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Prospecting Revisted…or why I avoid American Airlines

May 30, 2012

A few months back, I shared a story about a fundraising caller who hung up on me. I was ready to talk to him about my family’s philanthropy, but the paid caller had something different in mind, so he hung up on me, before he learned that I cared about his cause. Bad customers service, I wrote, can kill a long term relationship.

Fast forward a few months to today and to some of the worst customer service I have ever received….

Flying for your commute can be interesting. Today it involved switching concourses and airlines and checking through security twice (and a five hour delay). Awesome! As a savvy, frequent traveler (about 200,000 miles a year), I was able to switch airlines, but I couldn’t seem to confirm my seat by phone. Because I had a first class seat on Delta, I queued up (with one person in front of me and one behind) in American Airline’s first class lane. The check-in helper was quick to point out I had to stand in line elsewhere, even though I was willing to pay for a first class ticket. (No wonder I avoid American.) To solve my problem, I moved to an electronic kiosk, secured my seat, etc. Round two of American Airline’s awful customer service involved their business club gate keeper who also immediately treated me like a burden.

Here is the message: I am a prospect for American Airlines. In fact, statistically, I suspect I’m the equivalent to a deca-millionaire prospect for Fundraising. There just aren’t too many people like me who fly so much as a potential client/donor. American Airlines–and all of us in the constituent relationship business–should strive to deliver outstanding service in the hopes that the right people are stewarded.

So, before, I come off sounding overly self important (which is not my intent) or too petty toward American Airlines (which sort of is my intent), let’s confirm the message. This little parable can come in handy as you think about the way you look at your prospects. Give them a little more time and attention. View every touch as a chance to deeper relationships, not just speed up processes. Don’t let just simple criteria rule out what could be great parters. And, while you’re at it, you might want to avoid American Airlines.

  1. Robert Scott permalink

    Ha ha I like the parable. And I might offer that while I am not a “principal” prospect for airlines, I probably pass the “major” threshold. That said, I fly American all the time, and feel *exactly* this way, but about United! I think the airlines in general might want to take another look at their whole CRM, or maybe it’s just such a volume business they have written everyone off?

    • Thanks, Rob. I think we all have our “I avoid…” situations. I will tell you a funny story about McDonald’s sometime.

      The CRM issue is interesting to me. I’ve spent a lot of time sussing out the ways the use of customer/client/constituent as the “C” in CRM can alter one’s vantage point. To carry the parable and extend an analogy, my American Airlines experience is a bit like the national non-profit that litters my mailbox with junk mail or won’t seem to honor my “do not call” requests. In those cases, I am just a Customer, and the nonprofit probably thinks there are plenty of those. In my mind, the subtle shift to Client elevates the nature of the relationship. And, there are probably some better technical solutions that airlines could employ, like data mining behaviors to find frequent travelers who just don’t happen to be frequent a particular airline.

      And, one final point, it’s funny how bad customer service can galvanize your relationship with another group. Delta has hung me out a few times, but I sure am glad that I’m hopping on a Delta flight tomorrow morning. Safe travels!

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