New Year, continued focus… Reply

Today marks the beginning of 2011 and what I expect to be a great year of continued change and success. That said, I spent the last two days of 2010 being reminded of why the work I am involved with is so important. I’d like to tell you it was a positive and uplifting reminder but truthfully it was one more incident of just how important “customer experience” really is.

On December 30th (just two days ago) I received a colorful small package in the mail from one of the airlines I use frequently for travel. Typically I throw away most junk or marketing mail but I do read the ones that come from the companies whose services I use most. I opened my package only to discover that I had been downgraded to the membership level below the one I have had for nearly two years. The letter stated that I had not maintained enough tier points in calendar year 2010 to continue in my current membership level and they even wished me a happy new year…

If you travel frequently then I don’t have to explain why the benefits of certain airline programs are helpful. These programs are the airline’s way of setting the bar for “customer experience” and they are designed for customer loyalty. My afternoon on December 30th was spent calling the airline and asking why this had happened.

I explained that I had been a member of this airline program for ten years and during those ten years when I didn’t fly them that often they sent me complimentary upgrades to the highest membership level to give me more incentive. Now that I’ve consistently used them for two years I’m downgraded.

In 2010 I spent thousands of dollars on airline tickets with this airline but I also used miles earned to offset the cost. Apparently when you use miles plus money you don’t earn tier points and since I didn’t fly enough to earn the “TWO” tier points I needed to retain my membership level, I was downgraded.

I wrote to customer relations and on December 31st I was contacted via phone and told that “as a one time gesture” I would be upgraded back up to the level I had even though I had not earned those last “TWO” tier points.

This whole situation was a great awakening of why “customer experience” is so important. For some companies, customer experience means different things, typically more revenue, profit and control for the company not the customer. The only thing customers remember more than great service is bad service and customer loyalty in today’s market and economy is waning. Equally, it is expected that problems occur at times but how they get resolved is also what a customer will remember.

Customers are not always right but they are the customer and their voice and experience must shape and influence how we service them. If a company can’t change a program for one then it needs to figure out how to address it for many.

As the economy improves in 2011 customers will be more discerning about their choices and will be loyal to the companies that provide the simplest and most rewarding experience for the services they are buying. This all sounds simple but it requires a significant effort to understand how to change and improve what we currently do to win and retain customers.

To address this topic of customer experience, one key exercise is to publish a customer experience statement. This would include the most important descriptions of what “customer experience” means to your business and to your specific customers. Similar to how companies publish their corporate values, a customer experience statement may serve us all well to communicate to our customers what we want for them and how in turn we will provide our service.

Happy New Year and a very successful and prosperous 2011.