Is your loyalty for sale?
Would you remain true to a company, no matter what it does, in exchange for a platinum card or the promise of “free” or discounted product?
Target is hoping so after more than 40 million customer credit-card numbers were compromised on Black Friday. Its response? A 10 percent-off bribe offered to holiday shoppers last weekend.
Perhaps the retailer knows its customers too well. Give ’em a few bucks off — or better yet, something “free” — and they’ll overlook anything. (Never mind that almost nothing is free and that the definition of “free” we’ve come to accept is misleading, harmful and wrong.)
Face it: Too often, your business goes to the highest bidder, especially in travel. But maybe we’re thinking about loyalty in the wrong way.
Customers like Bill Rowell, who gave an entire career’s worth of loyalty to American Airlines, are discovering this warped concept of loyalty.
“I was amazed when I passed the 25 year and 30 anniversaries with AAdvantage that American did not bother to send even a ‘thank you’ email, much less some kind of special offer,” he says.
He feels the airline took his business for granted because he was based in Dallas, and in exchange for benefits like upgrades and perks, the business travelers he knew in the AAdvantage program offered their blind allegiance to the airline and “did handstands” in order to be treated with a little dignity.
And for what? American, like other legacy airlines, eventually just moved the goalposts, reserving VIP treatment for an ever-smaller group of elite-level passengers. Rowell felt like he was on a hamster wheel. After more than three decades of loyalty to American, he concluded that American “did not care” and he switched to Southwest Airlines.
American’s definition of “loyalty” seems to be as follows: Give us your money and you can earn points toward a “free” flight and the possibility of an upgrade. But we offer no real guarantees. (Oh, and P.S., the miles don’t really belong to you and we can change the program rules at any time.) The only guarantee we’re interested in is your cash.
Why loyalty is like trust
But this isn’t yet another critique of travel loyalty programs which, as I’ve noted time and again, only benefit a handful of consumers who take the time to study the program rules as if they’re holy scripture.
Actually, I think it’s time for a new view of loyalty.
When I think of loyalty, I think of cheese, coffee and the color blue. In that order.
Loyalty means you want to give the company business because you like its products.
This summer, my family and I visited Tillamook, Ore., and had an opportunity to tour its cooperative cheese factory. We love cheese but we hadn’t considered ourselves brand-loyal, unless you count the really expensive Gruyere with the Swiss flag that I buy every now and then at my supermarket.
My kids loved the factory tour. Everyone was friendly, they offered us delicious samples, and they explained how their cheese was different from other cheeses. We bought Tillamook extra-sharp cheddar at the factory store and enjoyed some that evening with a chilled bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.