I'm no longer silver. I'm blue. Yes, recently I was consigned to the netherworld of the Qantas Frequent Flyer loyalty program. Relegated to the status of infrequent flyer. Even the card reflects my diminished rank: flat blue instead of shiny silver, or better yet, lustrous gold. But this isn't about me having a go at Qantas (well, yes it is if I'm brutally honest), it's about customer relationship management. Now remember, no matter how much we're led to believe that frequent flyer miles are a bonus, perk or whatever from the airlines, these programs at heart are a means to get you to travel exclusively with one airline.
Here's the backdrop. After eight years as a loyal Qantas customer, a year ago I opted to check out other airlines for a variety of reasons (not the least of which was to find out whether I could get a drink of water on a long-haul flight without feeling like I was asking the steward to cut out his or her heart). Suffice to say, I took a few overseas trips on other airlines, discovered superior service, competitive pricing, the joy of being upgraded, and that it is possible to get a drink of water without causing major angst.
So for the past 12-14 months, while I have boarded the occasional Qantas flight, I've pretty much travelled with airlines other than Qantas. This decreased activity led to my eventual downgrading. In September I received a letter spelling it out: "Should your travel on eligible flights with Qantas . . . increase to qualifying levels, we will quickly restore your Silver status."
Gee, thanks Qantas, I feel so privileged that I might re-qualify. Well, no I don't actually. In fact, before this I was disenchanted, now I'm dead keen to avoid flying Qantas as much as possible.
Isn't the goal of this type of program to capture and keep loyal customers? Isn't there a rule of thumb which says it's cheaper to keep a customer than find a new one?
Wouldn't it make sense if you're trying to keep loyal customers to ring the aberrant customer and find out why their flying activity has decreased by upwards of 75 per cent? Maybe the customer isn't happy. Was it possible to check my flight activity through one of the international booking systems. In a customer-centric world I can picture it: "Hmmm, there's a United flight, a Malaysian flight, another United flight, an Ansett flight. James, perhaps there's a pattern here."
The point is that businesses can talk CRM until they're blue in the face, put in all the latest and greatest customer-facing technology and build call centres until the cows come home, but they'd better be prepared to walk the talk or it'll all be in vain.
As for me, I'm flying the friendly skies of United.
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