Human First

Boise Airport

I corresponded with Delta Airlines about the changes they have rolled-out to their SkyMiles program.  The new rules favor those who spend the most money and have the highest status level.  Amending the rules of their ‘loyalty’ program is the airline’s right.  The response I received from Delta told me that the enhanced SkyMiles model was consistent with other companies in the travel industry.  It represents the classic, ‘everyone else is doing it so we must change.’  First, not everyone else is adopting this model, Delta is choosing these rules strategically. They are trying to get everyone else to follow them to generate a new middle ground.  Second, Delta has a tremendous opportunity to address areas of frustration, such as the lowest availability of award seats, customer service that ranks near the bottom, and upgrade thresholds that punishes elite flyers who are joined by their spouse or family members on a trip.  Third, innovation takes risks.  Building loyalty requires integrity.  Delta is testing the theory that numbers matter more than people, that manipulation is greater than innovation, and that everyone else will follow it to the lowest common denominator. 

As Roderick Russell suggested, be human first then optimize.

Being Heard

What if we included Seth Godin’s blog post entitled, ‘The complaining customer doesn’t want a refund‘ as a preamble to all customer service communications.  Can we really be compensated for time lost or aggravation experienced?  We are worth far more than a credit for a future flight or balance towards a future transaction.  What good does a voucher do if the hyperlink to a better experience remains broken?  What we really want is to be heard and know that enduring a less than ideal interaction made the next person’s experience better.  Change for those who follow us is worthy of conversation.  However, we have been taught (and encourage) a transactional relationship.  We accept $xxx and say we will forget the interaction ever happened.  Except we do not forget.  It becomes our story.  We continue to tell the story with impunity with no confidentiality agreement signed.  The cost to the service provider is actually much higher than the goodwill coupon.  The company paid us to win back our loyalty and we got to keep our story.  What if an organization really heard us and took measurable and transformational steps to improve based on our feedback?  The pot hole did not get an orange traffic cone but was actually repaved.  We would tell a completely different story if we were heard and that story would be remarkable.

I Cannot be Bothered

The white terrier raced down the trail at full alert.  It proceeded to swing behind me on the single track foothills trail and nip at my heals as I continued my run uphill towards the descending dog’s owner.  For three minutes I was corralled by the terrier as it barked and nipped at me.  Reaching the dog’s owner (who offered no verbal instruction to the dog) she apologized halfheartedly and continued on.  The terrier was already racing off to chase the next hiker behind me.

We all have habits we have no intention of correcting.  Acts that break the social contract or do not conform with expected practices.  If we are authentic in our communication about these behaviors, people will give us latitude.  However, when we ignore them and act as if they happen in isolation on rare occasions, it breaks our trust.  We embrace the eccentric when we understand.  However, pretending to be one way and acting another with not intention of changing does not breed loyalty.

No Soup for You!

Photo Credit

Dear Will,

Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.

Many factors go into the ability to use your gold card in certain countries.  I am unable to give you an exact reason.  I can tell you that, the card can be used in the United Kingdom but even there you will not get the gold card benefits.  I am sorry for any inconvenience.

If you have any further questions or concerns that I was unable to address, please feel free to let me know.

Warm Regards,

This is a response to an inquiry I made of Starbucks regarding using one of their loyalty cards in international locations.  The line that strikes me most is, ‘unable to give you an exact reason.’  I do not know if the reason is so complex that Starbucks cannot articulate it or if the decision is believed to be beyond my intelligence.  I imagine that once your company starts generating algorithms for loyalty cards the purpose of the card is getting lost.

When one does not equal one

I have had the fortune of staying at Hyatt hotels while on business for the past couple of years.  They have been generous in how they accommodate me and I have been loyal.  Recently, my membership level was downgraded and according to the membership agreement they were correct.  I spoke to another frequent guest who experienced the same demotion.  He had stayed with Hyatt around the world in the past year.  The cost of the rooms he booked at a Park Hyatt in Europe, Asia and Australia often went for 15 times or more compared to one night at the local Hyatt Place.  Hyatt institutionalizes a formula that the number of nights stayed is the metric that determins your loyalty level.  So a $60 night is the same as a $800 night.  Would you rather have a customer staying 50 nights at $79 a night ($3,950 gross) or a guest lodging 30 nights at $800 per night ($24,000 gross)?

Not all things are equal.  Be thoughtful about how you measure loyalty.  I am now shopping around for alternatives on my coming trips because the benefit of staying with Hyatt can be easily replicated by another chain.  Loyalty is not always about the most, it may be about how sticky you can make an experience.  One poor decision can dissolve years of loyalty.  Reward loyalty but also understand what behavior you are supporting.