26
Jun
2011
0

Killer Customer Service, or Customer-Killer Service?

A friend of mine has been a member of a particular airline’s frequent flier program (we will call this major US airline, AirlineX) for a number of years. He even has a credit card linked to that account to help accrue points. This friend had earned enough miles for a free trip to Europe but hadn’t been able to fly AirlineX for awhile since his company now required him to fly the cheapest option (which this airline never was). Knowing that his hard-earned points would expire soon, he called the airline to see what could be done to retain them. AirlineX told him that he had to fly a “qualifying flight” in order to retain his points. Unable to do that due to the aforementioned company policy (and with no other potential trips on the horizon), my friend lost his accrued points (and a future flight to Europe).

Now, this happens all the time; that is the part of the formula for points-based loyalty programs. Keep customers coming back so they will continue to earn points and hopefully continue to spend money with the business.

The real pain in this case is the monthly emails that my friend receives from the airline. Each month, AirlineX sends an email showing how many frequent flier points he has (or at this point, doesn’t have). This is most likely intended to help the airline stay top-of-mind with the customer and gently encourage them to book their next flight with the airline. However, in this case, the monthly email only serves as a reminder that this particular customer doesn’t have any more points with AirlineX – and that hurts.

Customers are watching the actions of your company. Every email they receive, commercial they view, social media site they “like”, and direct mail piece they read (or not) affects their view of your business and their overall customer service experience. It may be something that seems small to your organization which pushes the customer out the door.

What do your marketing communications say about your company? Are they helping your customers to buy more from you? Or are they painful reminders of a damaged relationship, resulting in customer-killer service?

(Photo credit: marco)

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6 Responses

  1. Becky,

    This one hit a nerve since big Airline A did something similar to me (and my mother) a few years ago, not informing us that the points were going to expire until just when we went to use them.

    Saving up airline miles – on an emotional level – is sometimes like having a secret bank account. It sits there waiting until you need it for something special. It has emotional weight, it has value beyond just the points.

    When finding out the little “nest egg” you had tucked away has been reclaimed and consumed by a formerly favored airline, it hurts and it make you angry.

    While this is an airline that is occasionally the best choice for a route, I avoid it almost all the time.

    Just this week when booking a trip to the west coast my travel agent mentioned a flight that was available on Airline A. I went out of my way to find a flight other than that one. Not only am I not loyal to that airline – I downright avoid it!

    Watch out for the customer’s feelings – the sting lasts a long time! After all, there are other choices.

  2. Midwesterner

    And the loyalty reward does not need to be directly for the customer’s own benefit to gain positive emotion. AirlineY where my frequent flyer miles are aging offers an option to donate those to benefit nonprofit travellers for disaster relief or military family support.

    In another industry, most grocery stores in our area offer a small cash incentive for customers to provide their own cloth bags, crediting it on the total bill. But one instead donates that to a foodshelf, showing the bag donation note on each receipt and their cashiers thank customers each time.

  3. Jeff Hines

    The airline industry is best known for doing things that don’t make sense. Because of the intense regulation, it really operates in almost the same way as the Government. The only exception I can think of to this is Southwest. I’d be interested in to know what their policy is on expiring credits.

    You’d think that the airline would come up with some program to extend these points. Like if you don’t use them by the expiration date, you can keep them for another year for $100. What does the airline have to gain by forcing an expiration date and taking away the points someone worked so hard to earn?

    Do they not realize that consumers have options? Or that an unhappy customer can spread the word with social media and tell thousands of their experience? Is it any wonder most airlines don’t make a profit and struggle to retain clients?

    Hopefully, they’ll get it figured out. I am loyal to Delta (have the card too), in spite of the fact that they have irritated me to the point that I’ve almost walked away.

    I can think of running from terminal to terminal to make my connection (late arrival was their fault), and actually getting to the gate BEFORE the departure time, seeing the plane still at the gate, and being told that they had already closed the flight and that I got to wait for 4.5 hour for the next one. Even though this does not involve miles, it goes to show that in general, airlines often struggle to get out of their own way.

    Hopefully one day they’ll get with the program.

  4. Customer service whilst travelling is very important and will certainly affect future purchasing decision. They affect travellers when they are already in a situation of stress and the impact of good or bad service is therefore magnified two or three times. In the case of email lists and loyalty programme, there is always the option to un-subscribe from the newsletters which should not affect loyalty points but it is always safer to check

  5. Apologies – website detail wrong on comment above – please kindly remove it

    Customer service whilst travelling is very important and will certainly affect future purchasing decision. They affect travellers when they are already in a situation of stress and the impact of good or bad service is therefore magnified two or three times. In the case of email lists and loyalty programme, there is always the option to un-subscribe from the newsletters which should not affect loyalty points but it is always safer to check