A simple step to customer satisfaction: databases with long memories

I’m flying United Airlines later this month for the first time since 2004. A few days ago, United emailed me: “Don’t miss out on award miles on your trip.” The email encouraged me to sign up for MileagePlus, United’s customer loyalty program.

I’m no United regular, but as I actually have three flight legs booked with them through April, I figured they had a point.

But I decided to do them one better. Digging around old text files, I found my old Continental OnePass number.

I pulled up my flight details and dropped in the old OnePass number. United recognized the account instantly and added it to my itinerary.

Pleasantly surprised, I proceeded to log into my account, using the same number and the decade-old PIN I had on file. United.com had no trouble pulling my account together, listing my lifetime miles flown while simultaneously updating my address to the one I entered for my upcoming travel.

This is what all customer loyalty programs should look like. With the right investment in database architecture, companies can have information about their customers readily available, and utilize that to surprise and delight even the most passive of patrons. Like me, the once-every-twelve-years infrequent flier, now pleasantly blogging about a company I once publicly rebuked.

I recently had an unsatisfying discussion with Hyatt via Twitter where I challenged their policy of expiring accounts. Seems they are deleting my Gold Passport account next month because of lack of use—not expiring my points, but wiping out my ID entirely. Why? I asked. I got back a corporate version of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and a suggestion I buy some points to stay in their good graces.

Compare Hyatt’s attitude with United, where any customer stickiness remains part of my lifetime value, regardless of frequency. Or AMC Theatres, where my Moviewatcher account worked for roughly 20 years, despite being forgotten for a good 15 of them between uses, when I lived out of reach of one of their locations.

AMC welcomed me back with open arms (and I’m now a highly satisfied Stubs customer, too). United has now done the same, and suddenly I’m looking forward to my flight.

Digital facts of the day

There are now around 130 million smartphone users and at least 55 million tablet users in the U.S. market. Among other trends, 15% of ecommerce transactions will be completed on mobile and tablet devices this year, a number that will only continue to grow.
While this is a prime opportunity to gain market share and–still–establish first-mover advantage, 45% of marketers don’t have a mobile presence, either with apps or optimized websites.
When I was working at Ai we would annually update our stump speech for mobile. “2009 is going to be the year of mobile.” “2010 is really the year of mobile–our clients’ stats show smartphone usage on their sites tripled last year.” Now, in 2013, mobile and tablet use is starting to drive the digital economy, in a shift that is not going to turn back around. Yet many brands have not capitalized on the opportunity. If not now, when?

Apple to iPhone 4 critics: ‘shut the fuck up’

That’s the gist of Steve Jobs’s hastily arranged and moderately defensive iPhone press conference today discussing the antenna-finger-reception issue.
There’s nothing press-conference-worthy about the issue, really, other than the fuss that’s being made. Apple felt the need to respond to its critics, which, I suspect, has more than a little to do with Consumer Reports’ product damnation earlier this week. Stodgy as it may seem, CU wields a lot of influence, as evidenced by its recent safety warning on the Lexus GX460, which forced Toyota to immediately suspend its sales. (Disclosure: I am a consumerreports.com subscriber.)
Apple’s sales are a combination of its near-flawless execution and the halo of respect and admiration the company receives for its products. With the iPhone 4, Apple wound up with a) a tangibly flawed product, whether it wants to admit it or not, however minor it may be; and b) the potential loss of some of that all-important respect and admiration. Apple had to try and remind people of its general excellence and plug the hole in the proverbial dyke.
Let’s analyze the specifics of the “solution,” then, which has been cited as potentially costing the company hundreds of millions of dollars. Apple will give away free bumpers to all its iPhone 4 customers. This has an opportunity cost of $87 million, given Apple’s $29 price point versus the three million phones already sold.
Seriously, though: that bumper’s $29 ask is laughable. It’s a molded plastic ring. A lay consumer can buy full-size iPhone cases for $1.50 for as few as 30 pieces in bulk. What do you think Apple’s wholesale cost is for three million, sourced directly from the manufacturer? Thirty cents? Maybe less?
At $0.30 per case, Apple’s big giveaway will cost the company $900,000 for the first three million, plus overhead. Given that Apple has brought in at least $600 million in revenue (probably a lot more) on those three million iPhone 4s, nine hundred grand seems like a pretty painless repair. (As an Apple shareholder, I should note that this pleases me.)
The iPhone 4 remains an incredible product, and Apple a remarkable company. Today’s press conference didn’t really change things one way or the other. Their hope is that with their case-and-refund announcement in place, the issue will quiet down, and people will feel good about buying and using the iPhone 4. We’ll see if it works.

The [noun]

OK, Mr. or Mrs. Consumer, riddle me this.
Hut and shack
Which of the above buildings sells pizzas, and which sells radios?
I ask because of some aggressive and misguided rebranding efforts going on by major retail chains. In an effort to both be trendy and transcend an existing identity, they’re seizing the playful halves of their names and marketing around them.
Which sounds great, until you take them out of context.
Pizza Hut thinks its consumers already use “the Hut” as shorthand, so they’ve embraced it as a marketing initiative. That’s fine enough, but it doesn’t scale. The Hut doesn’t mean anything if it’s not related to mealtime and pizza, and it won’t catch the eye of someone looking for food.
Meanwhile, Radio Shack has decided to do the same thing. They, too, say their shortened “the Shack” is used by devoted fans, and that the name is more trustworthy than the official brand. Except, erm, it really isn’t.
When does a nickname imply trust? When it comes from a customer, it says, “I go here all the time,” which can be construed as, “I trust their products.” When it comes from the corporate mouth, the message is, “You should be my friend,” not, “You can trust me.” It feels entirely different.
But my biggest complaint is with the brand identity these nicknames create. Not only are the messages missing their mark, but they’ve gone so far as to become more or less identical. What do they mean? Tell your coworker, “I’m going to the shack and the hut at lunch,” and see what happens.
I’m all for nicknames; my coworkers have several for me (and probably a few that I don’t know about). But the best ones are descriptive and add warmth and depth to the thing they describe. Shacks and huts, for all their marketing efforts, don’t really do that.
This is a cross-post from aiaio.

Tropicana feels it where it counts

In the wake of Tropicana’s disastrous rebranding over the winter, its sales plummeted 20 percent in six weeks. Twenty percent in six weeks!
That’s a disaster on a monumental scale for a brand this size–$33 million in lost sales, plus the millions of dollars in designing, packaging and marketing the new designs, and the funds to clean up the mess.
The sales news also sheds new light on the decision to switch the packaging back, which at the time was called a “deep emotional bond” among Tropicana consumers. Indeed, the exact opposite was true: without the logo, people assumed their juice was gone, and simply bought something else. Neil Campbell, call your public relations department. (via kottke.org and df)

Tropicana and branding

I have been complaining in this space for several months about the awful redesign of Tropicana’s packaging. It screamed change for change’s sake, and truly felt designed without regard for brand strength or visibility.
Old and new Tropicana cartonsWho at Pepsi possibly thought 12-point sans-serif product descriptions were better than the large, color-coordinated pulp and acidity indicators? Or that a sea of orange juice was more eye-catching and unique than fruit with straws? Or that Tropicana’s logo just had to be updated? The new stuff was pretty, sure, but entirely generic and unusable.
Tropicana wisely backtracked this weekend and is reverting to its old packaging. The company cited consumer feedback as the driver, which is nice to see. But its spin completely missed the point.
“We underestimated the deep emotional bond,” said Tropicana’s president, Neil Campbell. “What we didn’t get was the passion this very loyal small group of consumers have.”
This is false. As a loyal Tropicana buyer, I don’t love the straw-punctured fruit or the old logo at all. What I love is Tropicana juice. And the new packaging made it hard for me to buy it. My preference was hidden in small type; the cartons no longer differentiated on the shelves. It took me longer to shop, and twice this winter I went home with the wrong juice. I’m glad they’re reverting but not for the reasons they see (or admit).
One thing hasn’t changed, though: Tropicana Pure Premium is great orange juice. Thank goodness they didn’t mess with that.

The value of a Super Bowl ad

Sports Illustrated has a fabulous short take this week on CPM rates and Super Bowl ads. In short: on a per-viewer basis, a $3 million Super Bowl spot gets an advertiser more bang for the buck–by a good 35 percent–than a $435,000 slot on a typical Sunday Night Football broadcast. The sheer viewer numbers for the big game actually make broad-based marketing a relative bargain.
While it’s hard to swallow the thought of six-million-dollar-a-minute advertisements in the penny-pinching 2008 holiday season, an advertiser like, say, Doritos, which can gain a position of strength in a recession, is well suited to a Super Bowl ad.

Slippery slope

December 14, 2006: New JetBlue Airplane Configuration. “JetBlue will offer at least 36-inch pitch in rows 1-11, and 34-inch pitch in rows 12-25.” Me, commenting on del.icio.us: “Very nice, but what will happen to JetBlue’s ‘sit in back, get more legroom’ come-on?”
March 19, 2008: JetBlue to Charge $10 to $20 for Legroom. “The new seats — situated in rows two through five and in emergency exit rows 10 and 11 — will provide 38 inches of pitch.”
Between this and the airline’s new refundable-business-fare policies, we have the answer: premium economy. (UpgradeTravel predicted this last year, and they’re exactly right.)
The slippery slopes here are numerous. For one thing, JetBlue is getting more and more traditional; it’s only a matter of time before they shoehorn an extra row or two back into the cabin, killing their industry-leading seat pitch. For another, those “$10-20” legroom seats will quickly cost $50 or more each way, in much the same manner as JetBlue’s fares quickly went from low-cost-carrier range to $399-each-way-to-Florida-at-Christmas levels, sometimes costing more than American and Continental.
Once upon a time I was a JetBlue shareholder. I always enjoy the time I spend on their planes, particularly when compared with other domestic airlines. But it’s hard to root for the clever underdog when the innovations are increasingly pulling them into the realm of same-old, same-old.

Opting out, an update

In November I began tracking, and unsubscribing from, the many unwanted catalogs that came to my home. Today I entered the first batch of 2008 catalogs I received, 10 in all in the past seven weeks. Among the offenders: two catalogs from which I’ve opted out which hit me again with a new customer ID number, requiring me to opt out all over again.
Catalogs, in a word, are spam: 100 glossy printed resource-wasting pieces of spam, each one worse than a thousand junk emails. The spam is filterable; the catalogs are wasteful long before I see them. Here’s to hoping Catalog Choice does its job.
The original post is up to date and will continue to be updated.