From a CIP to paying $5 to pee

I was once a CIP. In case you’re wondering it’s a Commercially Important Passenger on a certain Australian airline. A CIP is more valuable than a VIP, because the CIP pays full freight for their tickets, whereas VIPs mostly get freebies, or rarely pay full price.

The reason for my status was that each week I was flying between Sydney and Melbourne at the pointy end of the plane. The company contracting my services paid the freight and did so for around 18 months.  It was an insane waste of money, but who was I to argue?

A CIP does have its benefits in terms of ego-stroking, foot massages on arrival, extra tipples during the flight, offers to be a godparent to flight attendants’ kids and the like.

But eventually the contract finished and so I quickly slipped back to ordinary Platinum status. No longer did I receive the faux genuine interest into my wellbeing from the flight crew. Now it was simply “right hand side of the aisle” and a glib smile as I boarded.

I fly quite a bit around the country, mostly for my clients. Like all good businesses, they tend to buy the cheapest airfares possible, so I found myself using a variety of airlines. This meant that despite my travelling lots, a computer turned me into a Gold member of the FF club. Not to worry, I had never paid for an annual membership in over 20 years due to my flying status and I could still get into the lounge to wait out the inevitable delays.

There is something that has always fascinated me though in airport lounges. It’s the way seemingly normal rational executives behave, once the hot party pies are delivered to the bain marie. Don’t ever get between frequent flyers and free party pies, you could lose a limb! What comes over people to cause such behaviour, just for a quick fix of gristle, fat, pastry and gravy? (Maybe is says something about their home cooking?)

But back to frequent flying. Trying to stay loyal to one airline has become very difficult, given the delays, attitude of staff and the self-service culture that now prevails.

With all the new computer technology at airports it seems the Spirit of Oztralya is now “do it yourself maaate!” Book online yourself, print your boarding pass yourself, check-in yourself, drop your bags off yourself – but hey, don’t call the airline for help or you’ll be fined a few thousand points for the privilege of talking to a human. And forget about a discount for doing it all yourself. Next they’ll gouge customers for membership to the baggage handlers union, or start charging you $5 to pee on the plane.

Mind you, the airlines have now started to charge different prices for seats – no longer does the ticket price include the seat. You’re just paying for being in the air when you pay for the ticket. Once you’ve selected your flight, you choose a seat and get charged a fee for the seat based on its location in the plane. Yet there’s no standing-room-only or sit-on-the-floor option?

Recently the computer-generated letter advised me my FF membership was down to Silver – a long way from those heady days as a CIP. I can’t use the lounge, my points tickets are limited to seats located in the back three rows or cargo bay and I have almost no negotiating power when it comes to making flight changes.

The point to this little rant is that in all the years I’ve been a FF, I have not received a single telephone call from the airline – except possibly when there was a cancelled flight.

Can you imagine any other industry ignoring their best customers if they reduced their spending so drastically? They would be on the phone to find out why and do as much as they could to win you back.

They wouldn’t rely on a computer to do the human side of their business. Or at least they would have a database system that works to keep the humans aware of potential lost customers.

It’s the same with a certain telco that makes outrageous claims about its 3G network. The service drops out so much you find yourself redialling up to 6 times just to reconnect your conversation. It got so bad I thought I had a problem with my smart phone, so I went to the telco shop. I took my account with me to show them the number of times I was redialling a number when the service dropped out. The assistant advised me they had lots of problems with the network and gave me a form to complete to advise them where the phone was dropping out. Apparently they didn’t know where they had problems!

I showed her my account, which clearly displayed the location of the problem, as it was how the invoice was calculated. The invoice has the cell location next to the charge. I suggested they had the data in their accounts system, but was advised they couldn’t access that data and was asked to complete the form.

Just like the airline, the telco has all the data they need to provide a decent service to their customers, but it gets ignored because they don’t have a layer of humans to analyse and act on the data. If a company has a computer system sophisticated enough to track purchase behaviour, why doesn’t it have humans analysing the data to ensure they keep customers?

The purpose of business is to make and keep customers profitably. The purpose is not to replace humans with computers and email autoresponders. Once you take the humans out of the equation, you enter the business of selling commodities at the expense of customer loyalty and brand value.

Storing valuable data in computers is useless unless the spreadsheet jockeys use the data to gain customer knowledge to grow the business. After all, if your customers don’t make you rich, who will?

© Malcolm Auld Direct Pty Ltd 2022 | Commercial In Confidence

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