Simple and Easy
Many of you said you were fed up with all the complex rules that haveevolved over time in some of these programs. No airline employeesactually spoke up when we tried to get feedback during the conference,but we did have other attendees jump into the conversation. Nicholasasked why there had to be so many small differences between someprograms that simply made it difficult to grasp all the rules, and oneperson stood up to say that it was a balance between fairness andsimplicity.
I explained that there was an understanding with customers that thesimplest program (fly 10, get 1 free, for instance) isn’t always thebest way to do things, but there are some things that don’t make senseeven in that framework. For example, the last minute award bookingsfees that Seattle Sleeples mentionedmay make sense in the context of revenue management, but from a purecustomer perspective, they can’t really be justified. The disconnect isthe problem there. Customer Value
I didn’t try to single out United, but that ended up happening morethan once. One area where this came up was in regards to creating valuefor elites. (Thank you, United in Denver,for mentioning that in the first comment.) United’s recent decision tosell premium amenities to anyone is a perfect example of elites feelinglike they aren’t being valued. Chris also echoed this concern in his desire for customer appreciation events. People want to feel valued, and some people, like asad, don’t feel they’re looking at lifetime value very well.
Someone spoke up saying that people are used to being rewarded withmiles so airlines aren’t going to change that. Of course, some are,including JetBlue with their new spend-based model, but either waypeople end up being rewarded for the wrong behavior. People may fly alot of miles on a $99 fare and end up not being very valuable to theairline at all, but they end up reaping the rewards. This goes back tothat whole fairness vs simplicity argument. Honesty/Integrity
The last point was one that I thought was expertly explained by Gary Leff from View From the Wing.In fact, I pulled up his comment on the big screen and started readingfrom it directly. So, I’m going to republish that here.
Honesty, Transparency, Integrity.
Those sound old fashioned, but I’m serious. Bear with me.
Don’t talk about ‘enhancements’ that are really devaluations. Your customers resent being lied to.
(Oh, and don’t ACTUALLY lie, either. Don’t promise something likethe ability to redeem award seats on your partner airlines and thenwhen a partner is offering an award seat don’t refuse to let yourcustomer book it. And don’t tell your customer that the airline “isn’toffering the seat.” And don’t tell the customer that the partnerairline doesn’t even fly the route on that day. I’m talking to you,United. 100% seriously.)
Offer a clear value proposition and STICK TO IT.
I disagree with @Chris who says no devaluations. Just be clear aboutwhat you are doing and give PLENTY of notice. So that there’s a clearconnection between an offer, customer behavior, and a reward. When youoffer benefits, customers fly to earn those benefits, and you changethe rules of the game just as they’re about to experience thosebenefits… #FAIL … seriously. So declare by the end of February, 2010,say, what the 2011 program will look like. And stick to it.
In this same light, I agree with @Chris, though, that there is goodonline social media communication from a couple of companies likeStarwood. Engage your customer, honestly and transpanretly. With astrong customer service presence and not a marketing, PR, or spin shop.
Tell the truth. Declare it openly, warts and all. And then deliveron your declarations. And your customers will love you for it.
Surprisingly, the one thing we failed to bring up was the Starnetblocking that United engages in. It’s particularly funny that we didn’tmention it since Nicholas wrote a column that effectively thrust this into a wider spotlight.But we got so caught up with other examples of lying about somethingbeing done to “enhance the customer experience” that we ended uprunning out of time.
I know someone asked for a video, but I don’t think it was taped. If I find a video, I’ll post it.
Thanks again for all the feedback, and hopefully this had some impact.