How popular is your “animosity program”?


Wheels coming offFirms spend millions of dollars on loyalty programs — not all of which drive loyalty, of course. And, they go out of their way to try to measure and track loyalty. But how many firms track animosity? How do they know when the wheels are coming off a customer relationship? I doubt I’m alone in having brands that I will go out of my way to avoid. I’ve written about my experience with Starwood Hotels. And, I will never knowingly rent a car from Hertz (after they charged me for two one way trips in the same car). And, to round out my travel examples, I’ve just gone from being an ardent and vocal fan of JetBlue to joining the animosity program they might not know exists.

Why, am I down on JetBlue? Because I expect more from them and they failed to deliver. We go out of our way as a family to fly JetBlue. For example, we are flying JetBlue to NY this Christmas and then Aer Lingus (their partner) to Dublin — despite the fact that it cost more than on another airline. When I called to see if we could change our flight to NY by a couple of days, they told me that the difference in price was $1 and that they would waive it. They told me they would book it and send me confirmation — I was on the phone with them for 45 minutes and they were extremely apologetic that it was taking so long. All of which is behavior and customer care that I expect from JetBlue.

But, then they called me back to tell me that changing my flight to NY would require us to pay for a business class ticket to Dublin despite the fact that we weren’t looking to change our flight to Dublin. In speaking/tweeting with some travel industry experts, this is apparently normal procedure — once you change one leg of a booking, the whole thing must be re-ticketed, and the Aer Lingus flight, which is now sold out, would cost a lot more. Where JetBlue fell down in my opinion was in a) trying to blame their partner, and b) not showing any empathy. JetBlue has just gone from an airline that I felt stood out from the crowd, to one that is the same as the rest. But because my expectations were higher, I’m more annoyed with them than I might have been in the same situation with AA or Delta.

JetBlue bill of rightsOur perception of customer experience is directly linked to our expectations. It’s why Costco scores highly in every customer experience index. They meet or exceed their customer’s expectations extremely well. When I think about the companies and brands for which I’m a card-carrying member of their animosity program, it’s either because they were unreasonable (hello, Hertz) or because they failed to meet the expectations that I had formed. For a non-travel example, consider the Cleveland Clinic. When I was at Forrester, one of their senior executives had spoken at our Customer Experience Forum, and had impressed me enough to switch doctors to the Cleveland Clinic in Palm Beach. All went well, initially, until they sent me to another Cleveland Clinic facility for tests. I’d had some sinus trouble and they wanted to do more detailed tests. I drove for 45 minutes to the other facility, waited for more than an hour to be seen, sat with a nurse and then a doctor for another 20 minutes or so, only to find out that the doctor I was seeing was an allergist (I already have one) and not an ENT (which is what I needed). The doctor was polite and apologetic, but when I explained the story to the receptionist, her response was, “so do you want to make another appointment”. A year later, nobody has ever followed up. If I hadn’t had raised expectations, I might still have given up on them, but with raised expectations, I just joined their animosity program.

And, I recognize that customer’s expectations might not be realistic. It seems my expecting an airline to charge me to change the leg of a flight that I’m changing and not one that I’m not, is unrealistic within the travel industry thanks to inter-airline policies and acronyms that, as a flyer, I just don’t care about. So, you can’t change the policy, but does that mean you can’t get around it? It might not be worth it to JetBlue, but they’ve now lost the loyalty and advocacy of a Mosaic family. I will now only fly JetBlue if and when it works for me – and probably begrudgingly. I might be high on my own opinion of self-worth, but if JetBlue had offered to fly me to NY on a separate reservation and then let me fly to Dublin on my original reservation, they’d have surpassed my already high expectations of them. Instead, they’ve positioned themselves in my mind with United and Ryan Air. Perhaps some naivety and innocence lost on my end; but a loyal customer and advocate lost on theirs.

To go back to my original question though, I’m not convinced that many firms look to measure and understand animosity. I was taking to an agency CEO a few weeks ago who pointed out that because of a bad experience, he had gone from spending hundreds of dollars a week on food for his dogs to not shopping with the store — a national pet chain. Nobody has ever contacted him to ask whether there was something that had happened or something they could do to bring him back. He had one bad experience, and now shops elsewhere. And, nobody seems to notice or to care. In an era in which it’s possible to analyze buying behavior and to predict that a teenager is pregnant before her parents know, surely it’s possible for firms to frequently ask:

  • what are our customers expectations and are we meeting them?
  • what have we done to delver value or to upset customers?
  • why has a frequent/loyal customers behavior changed, and can we change it back?

When it’s possible to analyze and predict so much, it’s not always the analysis that’s interesting. Sometimes, it’s the question. This might be a good time to look at what your data scientists are evaluating, and ask whether you’re asking the right questions to understand, meet, and exceed customer expectations; and to recognize and repair the damage when something goes wrong.



It’s time to start seeing other hotel chains

Over the past several years, I’ve been mostly a brand advocate of Starwood and somewhat of a brand assassin of American Airlines. But two recent experiences have flipped my attitudes on their head.
I travel a fair bit for work and, until recently, was Executive Platinum on American, and Platinum with Starwood. When I moved to Florida it become more difficult to fly exclusively on American, and I subsequently dropped to Gold. But, American sent a really cool letter telling me that they valued my business and loyalty and elevated my status for the year to Platinum in the hopes that I could maintain that level the subsequent year.
Starwood, on the other hand, went from confirming my Platinum status for this year on my “my account” page, to then telling me I hadn’t stayed enough times last year and dropping my status without communication in the Spring. I’ve reached out on several occasions and in various media, but just had a conversation with a rep who rudely told me that their system confirms that I didn’t have enough stays and that there was nobody else that I could discuss it with.
So, I see this as a tale of two approaches. American has figured out – in this instance at least – how to insert some empathy into it’s program and communication. But, as for Starwood, it’s time for me to start seeing other hotel chains. Even though I fly multiple airlines now, I still fly American enough to reach Gold or Platinum status each year. Likewise, I probably won’t abandon Starwood completely, but they have definitely gone from the front of my wallet to much further down in the pecking order.
What’s the key for success? Make sure empathy is an integral ingredient in your loyalty, marketing, and communication programs.


How much is your loyalty program giving away?

My wife went to buy coffee yesterday morning, and instinctively picked up their “loyalty” card – a paper-based stamp system that awards a free cup of coffee after you purchase 10 others. Caffe Nero – my favorite London coffee spot – and hundreds of other small retailers offer the same thing. But few if any, take advantage of the opportunity to capture customer information. I recognize that small businesses may not be able to invest in a full scale customer intelligence or CRM system, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take the opportunity to understand their customers better.

Loyalty cards

Emily Collins‘s research on intelligence-driven loyalty is relevant for both Fortune 100 companies and small coffee shop owners. As she writes, the first component of an intelligence-driven program is ‘strategy’ — aligning a loyalty program with marketing and corporate strategies; articulating how the program supports marketing goals; and using the information gleaned to enhance customer understanding and segmentation. Giving away coffee, while gratefully received, misses the opportunity to understand and engage customers.
What could these places do short of investing in a full-scale loyalty program?
  • Ask customers to include an identifier – an email address, Facebook address, or twitter handle – so that they can understand how often the same customer redeems a free coffee;
  • Offer another free perk – the chance to win a bag of ground coffee, a mug, whatever – to encourage people to provide their real information;
  • Create an ongoing contest to see which customer drinks the most coffee – based on redeemed rewards cards – and award other prizes monthly/annually;
  • Track which perks (pun intended) seem to encourage greater participation to inform their pricing/merchandizing strategies.
Every interaction with customers is an opportunity to know them better and to serve them better. Giving stuff away without attempting to do both of these seems like setting up an entire program designed to just give stuff away.
It’s ironic that we often talk about large companies seeking the intimacy that a local coffee shop has with its customers, yet when you look at how those small firms seek to engage with customers, many of them miss the opportunity too!

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