A Loyalty Program Retort: British Airways

“When you pass the football, three things can happen. Two of them are bad.”

This quote has been attributed to Woody Hayes–probably incorrectly–Darrell Royal, Chuck Mills, and several other famous football coaches. It’s stuck with me over the years, particularly with regard to retention marketing and customer communication. So much so, that I’ve referred to myself as a “Woody Hayes marketer.”

When you communicate with an existing customer, only a few things can happen, and most of them are bad:

  • “Oh, I’m still paying for that? I need to cancel.”
  • “Who bought that thing? We have to return it.”
  • “This is aggravating. Next time I’ll go with brand X.”

I’m not telling you to never communicate with your customers. What I’m saying is that you need to think carefully why you want to communicate with them, segment your customers strategically, then make sure the message is perfect and perfectly clear.

In a post today, the great Drayton Bird shows us what can go wrong. British Airways wrote a careless letter to a formerly valuable customer. Instead of throwing it away, he wrote back. In his response, you see the thought process that a poorly-written loyalty program letter can trigger.

Although the gentleman’s reply to British Airways is probably one of few well-written responses, you can be assured that many others were thinking the same thing.

Now, in this case British Airways got some candid and free feedback, so maybe it wasn’t a total loss. But I’ll bet their CRM spewed out a whole series of similarly poorly thought out letters. I wonder what damage those letters are doing.

Takeaway: Before communicating with your customers, make sure you need to do it. Figure out one thing you want them to do.  Segment your audience carefully. And for heaven’s sake, hire a good copywriter. And win.

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