Sometimes It Is the Small Intangible Things That Count in Loyalty

In the column “The Living Dead in Your Database…“, I shared with you a personal experience from one of the largest hotel chains in Asia, and how fundamental failings in how they view and interact with their customers led to a complete breakdown in the customer loyalty ecosystem. But not every organisation gets it wrong.

Having lived in Asia Pacific for almost 20 years managing regional businesses, as you can imagine, I have spent a large part of that time at 35,000 feet; and with the last 14 years spent in Hong Kong I like most frequent flyers prefer to travel with one particular local airline.

Regular travel brings regular bum-mile accruals, and an annual renewal of top tier status with all its perks. Priority seat booking and mileage upgrades, first class, and first-class, two-minute check-ins, lounge access for myself and guests no matter the class we fly, priority plane boarding and express lane immigration procedures. All things that make being an economy class business travel just bearable.

A recent and rather silly incident, of which I will spare you the boring details, left me unable to travel, and ultimately needing surgery. With an almost four month-doctor-imposed travel hiatus, my mileage was suffering badly and I feared for the worst – a year traveling on bottom-tier status unable to enjoy the simple benefits that made my loyalty worth it.

So as someone who never likes to give up on anything, I set about writing to my airline as the million-bum-miler of a loyal customer and explaining the situation I found myself in, and asking for a waiver in the requirements for my yearly membership renewal.

The situation could have played out in one of only two ways – they say no, and I then forget my last 14 years of loyalty to the brand, and start flying with airlines that add financial benefits to the equation in the form of cheaper tickets. Or they say yes, and I am a happy customer who continues to be a vocal advocate of the brand and their service.

So one wet and windy Saturday I penned my email to the customer service team, hit the send button, and waited.

Two long weeks went by – a little long in my book for responding to a customer enquiry, but that is my only gripe – and then the answer came back, paraphrased as below:

“We are sorry to hear about your current ailment and hope you get well soon. Given your years of loyalty, we would be more than happy to renew your current status with immediate effect. We look forward to welcoming you on board soon… “

So, my point?

For your most loyal customers it is not about discounts or special offers, but it is about the recognition that comes with loyalty and the small benefits it brings. My email request could so easily have been ignored or been immediately replied to with a canned response. But the customer service agent was clearly empowered to investigate and understand who the customer was before responding.

The airline in question has a very robust customer lifecycle management process and system that cuts through off and online channels, and involves person-to-person interaction with front office staff. It is complex but it works well.

But the ability for that life cycle to be interrupted, and decisions made based on the customer at the individual level makes it truly great.

Loyalty cannot be bought, it can only be earned; and this simple gesture has kept me loyal – at least until the next time.

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