Customer Loyalty

While trying to clean up my mailbox, I came across an email from an airline that I had, apparently, left in my inbox without any action, like Delete, which I often resort to in haste and sometimes repent later at leisure. The subject line of that email is the title of this post.

This airline had come into being with a lot of fanfare several years earlier, promoted by a flamboyant liquor baron. I used it occasionally, circa 2010, around the time of this email. For the record, this airline is now out of business, apparently on account of its inability to pay mounting debts.

I now recollect that when I had received this email, I was more than a little confused and of the view that the subject line did not do justice to the content, or perhaps the content did not do justice to the subject line. In my confusion I left the email parked in the Inbox, to be read and disposed of in a more relaxed frame of mind. It came to my attention today when I was trying to clean-up my Inbox. And it confused me all over again.

From the subject line of the email, I gathered that the email was sent with the objective of building loyalty amongst its customers, like me. But after reading through the email several times, I was not at all sure. But it could just be me and my sceptical outlook. You judge for yourself.

Presented below is the complete email, with my interpretation of a particular section in parentheses, in green italics, immediately after that section. If you delete the content within parentheses, it becomes the complete original email received by me. To avoid ruffling feathers more than need to be ruffled, we will call is ABC Airlines.

The Email, then:

Dear Sir, As one of our most valued guests, I share with you our commitment to building a stronger ABC Airlines.

(We have not been able to do it in the several years of our existence. However, we assure you that now we are committed to doing it. Of course, we are informing you because we believe our building a stronger airline will be of tremendous interest to you, as it will make all of us at the airline, richer, and make no difference to you whatsoever as you will continue to have options of other airlines to fly with.)

Since inception, ABC Airlines has stood for the best in air travel in the Indian skies. As we navigate through one of the most turbulent times, we remain strong, committed and driven.

(Even if you had not come to know of it from other sources, we want to ensure that you, our loyal customer, is aware that we are navigating through turbulent times, so that you can think twice before giving us your business, which might give us the opportunity to navigate through even more difficult times, and allow us to remain stronger, more committed and more driven. Especially as it makes no difference to you whatsoever as you will continue to have options of other airlines to fly with.)

We will emerge, stronger than ever before. Our key mission remains, placing your experience at the heart of our operation. We are committed and expect to continue to:

• Provide safe and reliable service. I assure you that we have full confidence in our aircraft fleet, and will not fly an aircraft unless we are completely sure that it is safe to operate.

(Though in the past we have not had full confidence on our fleet, and have flown aircraft without being completely sure that it was safe to fly, we assure you we will not do the same again. Promise.)

• Operate our flight as per schedule and on-time.

(Now we are going to. As stated earlier – Promise.)

• Provide competitive fares across cabin classes and markets.

(We thought the in-flight video of our boss asking in-flight stewards to treat you as a guest in his house would be enough to charge you a premium. We may even have got away with it on occasion. But now that we know that the premium service of the boss’ video has turned out to be inadequate, we will offer competitive rates.)

• Ensure that our guests continue to earn and retain their elite tier status and that the Frequent Flier Miles earned by our guests remain secure and intact with Frequent Flier Club.

(We had planned to wilfully downgrade the tier status of guests, and also to arbitrarily reduce the miles already earned and accumulated. But we will defer this plan to a more appropriate time in the future.)

• Enjoy benefits with the Frequent Flier Club which is at par, if not more advantageous than what is on offer. Our schedule along with best fares is available at http://www.abc.com With your continued faith and our nerves of steel, we are confident in restoring our position of excellence in the Indian sky.

(We have confused even ourselves with our first statement here. We think what we are trying to say is that you will get benefits with the Frequent Flier Club, which you are already getting. And that is a great privilege which is why we need to call this out in our email to you. Further, we have understood from our experience that the one key attribute required to succeed is “nerves of steel”. Not knowledge, not experience, not customer service, not operating excellence, but “nerves of steel”. We have got all employees grafted with this key attribute. So now, as a logical conclusion, we are bound to restore our position of excellence in the sky. Which we have never held in the past. You may also need them (nerves of steel) if you fly with us, we might add.)

My team joins me in thanking you once again for your loyalty and patience.

Unquote

After having read through the email section by section, I feel bad for the investors and management of the company.

Is this a sincere but misguided effort at building customer loyalty?

Or is this a planned and meticulously worded effort at eroding whatever little customer loyalty remained?

Or is this an email which actually helps in enhancing customer loyalty, which I suspect was the original purpose of the email?

What do you think? This could be used as a case-study in customer communication.

 

18 thoughts on “Customer Loyalty

  1. Ankur, your interpretation in green says it all about big business trying to confuse their customers in such muddled wordiness that in the end they are confused themselves. A very sad affair indeed!

  2. I couldn’t help but laugh. Your between-the-lines interpretations are spot on. And your conclusion, too–I would definitely think before using this group again. Of course, that option is off the table (or out of the skies) now.

    • We are safe for now. To be perfectly honest, I am truly amazed how such a big and established business could send out such an ordinary communication. Big corporations are able to hire some very capable people.

  3. They were the favourite, for the style of the crew and the gift Pouch which included a pen, in addition to such communication and promises.
    Unfortunate that it went under

  4. Well, young man – I mean, Valued Customer – everyone and his mother-in-law’s dog owns an airline and so I too decided to own one. Hic! Oh, that was my last beer. Hic! My last 873 beer. For today. Did I tell you I make the best beer in the whole wide world? No? Okay, I make the best beer in the whole wide world. And also in the narrow world. And the fat world and the thin world. You get my point, no? Hic!

    And like our beer – great when you fishing, if I might add. Okay, what the hic, I will add – take a full crate of my beer when you go fishing. You will be the king of fishers and return with an even fuller crate of promises.

    Now, where was I? Hic! Oh, here only.

    By the way why is the world swaying? Hic!

    As you can guess, young man – I mean, Hic! Valued Customer – I can go on, and on, and on. But I don’t want you to miss your flight so, I will – What? – Flight gone already?

    You see what you made me do, young man – Oops! Valued Customer – you made me miss your flight. I mean, I made you miss my flight.

    Hic! Whatever. You know what I mean. No?

    (Note: Please restart the video by hitting the Replay Button. The blue one. No, I mean, the red one. No, no, that is the flight attendant’s button. You better be pressing the blue one only. It will replay as fast as a Formula One race car.)

  5. I think they could have employed a different advertising agency. How about this;
    Make ABC Airlines Great again.
    All Indians should fly on Indian Airlines.
    We have recently employed (name deleted) who is a really fantastic fellow from Uttar Pradesh where his roadside chicken business is really good.
    I have just make ABC Airlines Great again.
    We are putting a ban on all Indians who fly with Pakistani Airlines.
    We refuse to fly ABC Airlines to South Patagonia unless they start charging half fares from Tierra Del Fuego to Goa.
    We are the best Airline in the world.
    Make ABC Airlines Great again.
    (This always assumes that we were great before.)

    • Scary! You have too much information. You can even spell Uttar Pradesh.
      Indian Airlines (or Air India now) is a good idea. If the only comparison is Air India, ABC being the best is a given. After all, the world could just be within the national boundary, as often seems to be the case with the nation someone is trying to make great again.

  6. Customer loyalty has become a myth thanks to these cashback apps. I remember this Airtel campaign where they claimed that they are a very open network by sharing their list of mobile towers on map.Now mobile tower list means nothing till the time one doesn’t get clear signal on their phones.
    Maay a times, the marketing team has very little idea on how things are at ground level. One of my friends did an internship with the now defunct Aircel where he was supposed to try selling data plans.Poor guy got some very colourful abuses when he went to sell it as their was simply no stable network in the area so data plans had no chance.

  7. Don’t start me on Cashbacks. I have a half-drafted post on the subject 😦 T&Cs apply.
    Essentially, keep testing the boundary of what you can get away with for enriching yourself. And, in all fairness, for business entities, customer loyalty is, at best, a route to getting rich, not a noble goal in itself.

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