**UPDATE** Customer Experience Matters More Than Points In Building Loyalty

I had a recent holiday travel experience which got me thinking about loyalty programs.  Here's what happened:

I traveled home to see my family in Nebraska on American Airlines, Forrester's preferred airline and the airline where I have all my miles and am currently a Platinum Advantage member.  Due to a delay on my return connection out of Chicago, I didn't land back in Logan until about 12:30am on 12/26/07.

In getting off of the plane, I dropped my hat and did not realize I was without it until I was already at baggage claim.  Of course I could not go back through security to look for the hat, so the security agent indicated I should ask the baggage attendant for some help.

I explained what had happened to the baggage attendant, Linda, and she immediately indicated that there was nothing she could do.  I continued to try to explain that I was sure my hat was between the gate and security and just needed some help finding someone to retrace my steps.  I'm not sure if she wasn't listening or didn't care, but she indicated I was providing her "improper information" and she could not help me.  I mentioned that I was an AA Platinum traveler in hopes that that might help her come to my aid.  In response to this information she replied, "I don't care who you are or how much you travel." 

The end of the story is that another baggage attendant eventually came out from "the back room" and called the gate agent to look for my hat.  The gate agent found my hat, tossed it to me through security and I and my hat are now living happily ever after.  Except!  That I am really bothered by Linda's mantra "I don't care who you are or how much you travel."  Now the idea of a loyalty program is that you DEFINITELY care how much I travel and I've found that my fundamental weakness as a traveler is that I really want people to care who I am. And to sympathize with how wearying travel can be.  Suddenly this story made it very clear to me that marketers trying to engender loyalty are very much focused on the wrong thing: points, miles, incentives, rewards.  They are completely neglecting the emotional part of loyalty.  You know, that connection you feel to the corner deli or local dry cleaners who already knows your favorite sandwich or has milkbones for your dog in a dish by the door.

So I think any marketer building or maintaining a loyalty program can learn heartily from this example.  Your focus and budget will do much more to actually create loyalty if you invest in your customer's experience rather than on the currency of your rewards program.

I *want* to do business with the firms who treat me like a person.  Who try to recognize the things I care about.  Frankly, I find my miles with American a constantly accruing currency which I have very little opportunity to redeem and therefore don't perceive as much of a benefit.  As much as I travel for work, I'm not really looking to travel *more* even if for personal reasons on a free flight.  I bet many frequent travelers feel the same.  What I would absolutely love instead, is if being a Platinum traveler meant that someone would see me stumbling out of a crowded plane with my arms awkwardly full of new Christmas gifts and luggage and would say "Welcome Home" instead of a stentorian "I don't care who you are."

But then I think everyone is entitled to a little graciousness from their neighbors, whether or not they are a "Platinum" anything.



Thank you everyone who responded to my rallying cry for better customer experience in loyalty programs.  On my latest travels, I've gotten two "good mornings" and one "I like your hair cut" from flight attendants.  So I'm counting those niceties as credits back to American Airlines to help them climb out of their current deficit with me.  I did receive a reply to my email to American and wanted to share it with you all.  Sounds like they are trying to incorporate "being nice" into their standard training, at least for baggage attendants.

January 5, 2008

Dear Ms. Van Boskirk:

In spite of our best efforts to ensure our customers enjoy pleasant, trouble-free
travel on American, there will be that inevitable occasion when there is a problem.
We expect our personnel to be sympathetic, resourceful and flexible in resolving such
unavoidable difficulties. I am sorry your experience in Boston last month was

Given the number of customers who fly with us, on any given day misplaced items turn
up. At the same time, we receive reports on a daily basis from customers who have
lost items. We wish we had the staffing resources available to be 100% successful at
locating a missing item in response to a customer inquiry -- regrettably we don't. I
am truly sorry.

Still, we expect our personnel to be cooperative when our customers report a missing
item. I was disheartened to learn of your experience with our baggage service
employee. There is simply no excuse for rudeness| Rest assured that we have
forwarded your email to our General Manager in Boston for an internal review. Thanks
for your candid feedback.

Meeting the highest expectations of our customers is our primary goal,
Ms. Van Boskirk. Your concerns and comments will assist us in reaching that
objective. Please don't let this disappointing experience discourage you from
traveling with us again. We are working hard to ensure that your overall travel
experiences with us are good ones.


Angela W. Dean
Customer Relations
American Airlines


re: **UPDATE** Customer Experience Matters More Than Points In

The happy ending! It should not be exclusive to fairy tales and romantic comedies, but to real-life situations, as well. Fortunately, someone (the gate attendant) from American Airlines took the time to resolve your personal need ... unfortunately, this was counter-balanced by someone equally uncaring (the baggage attendant). My guess is that the caring employee was actually a caring person and that she was also well trained in how to deliver a great customer experience. My further guess is that the Airline forgot the CEM rules when it came to baggage attendants. Probably hired the wrong person for the job and probably did not train this person on how customer service brings back more customers who deliver more tips.The HR element in customer experience management may well be the most important that all of us need to focus on in 2008. Employees are where the experience is delivered and if they don't understand the goal and the role, the experience will fail and the blogosphere will have yet one more story to spread around on how companies abuse their customers instead of a story about how companies reward customers with loving, caring, wonderfully delivered experiences.-- Dale Wolf, www.PerfectCEM.com

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Loyalty should be emotional AND rewarding, but how do you do both? That's the question marketers like us have been asking for decades.

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Right on. There is a huge difference between loyalty purchasing (points programs) and loyalty personalization (recognizing individual needs and responding). Points programs really aren't loyalty initiatives; they are just a form of pricing, a discount that accrues on the back end. True loyalty program are extremely difficult to manage with marketing and technology, but in an ideal world would recognize you as an individual, find your lost hat, and provide warm cookies or directions or a restaurant guide or whatever you uniquely desire when you step off the plane. Until IT can figure that out, we're stuck with silly points and stern flight attendants.

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I totally agree! I think it is so much better for marketers to invest in good training, and recruiting employees who "get" and care about customer service than on expensive rewards programs.

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Excellent example of how one single event with living human beings makes all the difference. Many marketers obviously know this. Still marketers may find it easier to develop a loyalty program than to develop a customer friendly organization. The latter requires a strong organizational culture. To change a culture takes longer than most of us are prepared to wait for I suppose and also requires marketers to engage other departments such as HR which may mean loss of control. Still I believe it's the only way to go.

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All businessman should read this excellent article......taking care of your customers is the #1 agenda

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Dear Shar,It is very interesting because it happened the same to me while travelling with my family to the US and we forgotten one laptop on board. We had exactly the same problem with security people a year and half ago.But ... it has nothing to do with Loyalty but with wages.These people are so badly paid that they are the worst in town. You can do anything you want you will not get any Loyalty or anything unless these people are well paid and reward with consideration.Your point is valuable for the entire service oriented jobs that are getting more and more important in consumer relationship and less and less paid.Interesting : none of the comments mentioned above released the issue but wages is getting more and more important for marketing purpose in services related jobs.I am absolutely convinced that we will not improve marketing services unless we pay better all these jobs (waitress, security, couriers, ....).All the best and say hello to Pete,Th

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I think Shar's story points up the challenge of getting your whole company to live up to the story they want their customers to believe. Our experience on American as Platinum and Executive Platnum fliers has been good. Just this past holiday vacation, my wife left her reading glasses on a plane and the Admirals Club people and a very helpful guy retrieved the glasses and brought them to the club. They couldn't have been more accomodating. Getting that type of service across a big company is extraordinarily difficult but I would say American has done it better than most.

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I think you bring up some great points regarding loyalty. It's incredible how much customer advocacy can have on customer loyalty. I saw an interview with an executive from Mindshare on Fox a while ago where he talked about gaining loyalty through customer service. He had a great point of view.http://mshare.net/news/mshare-news-04102008.html

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Absolutely - right on target. Its all about the customer and building LONG TERM loyalty. Its not about the transaction - its about the relationship. Its such a simple aspect of connecting with the very people that actually make it possible we all receive a paycheck. Great post! I plan to be back often...

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Good customer service will bring customer loyalty..........this is a very good article for the businessman to read...........so many companies come far short in the area of customer service..........