A few months ago, I blogged about a nice surprise I encountered while flying coach on US Airways. A flight attendant came to my seat, acknowledged me as a Chairman’s Preferred member and took special care during my flight. I ended my blog by hoping that the experience was not one of a kind but a new process that the airline had put in place to recognize and reward their most valuable customers. US Airways has actually done a fairly decent job of improving their operations and customer service over the past many years, since America West’s management took the company over, so I had some grounds for my optimism.
Alas, it was not so. I have since flown US Airways a few times, both in first class and economy and have found that the experience is back to normal. Not once have I been recognized while sitting in coach, as I was during that one trip. I attempted to get in touch with US Airways to suggest that they consider making this a practice, rather than an exception driven by one outstanding flight attendant. I wanted to send them an email with a link to my blog, so they could understand my point Unfortunately, there is no real way of getting in touch with the airline other than filling out a structured form online that does not let you hyperlink. There is no email address on the website. I guess, like most airlines, they get a lot more complaints than they do compliments so they do not want to hear from passengers, if they can avoid it. That is a real shame. In this era of customer engagement, when customer experience and involvement are supposed to be paramount and companies are trying to listen into social networks for customer feedback, airlines remain a throw back to another era – see no feedback, hear no feedback – in what remains primarily a service industry.
A recent New York Times article rubs salt on this wound by detailing how airlines are selling the hard earned privileges of premium frequent fliers to anyone who can pay a bit more for a credit card or a seat. They generated $ 15 billion in revenue last year by doing so! I don’t begrudge the airlines as they scramble to make money every which way they can, but doing it by antagonizing their best customers seems very short sighted.
The same article did, however, point out that Southwest Airlines was starting to recognize customers based on how much they spend with the airline rather than just how much they fly. Now this makes a lot of sense. Customer value should really be measured by how much a customer contributes to the bottom line, not just by revenues or volume of purchase. It is no accident that Southwest Airlines is pioneering this approach – they are the only airline that has shown the capability to be consistently profitable as well as maintain a high level of customer satisfaction. The good guys do sometimes win.