A Personal Experience

I’ll start this post with a personal story. I’m fairly certain I’m not alone in this and so I think I will merely share my experiences of a problem many others face. I’m a long-standing United airlines flyer. As my travel requirements picked up significantly so did my trips with United. I was pleasantly surprised to receive drink vouchers when I reached the Gold status level. I was equally surprised to receive another batch when I reached Platinum. When I reached the top tier status Premier 1K, United took the time to send me a note thanking me for my loyalty and a cheap gold hand wrap for my carryon luggage. The little piece of fabric probably cost them a dollar or less but the impact was huge.

Perhaps even more important was the fact that I was not delayed, bumped, or left behind on a single flight the entire year. Every single trip was executed without incident. That settled it - I decided to book as many of my trips for 2014 on United as possible. Even when those bookings meant a bit more of a nuisance to me and my schedule I was willing to do that because of my experiences with United.

2014 Travels

Much to my chagrin 2014 has been fraught with delays, missed flights, bumped flights, and a host of other issues. I’ve had more inconveniences, missed conferences, and delays then I thought possible. Now granted there are things outside of United’s control…like the weather. But more than 75% of the problems were in no way related to weather. United seemed to be short-staffed, short-planed, and just in general unable to meet the demand.

And let me tell you there’s nothing worse than finding out that you’ll actually be getting home at 2am instead of 6pm. That phone call to home is not a fun one to make.

The Rest of the Story

But this is only half the story. Unfortunately it seems United has misunderstood the very basic concept of new vs returning customers. I have once again flown an extraordinary number of miles with United and have achieved the various status levels same as the previous year. I’ve done so quicker and with greater overall ticket price than previous as well. There is however, one major difference. I’ve not received a single email from United, not a single letter, not a single voucher.

Honestly I couldn’t care less about a silly letter, a coupon voucher or a handle wrap. But what I do care about is the customer service. The recognition for my loyalty. It wouldn’t have been that hard to make me feel special. And it certainly wouldn’t have cost United much at all (maybe a postage stamp). But instead because I currently hold a status level they have neglected to notice my current travels as I once again achieved that status. It’s the age old problem with keeping current customers happy or winning new ones.

I’ve mentioned it time and again both on my blog and on twitter. Saying thank you, showing appreciation is so easy, so inexpensive, and yet so powerful. There’s no way to describe the feeling a genuine heartfelt word of appreciation can give someone.

The Importance of Appreciation

I am sure I’m not alone in noticing United’s treatment and unfortunately for United, many others like me probably begin to look elsewhere. When recognition and appreciation fails then loyalty falters. I think this is the key point to take away. Sure the debate can wage on whether its easier to get a new customer or retain an existing one. But at the end of the day what matters is if a company recognizes and appreciates those customers who demonstrate loyalty to their brand. If a company fails to acknowledge loyal customers they will soon be left without them.

Lesson to Learn

What does all this mean? It means for one thing, United better figure out what they are doing or they’ll lose existing customers faster than they can win new ones. But more importantly it means there’s a valuable lesson we can learn from this example. We should each be sure to take the time to appreciate loyalty. Again, it doesn’t take much. Just say thank you. Write a note, send a tweet. Find some way to express gratitude. Appreciate and recognize the efforts your customers have made and you’ll find you have a customer for life.