Moving on, if we look at the marketing guy who hid behind the complexity of his company’s product pricing, then we can extrapolate one thing. If customers couldn’t understand the pricing then neither could the staff in that company’s sales branches, call centres or any other customer-facing ‘touch-point’. So how exactly did this guy measure the success of his strategy? Well, the answer is of course that he had no clue whether it worked or not – his ‘gut feeling’ prevailed and in the end his gut feeling was wrong. Complexity has its uses, but simple things nearly always thrive.
To me the airline example is incredible, and the poor guy who suffers – you guessed – is me. This time I’m going to name the company because it’s pretty obvious anyway, and because this company, British Airways (or is it just BA these days?) excels in so many customer-oriented ways, I’m sure they will forgive me for pointing out one failure. Over my twenty years of flying every week or so, I have amassed a huge amount of air miles with BA – around a half million in fact. These were never used because my employer always paid the fare as I wandered around in the lap of BA luxury, using their first class lounges and fast check-ins. All things come to an end, though, and in the last three years I have been self-employed and so pay for my tickets myself, so thank goodness for my air-miles, which I have been using to great effect.
One thing that becomes apparent is that when you use air miles to buy tickets you are not contributing to your status in the BA Executive Club, so after my first year I lost my gold card, the next year I lost my silver card and now, well I’m afraid to admit, I have the blue. So, where is the story?
Well the story is that these programmes are commonly called ‘loyalty programmes’ but it seems loyalty goes just one way. When I lost my silver card, although I still had around four hundred thousand air miles, I could no longer get into BA lounges, so I wrote a long letter to BA asking them to allow me to keep my silver card, explaining why I was currently using up my air miles, and hoping that the vast amount of profit I had generated for the airline would influence them to allow me a comfortable seat in a lounge and two cans of beer. Their reply was that it was simply not possible. I wrote again and to this day BA has not written back.
Now an important question: do I still fly with BA? Well the truth is that for a while I switched wherever possible to Star Alliance flights, where I also had air miles and could use their lounges, but in reality, using BA from Heathrow is just so convenient that BA don’t really have to try, and gradually I slipped back into old habits. So, what can we take from this? There are a few things. Firstly, loyalty programmes are nothing to do with loyalty at all. Secondly, rules overshadow common sense. Thirdly, just because you think something is sensible, don’t think everyone will agree. Fourthly, people are not often paid to show initiative, they are usually paid to follow rules.