Which one wins: Short term focus on finances or long term focus on loyalty? Can’t we have both?

Two separate stories in today’s news seemed like polar opposite examples of how to treat customers, and how they might treat you back. imagesCAM9S87H The first is about an airline that not only treated their customers badly but had policies that made sure the customer lost.  The second example is about a university that understood that sometimes money isn’t what makes you a winner.

Let’s quickly run through the awful airline example.  Two college kids are in an Asian country and miss their flight home to the USA because they read a.m. on their return tickets where they should have seen p.m. They arrived at the airport exactly 12 hours too late.  Upon learning their error and acknowledging it was indeed their error they are relieved to learn the airline has a policy that lowers the penalties if rebooked within 24 hours of the missed flight.  The airline personnel at the airport treat them badly, telling them over and over they will get to them while they sit in-wait just feet from the airline check-in desk as the 24-hour window passes.  The students have made multiple attempts to get the process moving but the airline sent security to tell them to be quiet and wait.  Not surprising it is in the 25th hour that the airline representative finally makes time to speak with the students and then charges them the full amount to get to the city of their connection in Europe.  Relieved and tired they reluctantly agree to pay and get on a flight.  The bigger problem begins when they get to the connecting city and find out they have no connection, the airline had cancelled their original tickets because they did not use the first segment.  Again the weary students had to pay a full fare to get home.  For weeks afterward when they called the airline, they were given a run-around and not until a major newspaper reporter inquired did the airline send them a very small certificate for an amount off a future flight, citing the passenger rules printed on the ticket.  No apologies, bad customer policy and no big picture concern either.imagesCAXGT0ZB

Now there is the uplifting story about the university that made it into a big bowl game, the Orange Bowl.  Like so many other bowl games this year the stadium seats were not selling with too many people choosing to instead save the airfare and watch from the comforts of home.  Not a lack of fans, just a lack of reasons to fly from the Midwest to a Florida bowl location.  (Perhaps the airlines should take note of both these stories) University leadership understood that playing without fans is a hollow victory; so they extended an offer for 1,500 students to receive a free ticket to the game, and for $150 they could also have a seat on a roundtrip bus ride and two nights in a hotel.  Guess what the tickets were gone in 9 minutes!  As I write this more than 25 buses carrying Northern Illinois students are headed to Florida.  Makes you want to root for them doesn’t it?

The difference here is one of having the big picture.  The airline in the first example had already been paid for the seats sold to those students and then in essence sold them a second time to the same students, for more money.   A very short term mentality is at work at this airline.

The other students are part of a culture at a university that obviously cares.  This gesture was not only done for all the right reasons it means the Northern Illinois University team is setting an example for what it means to believe in your school.  I’m betting those students turn into generous alumni in the years ahead; an example of a long term viewpoint.

As we plan ahead for our organizations, perhaps the best starting place is our own policies, procedures and culture. We might want to think through not only how it feels to be our customer when things go well, but what we make a customer feel like when things go badly.  The mark of a smart organization is one that plans for the human errors and rises above to build long term loyalty.

Here’s a big cheer for those students enjoying every minute of their bowl game and rooting for a team that cares about them too.

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