I spent last week in New Zealand with my family, restrictions lifted but with constant COVID changes during our trip a number of things occurred, return flights cancelled, urgent text communications and impacts on hotels.
Let’s look at the experience of how these were handled – some I would say were handled really well that added to loyalty and others were handled in a way that detracted from loyalty.
Preparing for our return flight we were advised by Qantas via text message our Saturday flight had been cancelled. The text message was well designed starting with an apology and letting us know they were handling this breakdown for us.
We’re handling it, no need to worry, we will let you know.
I decided to ring the VIP line to check flight options, my call was immediately answered, they booked us on a flight the following day even organising our seats for us – they ticked all the boxes and I left the conversation knowing that everything was handled, we were flying on the Sunday flight home – tick, tick, tick!
They sent us a text confirming the booking but the text actually said that we had been rebooked on Saturday 4th when it should have said Sunday the 4th. I noticed this but how many people may not have noticed.
This type of mistake is really unacceptable, all digital communication MUST be correct. Imagine the impact on all the customers that received the text and did not go online to check….. It comes back to attention to detail.
Then on the Friday afternoon, our Sunday flight was also cancelled.
Our flight was cancelled a second time and I received another text. Again, I rang the VIP line, they did their very best to help me out. They helped me with different options to get us home, even booking us on Air New Zealand and apologising that there would be a long wait time of a few hours via Auckland and booking us into the Air New Zealand lounge where we could dine and relax prior to our flight.
It’s important to mention here we fly Qantas because we are loyal to the brand if we were not we would not have experienced delays as Air New Zealand was still flying.
There is a loyalty choice you make as a customer but then when things go wrong – how much is your loyalty worth to the company you are loyal to? How much are the companies you are loyal to, delivering back to you?
The Emotional Bank Account
With Qantas there were more deposits than withdrawals even though some things went wrong. They let us know, I could talk to a real person, they organised everything on the phone with me. We were given a choice to fly Monday from Queenstown or out of Auckland on the Saturday. Tick, Tick, Tick on the emotional bank account and added to our loyalty towards Qantas.
The only withdrawal was receiving a text with the incorrect date, which as previously mentioned shouldn’t happen and could have caused upset had I not noticed the mistake.
The other really positive experience for us was once we were in Auckland, was having access to the Air New Zealand lounge and a shout out for them as the quality of their food, particularly the slow cooked lamb and the variety of salad options were first class and was actually one of the best meals my family experienced whilst on holiday and that was in a business lounge. It was amazing!
My level of loyalty to Qantas was reciprocated inside of this COVID breakdown, they went out of their way to ensure the impact on us was minimal.
Even on our flight home, the way we were welcomed on board and the attention given to all of us by the host staff. They came to our seats early in the flight welcoming me as a platinum one guest, checking in that I was comfortable and offering us drinks.
It was so lovely, I thought people must have been wondering who the heck I am. I know I am special but they treated me so well. Acknowledging my level of loyalty – and that’s the point, the level of service we received did make us feel special.
My point is this is a really good example of managing a COVID breakdown – really well! Often you get nothing and in this case we were made to feel really special.
The positives (deposits) were:
The airline sent a text message straight away.
They let us know what we needed to do and that things were handled.
They went out of their way to help us with the best option to fly home.
They managed all the bookings and lounge admission with Air New Zealand.
They made us feel special on the flight home, from the welcome we received boarding the plane through to the level of attention and service.
Any changes incur costs and there was no extra costs to us.
We understand that Qantas had to cancel flights but we didn’t actually consider that a withdrawal, we know things are more challenging now and we have accepted that.
Let’s discuss another experience, here is another highly rated company who we regularly stay with as part of the Accor Group – the Sofitel in Queenstown. Again, we have a high-level of loyalty to both this hotel group and the hotel itself.
With Qantas changing flights we then had to approach the hotel about extending our stay another night. The first thing I did was go online and see how much a room would cost online and saw it was $450 but when I approached reception and told them what happened and said, “can you look after us”? I was told an extra cost of $500 per night. My request was could we have the same cost which was $395 per night (4 night stay) could they just continue that cost and accommodate us in the same room.
So, the disappointment of this experience was they wanted to charge us more than I would have paid if I had booked it myself online. That was disappointing to the level of loyalty that we have to that brand, and that hotel.
Again, let’s discuss the emotional bank account, why do that under the circumstances, which were out of our control. Initially this hotel group got it wrong, the reception staff didn’t demonstrate customer loyalty best practice.
They did contact the general manger after I asked them to “can you talk to your general manager and see what they can do”.
The general manager did call the next day and said they were happy for us to stay and would continue at the same daily rate we had previously booked, so that was a good result right? But the thing with the way this was handled is that this was not their initial approach and I sort of had to fight for it.
It was disappointing (withdrawal) to have to say as you know we are from Australia, we stay in this hotel a lot, I am a platinum member can you look after us and the staff member offering a gift of $500, to then find out from the general manager that he could give it to us $100 cheaper.
Another example, where the hotel missed the boat …. there was clearly a heating issue in the hotel, I am not clear whether it was throughout the hotel but definitely on our floor which is their loyalty floor, so anyone on that floor is probably someone who has status and has shown loyalty to this hotel group.
We had an extra heater in our room which was fine, BUT it was later through hearing the conversations going on in the lounge that I found out there was clearly an issue that wasn’t just affecting us and wasn’t clearly communicated.
We heard other guests talking about it in the lounge saying they wouldn’t come back. One lady in particular said ‘I always come here and I won’t be coming back, I have had to talk to so many staff to get some heating in my room and it’s still not working’.
It’s always best to be upfront! You should always communicate breakdowns BEFORE people notice them.
For example, simply communicating that there is an issue and letting people know what you have done to manage the impact, for example “we have put extra heaters in your room, don’t be afraid to use them and if you need anything else please don’t hesitate to let us know”. That would have been a great thing to do.
The fact that the heating issue wasn’t communicated clearly and that there was nothing setup efficiently to manage this breakdown was a mistake. They left themselves wide open for negative word-of-mouth and the loss of loyal customers. We had to ask them for an extra heater.
Had they have communicated clearly with all affected customers and gone out of their way to lessen the impact, the difference would have been positive word-of-mouth, retention of loyal customers and referrals.
There were other things that the hotel did for us unexpectedly that were amazing (deposits).
For example, let’s look at our experience in the Club Lounge (for platinum and above guests) which is provided to acknowledge customer loyalty and includes free drinks and canapes. The barman introduced himself on the first evening and greeted us by name – including my wife and daughter and every evening thereafter.
He noticed that we don’t drink alcohol and went out of his way to make us feel special. he suggested that he make us a special mocktail, unprompted and not available on the drinks menu. He made us feel special as people and he looked at what our needs were, that was a massive deposit towards our experience of staying in this hotel. It’s more expensive and there is a lot of hotels much cheaper to choose from.
In fact, all the staff were fantastic, the way we were greeted when we arrived at the hotel, check in was seamless, the breakfast staff and even the way staff acknowledged you when passing by. They all looked like they enjoyed their job and the way in which they engaged with you on a personal level – these were all ticks and added to our emotional bank account.
So, what’s the point of this article? When things go wrong this is often the biggest test, if Qantas had of tried to charge me to get to Auckland for the Air New Zealand flight, I would have been really upset because it’s not my problem – it is theirs to manage, thankfully they did not.
So, how do you take care of your loyal customers when something goes wrong?
Are you aware of all avenues that may go wrong for your customers during the COVID pandemic for example, cancellation of flights, needing extra time in your hotel and plan for these breakdowns?
Do you proactively set up process’s and give your staff permission to make your customers feel special rather than add to their stress in these situations?
Do you let them know in advance about any problems and what you are doing to solve them, without them having to contact you?
Are you looking at what you can do to add value to their experience?
*Remember the barman in the Club Lounge? He noticed that we weren’t maximising the free alcoholic drinks like some guests drinking champagne all evening, and he choose to make us feel special.
If you would like to have a chat with me about managing business breakdowns and customer loyalty best practice contact me I look forward to hearing from you.