Some organizations trip badly over their attempt to create and develop loyal and passionate customers. Let me give you an example. I fly quite a bit, so I try to focus my flights on one airline, in my case it’s United Airlines, so I qualify for better service. Having flown over 100,000 miles and 100 flights on United last year, I re-qualified for their “1K” status which gives me advantages including early boarding (to capture the coveted overhead storage), first access to upgrades, etc. So I felt like United definitely rewards me for my loyalty – at least until this last week. I was flying to San Francisco to address a group of CEO’s and my wife decided to join me (I’d love to tell you about the beauty of a walk in the Muir Woods…). I booked us in Economy Plus (United reserves early rows in coach with extra leg-room) and put in a request for upgrades to first class since it was her birthday and I wanted her to be extra comfortable.
But instead of creating a wonderful experience where I build my faith and loyalty into the airline I boarded more than 100 times last year, they delivered a disaster. Rather than bumping both of us into first class they only gave me the upgrade. That’s okay I thought; I’ll switch places with her so she can fly first class and I’ll stay in economy plus. “Can’t do that” said the United service rep on the phone. “When you moved into a different cabin, your wife lost her Economy Plus status and has to be reseated in further back in coach.” So not only do we now have to sit apart, she (or in this case, me) would have to be relocated to a middle seat deep in the plane on a now fully booked flight in both directions. And since my upgrade was made automatically my original seat next to my wife had already been given away. There was no way to unscramble the egg.
The end result is that my wife did fly out in first class and I sat in a middle seat, happy for her but miffed at United for the predicament. What was worse was knowing that the customer service rep could have bumped me up to a supervisor who could have fixed the problem – but the offer was never made (and I typically am loathe to ask or demand). I know United has to have rules, but I also know I will NEVER forget this incident and I will always know that no matter how hard I work (usually paying higher fares) to be a loyal United customer, they will never see me as an individual with specific needs – including the need to feel like our association is a relationship rather than a series of financial transactions. So there may be a 3’ x 4’ red carpet for loyal 1K flyers at every gate, but don’t expect much in terms of truly helpful, unique, and endearing customer service. Every year United sends me a stack of coupons to give their employees in recognition of great customer service. I rarely get the opportunity to use them.