Loyalty Must Be a Two-Way Street

Today, in marketing circles and other business departments, we constantly hear about building deeper and more holistic relationships with customers, partners and others. Clearly, the technology and analytics tools exist to do this.

Yet, across the business universe, company after company falls short.

Recently, I discovered that 54,357 miles residing in my son’s United MileagePlus frequent flyer account had expired because there had been no activity for 18 months. However, I had never received a notification because he took control of the email account when he became 18 and switched to a different account. The expiration notice for the miles went unseen, and there was no way to take action to keep the account active.

After calling the airline’s customer support department and finding out that they wouldn’t budge on reinstating the miles without imposing a charge, I wrote a note to the airline. I received a note back stating that I could either buy back the miles for $400, pay $500 and have my son buy a ticket for a flight, or pay $500 and obtain a MileagePlus credit card in his name. None of those options was acceptable. Poof: Miles gone!

Here’s the kicker. I have 309,319 lifetime miles on United. I have achieved premier levels in the past and have a United MileagePlus Visa card, with which I charge tens of thousands of dollars a year. Finally, I book hotels, cars and more through United partners, make purchases through the United MileagePlus online shopping mall, and eat at restaurants on the MileagePlus dining program.

I’m not sure what it takes to prove a person is a loyal customer. From my perspective, I’ve met the criteria.

However, United apparently has a strict policy in place and it won’t relent. Never mind that there are analytics tools that can make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Or, that there’s very little downside in reversing a decision for a loyal customer—though there’s a big potential downside in denying the request.

Bye bye, United. I won’t be flying the Friendly Skies anytime soon—and neither will my family.

Loyalty should be a two-way street. As Doc Searls, a former Fellow at Harvard University and author of The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge, puts it: “It’s essential to build a relationship based on equality and value … with loyalty anchored in mutual respect and concern, rather than coercion.”

Businesses had better start recognizing this fact.