This has to be a rhetorical question, right? Of course major changes to the programs piss off customers such that they’re ready to grab their torches and pitchforks and rant and scream. Except when that doesn’t actually happen. Which it turns out is more often than we might think.
A few weeks back when I was working at the APEX Expo conference I had the opportunity to speak with all sorts of people associated with the IFE and aircraft interiors side of the business. But there was one other keynote speaker who didn’t really fit in the same mold as the others. Bob Brooks is Hilton‘s VP, Global Culture & Strategic Initiatives. He works on a wide variety of tasks within the company but his recent work has been focused in large part on efforts to help the company refocus on its core mission of hospitality. Over the past three years he’s spent a ton of time overseeing a number of different research projects, including those which address customer satisfaction and behavioral patterns. His main speech at the show was interesting but most striking to me was a brief follow-up conversation I had with him during the break which followed.
We talked about loyalty – a topic near and dear to my heart – and he was well versed on the subject despite not working in the HHonors part of the company. I asked point-blank about the recent devaluations to the award charts and other similar changes which have been made over the years. He didn’t hesitate one bit in his reply. It turns out that major changes like that have a far smaller impact on customer satisfaction than we may have previously believed. Customers aren’t necessarily happy about them, but it also doesn’t result in mass changes of booking or behavioral patterns, at least from the data he had available (and he’s got a lot of data).
It was the little things which affected satisfaction scores. Being greeted appropriately, welcomed back and recognized for loyalty were all more significant than the award chart numbers. Or, as Brooks summarized:
Nothing is more discouraging to a HHonors elite member than checking in to a hotel and no one even acknowledging the status. That’s a real disconnect as far as delivering on the benefits.
This was not really the response I expected to receive, though in retrospect I suppose it probably should have been. It isn’t that the companies don’t care about what their customers think when changes are made. It is that they are focused on the actual behavior, not the grandstanding and posturing. It turns out that those are often not the same.