Punishing Loyalty For Dallying With The Competition
I am writing this from the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, the ritzy executive enclave at Montreal's Trudeau Airport.
This place is like a second home to me. I fly almost exclusively with Air Canada. I am a Super Elite member--the top of top-tier fidelity program status--and even after depleting my account for family trips to Los Angeles and Denver, I still have about a half-million (yup, 500,000-) Frequent Flier miles at my disposal.
But even with an upgraded Business Class boarding pass in my hands for my 10:30 p.m., I am still seething.
I am speaking tomorrow morning at a Youth Entrepreneur Conference in Toronto. Organized by students for students, I was supposed to be flying on Porter Airlines for two reasons-- convenience (the Toronto Island Airport is next door to the Harbour Castle hotel where I am speaking), and economy (to help save the students money, I agreed to the cheaper Porter ticket). Now I've flown Porter before and it's a delight in every way...but my worldwide travel sked and Super Elite status always leans me towards Air Canada whenever I can.
Anyway, I get to the airport and the 9:00 p.m. Porter flight is long delayed due to fog problems at the tiny Toronto Island Airport. No prob, I'll just phone the conference organizer and tell her I'll be late.
But of course, for some reason, tonight's the one night I can't get a wi-fi signal on my Blackberry or Laptop, and the organizer's contact info is in my Gmail.
No problem, I think, I'll just head into the Maple Leaf lounge, use the Internet, and get her number.
And that's where the trouble begins!
So, guess which Super Elite member was refused entry to his second home?
And guess why? Because I'm "Flying with a competitor" as I was told.
"Indeed," I agreed, "but these are extenuating circumstances. And I just want to use the Internet for 60 seconds!"
"Too bad," I was told. "No boarding pass, no entry."
Now I can understand if I have no history with the company, and I'm trying to mooch my way in for a free drink or bag of pretzels. But Airborne Mobile, my company, spends tens of thousands of dollars with Air Canada every year. I am a charter member of Aeroplan, the aforementioned frequent flier program. And when the world dumps on this airline, I defend it. (At a recent Super Elite get-together with Air Canada execs, including my friend Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu, I was asked my biggest beef with the airline. I couldn't think of anything that wasn't small-minded on my part; just get me there safely and on time, that's all I want. Jeez, I wish they would ask me that now...but I digress).
So what do I do?
I BUY a one-way ticket to Toronto for $289 or so, get into the lounge, get the organizer's number, and tell her to cancel the Porter flight (there was no guarantee it was going to be able to land tonight, nor any that I could get on the 6:30 a.m. tomorrow).
My polite and controlled fury at the desk resulted in an upgrade, which I appreciate.
But here's what I don't:
When a loyal customer uses the competition now and then, don't treat him like a scarlett-letter-wearing, enemy-of-the-state traitor. Yeah, we all want monopolies, and our customers to pledge undying faith only to us.
And I also want to be 6-foot-5, 25 years old again, and have $100 million in the bank.
Wake up, Air Canada. The world is different these days. It's a big sandbox, and there are lots of other players in it. Don't "punish" me for using the competition; invite me to learn why I shouldn't.
Here's what I would do in this situation, or in any situation when I would be LUCKY ENOUGH to have a competitor's customer in my grasp:
"Hey, Porter may have funky ads and flight attendants in cool outfits, but our planes have no problem landing in a bit of fog. In fact, if you change your flight to us right now, I will give you $100 off and an upgrade certificate for your next one." Or something like that.
This is a touchpoint that could result in solidified loyalty and customer conversion.
Instead, it results in loosening the loyalty of one of the few hardcore Air Canada fans left out there, and has him biting the hand that feeds him in the Executive Lounge, instead of relaxing with a magazine or chilling with a glass of wine.