How a Hundred Bucks Can Cost Your Business Thousands

As I sit here with my wife at the Detroit airport waiting for our next delayed connection I can’t help but wonder what companies are thinking at the customer contact level when dealing with long term profitable customers. I know that the airline letting us get on that earlier connection (that was on time of course) would have cost them nothing since I sat here watching it pull away without us onboard and only partially full but the gate agent when we checked in insisted they were powerless to make any changes and insisted on trying to charge us $100 to get out of Detroit  a few hours early and beat the nasty winter storm to Indy.  I probably would have ponied up the money had I not spent spent the last 12 or so years with my butt firmly glued to this airlines airplane seats travelling around the country to visit customers.  Over that period of time I racked up some serious miles since I flew out of Cincinnati and it was convenient for me as well as highly profitable for them due to the ticket pricing from a major hub airport.   It’s interesting how when I’m travelling alone things tend to not bother me but this week in one fell swoop they were able to take a loyal customer and make him into a frequent free for all flyer by making me explain to my wife that seeing the kids an hour or two early isn’t quite enough justification to give these folks another 100 bucks for something a profitable customer has always gotten as a service in the past.  Little did I know at the time of my decision that it would be many more hours than the original two once the delays got factored in making me all the more frustrated with the airline.  For those of you who are husbands or wives you will appreciate how long a delay can seem when you were offered and declined your escape hatch.  For those of you not yet married just wait and see. 

This experience has me coming back to one of the things Bob Denman, the president of Avtex (our 2010 partner of the year) keeps reinforcing to his team and to us.  It is the concept of measuring not just customer satisfaction but customer profitability at the individual level and using this information to make educated customer service decisions with the resulting information.  While the customer is supposed to always be right, they aren’t always profitable.  Only by understanding the profitability ratio at all levels of your business can you provide the tools needed for your customer service agents to make educated decisions on the fly to keep not only your most high profile but your most profitable customers loyal to you as a service provider.  I’ll be the first to admit that when Bob was going thru this description the other night I was struggling to see how this could be applied in the contact center or at a service desk quickly but spending a couple hours in the Detroit airport with a wife wondering why I insisted that shelling out 100 bucks wasn’t worth getting home an hour or two early to hug the kids has really reinforced my understanding of the need.   This situation begs the question for all businesses as to what are they doing to protect and preserve their long term, highly profitable customers?  What are you as an organization doing to enable your customer facing employees to make educated and empowered decisions on the spot to make sure you are not losing long term customers for short sited decisions?

Here is to hoping we get home tonight.  BTW, I hear that Southwest lets bags fly free?  At this rate I may be in one of those bags on the next family vacation. 

Tom Fisher