Is the Company’s Loyalty to the Customer Temporary?


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Lost LoyaltyThis article might be perceived as a rant, but stay with me because I think you will agree there is a very valid point and lesson at the end. I’m frustrated that a customer may show intense loyalty to a business, and that business may reciprocate with appreciation, until there is a change of circumstances that causes the customer’s buying habits to change – none of which have to do with doing business elsewhere. The airlines offer a perfect example of the point I’m trying to make.

My friends who travel a lot tend to fly on one particular airline. Many of us qualify year after year for the highest elite status. I would venture to say that if these airlines couldn’t give away the perks of free upgrades and their mileage programs, they would be forced to offer value in other ways. Maybe it would be more comfortable seats and free entertainment options. Maybe it would be free luggage. By the way, these are offered today by certain airlines to all of their passengers. No loyalty needed. But, these airlines do have the perks and the mileage programs, and my friends – including myself – are loyal to the airline that takes care of us best … because we fly on them the most and reach their highest level.

Since the mid-1980’s I’ve been flying on my preferred airline, and I’ve only missed their highest level one time, the year after 9/11 when my business slowed a bit. I’m anticipating keeping this level of travel up for at least a few more years, hopefully more. That’s at least 25 years, so far, of hitting their highest status. They take great care of me (usually). The perks are nice. The special phone number they give me to reach top level support for reservations, flight changes and more is really the ultimate perk. But what happens if or when I decide to retire? What happens to all of the loyalty that I’ve given them?

Back to my friends. Some of them have decided to retire. And when they do, all of their perks come to a screeching halt. No longer do they get complementary upgrades. No longer do they have access to the special phone number for help. No longer do they get taken care of like the VIP they were for so many years. My friends didn’t defect to another airline. They are still loyal, but just don’t fly as much.

One of my friends was sick and had to stop flying for several months. In that time, he lost his elite status due to the infrequency of him taking a trip. He never lost his loyalty toward his preferred airline, but even after pleading his case, they abandoned their loyalty toward him.

I’m not picking on a particular airline. To my knowledge, this is the way it is with most airlines.

So, here’s the lesson we can take away from all of this. Most, if not all, of us have customers who have been doing business with us for many years. We treat them with the loyalty and respect they deserve. But what happens when they retire, move on, or have some change in circumstances that causes them to reduce the amount of business they do with you? What do you do with them? Do you abandon them?

Our neighborhood grocery store loves us. Our three kids are now grown up and we’re empty nesters. Does that grocery store resent us because our weekly purchases have dropped dramatically? I doubt it.

Does the restaurant that used to see us on a somewhat regular basis with our kids resent us because we now only show up as a couple versus a family of five? I don’t think so.

No, the grocery store and the restaurant still love us, and have never made us feel any less loved because we don’t spend as much with them. We are still loyal to them and they treat us just as well as they always have.

Maybe the airlines and other businesses can learn from this. I hope so!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Shep Hyken
Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. As a customer service speaker and expert, Shep works with companies who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He is a hall of fame speaker (National Speakers Association) and a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author.


  1. Timely post, Shep. Businesses want our loyalty, but how often do we have theirs?

    Recognizing that both sides have a stake in the relationship, why should we accept that only customers should be expected to be loyal? Your thought piece (not a rant!) highlights a key point I recently made, namely the need for ‘Virtuous Loyalty’ (being loyal TO your customers):

    Today, more than ever, loyalty has to be a two-way street. Virtuous Loyalty will engender the loyalty businesses yearn for, building the foundation for lasting mutually beneficial relationships…

  2. There is a difference between perks coming to a halt and loss of complimentary upgrades versus being resented for spending less. I don’t sense that most companies resent customers (or former customers) when spending habits change, or when buying needs shift.

    I think of loyalty levels and ‘elite status’ as a club that you pay into in exchange for benefits. And when those payments stop, so do the benefits. I hold no loftier expectations for my vendors. This is business.

  3. Some companies, indeed some industries, look at customer behavior on a WIIFM basis. This is certainly true of airlines, most hotels, and most car rental companies. Retailers need to take a longer view of customer loyalty behavior, and they do. This is reflected in initiatives such as loyalty programs, where the airlines abuse more than reward, and retailers and others take a strategic approach to customer life cycle: and

  4. Bob, you and I are in total alignment. It frustrates me that some companies don’t see the two-way street.

  5. I don’t disagree with you, Andrew, but the companies should not refer to this as loyalty. It’s marketing. Buy more get a bigger discount. Or, buy more and get a bigger perk. That’s a sales tactic. The airline example was just a metaphor to make the point. Thanks for stopping by with your comment!

  6. Hi Michael – You and I are kindred spirits. Always appreciate your insights. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Great post Shep – none of us would be who we are without a little (or big) rant from time to time!! We rant because we believe passionately in our subject. I passionately agree with every sentiment of this article.

    I often say to clients and delegates that Customer Experience is for life, not just for Christmas. It drives me crazy that retailers ‘up their game’ at Christmas and do everything they can to treat customers exceptionally, yet as son as the festivities are over, ‘normal’ service resumes!!

    Consumers also suffer from ‘taken for granted syndrome’ when being unfortunate enough to be a loyal, long serving customer. Why is it that many businesses woo prospective customers with offers and discounts while ignoring their loyal fanbase?

    Sadly I feel that these examples are all caused by the fact that the majority of organisations around he globe are still NOT truly and authentically customer centric. Those that recognise that long term SUSTAINABLE growth is driven by a strategy that drives customer empathy, will be the ones that create advocates of their brand – advocates who will be fans of their brand and encourage everyone else to be so.

    That is what I love about Disney – they create memories with everything they do – from Grandma to grandchild and for ever more!!

  8. Hello Ian – Appreciate your comment. Thank you! And, love your line that customer experience is for life, not just for Christmas. Too many times companies up their game either for special events or, even worse, just for the sale. It is consistency that creates loyalty. When the customer can predict they will always get a great experience, they have confidence and know what they get every time they come back.


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