One Lesson on How NOT to Treat Your Frequent Flier Customers

Photograph ©istockphoto.com by Lisa F. Young.

Many FlyerTalk members are furious regarding the timing of an announcement posted this morning by FlyerTalk member Air Canada Top Tier — who also officially represents Air Canada on FlyerTalk — pertaining to the launch of Altitude, which is the new name for the Top Tier frequent flier loyalty program of Air Canada effective as of March 1, 2013.

The four items in the announcement are listed as follows:

  • Altitude packages All Altitude membership packages were deployed as of last Friday (February 22). We had begun shipping them 10 days before that. As some of you have noticed, Elite 50K and Elite 75K kits were dropped first. Despite much discussion to the contrary, the kits were deployed very strategically, to ensure that packages being shipped internationally were sent out first (they would take the longest to reach their destination), while those being sent close to our fulfillment source (Ontario & Quebec) would be last. Therefore, we are confident that almost all members will find their packages in their mailbox by Friday.
  • Traveling on or after March 1 Should you be in transit, or otherwise unable to have your new Altitude membership card in hand, don’t worry. We’ll ensure that you’re still eligible for the priority services & membership privileges to which you’re entitled. We expect that in most cases, your status will appears seamlessly on your airport documents, such as boarding passes. If not, agents at the airport will be able to remove & re-enter your Aeroplan Number on your reservation to ensure that the latest status information appears. For Maple Leaf Lounge access, our agents are aware of this issue and will validate your status in our system if you aren’t able to produce a card. Similarly, we have communicated this message to our Star Alliance partners, particularly within our key hub airports, and we will be doing our best to ensure they have the information required grant you lounge access.
  • Choosing your Select Privileges As previously communicated, selection will begin the week of February 25. For various technical reasons, at this point, we expect it to commence on Friday, March 1. We will begin deploying Selection Invitation e-mails to members, but not to all members simultaneously, as this could impact the performance of the website. However, there’s no need to wait for the e-mail – as soon as we advise that the altitude.aircanada.com site is live, you can go on to make your selection immediately. We’ll let you know here once the site is ready.
  • eUpgrades As part of choosing your Select Privileges, you will have the option to choose eUpgrade Credits. As many of you are aware, it typically takes approximately 24 (but in some cases, up to 48) hours to have the credits deposited in your account. Therefore, the more quickly you select, the more quickly you will receive your new eUpgrade Credits.

 

Selected responses by FlyerTalk members are as follows:

“There is really no excuse to leave things till last minute like this. Leaving this till the last minute is absolutely poor planning, and now you guys seem to blame further delays for ON and PQ on weather. There is nothing strategic about a self-imposed emergency. Since some people are indeed traveling March 1 or soon after, consider, as a goodwill gesture, extending otherwise expiring eUpgrade credits for a week until your mess is sorted out.”

— FlyerTalk member mudd_stuffin

“Wow, what a screwup!! So why don’t we get extensions on our E-upgrades? What if we get refused in a star alliance lounge, how can we get reimburse by AC?”

— FlyerTalk member blockerca

“Such a lame explanation by ACTT for this mess. At least, you could have announced that you are extending eUpgrade credits. That is the very least thing you could do to avoid further problems for most of us.”

— FlyerTalk member luchoqc

“Truly pathetic. No, you DO NOT have our understanding. Since the initial announcement of the program you have missed or pushed back every deadline mentionned through clever wording. By the week of February 25th = on the very last day of the week? Seriously? You are proud that your card were mailed a whole 10 days before a deadline you set when you had 2 months to handle that? Seriously? You have “communicated” with Star Alliance partner that you failed to deliver our cards on time and you seriously expect us to believe they will let us in the lounge? In what world do you live? If they wanted to do that could already do it as our status is visible on the bording pass; no communication will change that and I fully expect to be turned away next Sunday. Get real! Air Canada Attitude indeed.”

— FlyerTalk member Max007

“I feel very honored and privileged to be treat in this way. No public apology about poor organisation of information, delay in delivery of promised items, or simply the bureaucratic system. This is becoming a trust issue. The question now is, is the national flag carrier truly reliable in terms of service. Especially to those who are SEs and got longstanding flying record with AC. It is a disappointment for me to see this message. Excuses are always easier to find than apologise. I was trying to be optimistic and continue to trust AC few days ago. However, the feeling of the good old Air Canada is nowhere to be found…”

— FlyerTalk member ericwang0658

I highlighted the phrase in the last quote what I believe summarizes the problem Air Canada has with its customers who are frequent fliers: This is becoming a trust issue.

It is one thing to disappoint your customers. Sometimes it is avoidable; sometimes it can be inevitable. However, when your customers start losing trust in your company, I would strongly recommend taking steps to repair and restore that trust. Loss of trust can translate into loss of business — pure and simple.

It appears that Air Canada has its work cut out for it in terms of repairing its reputation and relationship with FlyerTalk members — but it is certainly not impossible. Recommended steps for Air Canada to consider include but are not limited to:

  • Apologizing for not handling the launch of the Altitude frequent flier loyalty program in the best interests of its frequent fliers
  • Acknowledging that this undertaking was greater than originally expected
  • Being better prepared to implement changes — minor or significant
  • Extending the expiration date of eUpgrades as a compromise
  • Being more proactive and timely with its official announcements so that FlyerTalk members are better prepared for the changes
  • Having future changes be as seamless as possible in order to mitigate — and, preferable, eliminate altogether — inconvenience to FlyerTalk members as much as possible
  • “Surprising and delighting” its customers with unexpected and unannounced benefits to improve its reputation and good will

 

These suggestions are not difficult to implement — nor do they need to be significant in monetary cost. They will require time and effort, however — which is well worth it when it comes to the retention of valuable customers.

Let this be a lesson to other frequent travel loyalty programs on how not to treat your frequent flier customers when you implement significant changes.

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