Loyalty and Lost Opportunities

For the past 10 years, I have had Executive Platinum status with American Airlines. Despite the eye rolls and complaints from fellow travelers, I have been loyal—and I mean defend-them-in-public-and-online loyal. But this year, I went from flying 150,000 miles to flying 50,000 miles. This year, my daughter was born, and I happily kissed the road goodbye…at least for now.

Honestly, I had not even thought about it, until my phone rang and a woman told me she was calling from the American Airlines Executive Platinum desk. At first I thought, “Oh lord…what credit card is she trying to sell me?” Then, I just assumed there was something wrong with an upcoming flight I had on the books.

Instead, she went on to explain that she was really just calling to make sure everything was okay. She was concerned that something had happened to turn me against the airline and asked me if there was a reason I was no longer flying with American.

After a good chuckle, I told her my reason for the grounding. No, it wasn’t due to a negative experience. I wasn’t cheating on my airline of choice. I assured her that when I fly, I would still be flying American and would still be a happy, loyal advocate. She let me know that American would be reviewing my account at the end of the year, and they would see what could be done with my status, especially in light of my long-term loyalty.

If there were a textbook on perfect positive customer experiences, they would have been hitting all the marks.

Until they sent me their “offer.”

To thank me for my years of loyalty, patronage and—let’s be honest here—revenue, I was extended the offer of being able to obtain a higher level of status than what I was able to qualify for this year…for $1,800. That’s right. To recognize me for my loyalty, I was being given the opportunity to buy a lower level of status than I’ve had for the past 10 years.

It was the ultimate game show whammy: do everything right in building the relationship, pull the contestant in, gain their trust, make them feel awesome about the relationship and then throw a pie in their face while spraying soda water at them.

They took an opportunity to solidify my loyalty for life and totally blew it. They could have said, “Listen, we get it…life changed, but we value you as a long-standing customer, so we will renew your status for one year.” Heck, they could have said, “We can’t renew your Executive Platinum status, but since you have flown more than 1.5 million miles with us, we are going to say thank you by granting you Platinum Pro status…on us.”

Nope, instead, they looked to recoup some lost revenue and charge me for the Platinum Pro status. What was communicated to me was that, while the airline likes my loyalty, adding $1,800 to their bottom line was more important.

So here I sit for the first time truly questioning my loyalty to American Airlines and sharing my conundrum with all of you. As my travel schedule starts to take shape in 2018, will I remember the years of loyalty, or will I remember the one time American Airlines told me I wasn’t as important as $1,800?

Why share this? Because when we, as marketers, talk about experience, we have to remember that while we strategize and plan campaigns, we always have to think about how each touch and engagement is an opportunity to cement or destroy loyalty—and opportunity to amplify a customer’s lifetime value or invite your customer to entertain the competition. A campaign may sound great on the surface, but it may end up being received as an insult.

So to all of the airlines out there, this flyer could be looking for a new home. And for you marketers out there, remember that it only takes one misstep to turn loyalty to lost revenue.

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