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Umpteen blogs ago, I presented the idea that in this age of consumer empowerment the loyalty equation has flipped.  Marketers need to stop obsessing about how much loyalty customers are showing to their brands and start focusing on how their brands can show loyalty to their customers.

Recently, I was the recipient of what it means when a company gets the loyalty flip.

I was flying back from San Francisco on American Airlines on the 3:15 PM flight, needing to get home before a long day in NYC the next day.  The plane had a hydraulic leak and was taken out of service before boarding. OK, it happens.  To American Airline’s credit, they flew in another piece of equipment that took off for JFK at around 7:30 PM.  It was a really late night, but at least I got home.  Then, a couple of weeks later, I received the following unsolicited e-mail:

November 29, 2010

Dear Mr. Rubinson:

We make every effort to operate each and every one of our flights as scheduled. However, inevitably problems will arise in a business such as ours. Please accept my sincerest apology for the disruption of your plans when you traveled with us recently.

We want to restore your confidence in us. In an effort to do so, I’ve added 5,000 bonus miles to your AAdvantage® account. You can view this activity very soon via

We hope you will travel with us again soon. It will be a pleasure to welcome you aboard when your plans call for travel by air.

On behalf of all of us here at American Airlines, I’d like to wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season and the very best for the New Year.


B. J. Russell
Customer Relations
American Airlines

I did not expect this, and it is not about the number of miles.  It is about giving me an unexpected gift at an unexpected time (a line I lifted from the movie “Finding Forrester” but so true) that showed they cared about me.  They showed ME loyalty.  This is marketing based on the principle of doing the right thing and I totally applaud this.

Now, contrast this with what is sadly prevalent practice.  I was flying to the Midwest on a different airline which cancelled the flight after a 3 hour delay (I suspected load factor but who knows for sure?).  There was no information other than to go to a certain gate where a line of over 100 people awaited me to rebook. The only information came in the form of a gate agent shouting to the line, “Who wants to go to Hartford?”  Not even a loud speaker announcement! I mean, whuut??  I had to rebook myself via Expedia for an early flight the next morning and get my own hotel room.

I can’t always fly American, it depends on routes.  However, there is no question that they want my business and deserve my loyalty in return.

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2 Responses to “Case in point on how brands can show loyalty to customers”

  1. Interesting piece, Joel. It raises the question of whether loyalty can (or should) be defined differently for brands and for customers. Do you think that AA’s email to you is more than just a good CRM tactic, one that was perhaps focused on high lifetime-value customers?

  2. Jon Cheffings

    The key output is understanding what your customer needs in order to feel a sense of loyalty to the brand. In this case you were surprised by the gesture (which says an awful lot about how airlines treat us) but the question still has to be asked “Was it the right gesture?” If you fly often enough adding miles may be the last thing you want. But what would have been better? Can customers/consumers define “above and beyond?” well enough for brands to incorporate that thinking into their customer service model? Not sure.