Valentines Day having just passed, I can’t help but draw parallels between personal relationships and customer relationships, and the reasons we remain loyal. In it’s simplest form, we are loyal to those we trust and who make us feel special. It’s not about loyalty cards and points, or in the case of personal relationships, gifts unto their own. It’s about the feeling that is evoked from day to day gestures. Of course Valentines gifts are certainly welcomed by most, but they have far less meaning if they are simply stand-alone events.
When I travel for business or pleasure and need to rent a car, I use Budget. Why? Because in the past they have upgraded me pretty much every time I have rented from them. They have fixed me up with a top of the line, all the bells and whistles sedan as a make good when my original booking got messed up, and then dispatched a driver to deliver the convertible I had originally booked the next day some 250+ miles from the airport, since that was my destination. They’ve couriered to me, forgotten electronics when I departed a vehicle quickly trying to make a flight. They’ve even pre-set the seat to the adjustments I like once noted on my file, ensuring the car I was getting felt like my own as soon as I got in. In short, I’m loyal because they make me feel special. Yes I can earn Air Miles and yes they are often competitively priced, but those are simply nice to have features. Alone in themselves they are not the basis of loyalty, at least not in my books.
I’m also loyal to Westin Hotels when given the choice or opportunity. Quite simply, nothing beats the “heavenly bed”, but it’s also the little details that get flagged. They have noted on my file the style of pillow I prefer. And for that, I will be forever loyal. I like a shallow down filled pillow, not something so overstuffed that my head sits at a 90 degree angle, and I will simply toss on the floor anything synthetic, reminding myself to not give the hotel a repeat visit. I realize it’s a demanding and shameful transgression from my backpacking days, or camping trips where a fleece jacket rolled up would do, but when you’re paying for it, and a good nights rest is critical for the next day’s performance, it matters.
I’ve been loyal to my hair stylist for over 25 years. Why? He keeps me hip, and feeling good about myself. He works hard at being the best, he stays current, and at the end of the day, he makes me feel special. It is as much about getting a new do as it is like catching up for a visit regularly with a friend who has seen me through career shifts, dating, marriage, having toddlers to teens, and now taking care of an aging parent. It’s a unique relationship, one I’m well aware he shares with all of his clients.
So what is the uniting element in these three examples? Being made to feel special is the primary basis of my loyalty.
So what then makes us disloyal? I would argue it is being made to feel NOT SPECIAL. I was recently traveling for work to Montreal to accompany and coach some university students in a marketing case competition. I had made the same flight last year around this time, and made the mistake of booking a connecting flight through Toronto that resulted in a 12 hour delay when most flights were grounded or cancelled during a severe snowstorm. This year, perhaps against my better judgment, I had again booked through Air Canada, but the rationale for doing so was reasonably sound. They were the only airline with a direct flight. I simply did not want to chance making a connection through Toronto again, in February during what has arguably been one of the harshest winters for snowstorms on record. I will admit to collecting points and status with Air Canada, but it is only because they at times are the only airline with flights and frequency schedules that make sense for business trips. I freely admit it is the basis of a troubled relationship!
I was accompanying three students, and since I arrived before they did, I asked about checking them in. I had already done so for myself, but I was advised leave it for them to do individually. My flight was extremely crowded with three different schools from Vancouver all sending grade 7 classes on a French exchange trip. They had arrived very early, as was evidenced by the seat selection left available. I decided to make my way through security, since I had a Nexus pass, the idea being that I would then contact my students to ensure they too moved along since it was a busy flight. Imagine my surprise when they contacted me an hour before our flight saying that Air Canada had re-sold their seats because they had not checked in on time. There wasn’t another flight available for 7 hours, and the airline was going to charge a $78 booking fee for each ticket to get them on – a pure and simple money grab. I would be almost certain that Air Canada had oversold the flight, and when so many young grade 7 students showed up extremely early and displaced several highly valued business travelers; the airline had a problem on their hands. They needed to claim and resell available seats at the first opportunity. Simply put, we were made to feel NOT SPECIAL, because other guests were of higher value to the airline.
As a result I was checking into the hotel in Montreal at about the time my students were finally departing Vancouver. Of course I could hardly wait to land so I could Tweet about it. While I was keen to register my complaint, I was just as interested in seeing how long it would take Air Canada to reply. In the past they have not had a great reputation for monitoring social media. To their credit, they replied within the hour. But it was a cold and impersonal reply by someone veiled behind corporate policy. They suggested they were right and I was wrong, and to read the policy. Nice.
My biggest beef with Air Canada is the two-tier system of treatment that favours their most valued customers. On some level I understand their business model for doing so, since those customers bring them the majority of business, and they often pay top dollar. However, from a customer service standpoint, and in the age of social media where client interactions gone wrong quickly turn into ANTI-marketing, surely the decent treatment of all customers has some merit.
So if being made to feel not special equals disloyalty and being made to feel special equals fierce loyalty, the goal for companies should be to make all customers feel special, and then facilitate the amplification of word of mouth to create great marketing. I estimate that my negative story was shared with well over 2,000 people electronically and in person.
As always, hit reply and let me know what you think. What companies are you loyal to and why? Who makes you feel special? And when they make you feel not special, what do you do about it as an empowered consumer?