pointed this out on my last flight and was told – “yeah, we get that lots – btw, you want to avoid the coffee, the water on the planes is bad”. For a feedback loop like this to work, someone has to be listening.

United is so bad I would rather fly to NZ, suffer a connection, and head to the US with Air New Zealand. But even Air NZ has its moments.

Take this little doozy. Kristen ends-up in hospital with tonsillitas and cant take the kids to NZ this week. We need to move the flights. Even with all those miles and loyalty, they want a doctors certificate. Really? We are back at school now? How about this – send a get well card, thank her for the loyalty and for choosing Air NZ, and move the flights. You really want to nickel and dime illness? Serious illness?

Now I know some customers are going to play the system. But when you see that Gold Elite status pop-up it might be a good idea to not think it is one of them.

In the end we just sent off our little certificate for a refund and are in the process of rebooking. Probably with Jetstar. So there you go – treat your customers like children, and they’ll shop elsewhere. Treat your product like a value airline, and your loyal customers will go shop with the value airlines.

These are the real “zero moments of truth”. And they make or break brands. They depend on listening. Listening is one of the new — and oldest — sources of competitive advantage. But it only works if you do something. And that is the moment of truth that turns most social media programs from a source of advantage into bandaids chasing a constant stream of self inflicted wounds.

Remember what the little guy said – “No try, just do”.

3 Responses

  1. By Kristen Lark on April 10th, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    Just as a point of clarification – I submitted my medical certificate to Air New Zealand that clearly stated I had been in the hospital for the Easter weekend and was unfit to fly for 7 days. However, they questioned why the certificate didn’t include the words “urgent” and “unexpected” when describing my inpatient status and medical condition. Apparently, 72 hours in the hospital over a 4 day period doesn’t inherently suggest either of those things. . .
    It does seems like Air New Zealand is trying to make things right. However, the nice man who was trying to help me promised to call today at 10:30 am Sydney time and it is now noon and I have no way to reach him. So, I’m waiting…and a little bit sad that what I’ve always thought of as the world’s greatest airline has disappointed us once again. I have no problem with aspirational brand promises – but your risk losing your best customers if you cannot live up to the high standard you have set. Make me love you again, Air New Zealand.

  2. By Elphin on April 22nd, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Airlines in the Western world seem to be run as socialist organizations that exist to keep their union membership employed at large salaries plus lucrative pensions. Just take a look at who serves you in first class on American or United. Why would you think they care a whit about customers?

  3. By Mark on April 24th, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    The bigger the organisation is, the harder a message from consumer could reach to the top layer. Info get leakage a lot, even not communicate to an extreme case, and thus the change required usually happen quite slooooooooowly.
    That also presents opportunities for those companies that really hear from customer, and take quick actions to fix their system.. They will enjoy more advantages.

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