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Monday, January 12, 2015



“It’s time to get beyond the product you sell and think
about the customer experience you deliver.”


When it comes to bonding with customers – creating the kind of loyalty where customers go beyond preferring to insisting on your brand of product or service – it’s their experience that is the critical and deciding factor. I’d like to relate a positive experience I had in my travels home following the holidays from Barcelona to Chicago and what learning we may take from that experience my brand of airline services delivered and, importantly, helped strengthen my bond with them.


Let me start with the fact that my brand of airline is American Airlines and I’m a Concierge Key member, which is reserved for their most elite (whatever that means) flyers. In fact, I, among many others, are not sure what the qualifications are for achieving Concierge Key status, which is more precious than their Executive Platinum status. Yes, in my business and life I fly often and far. I’ve some several million miles on American Airlines alone.

The Situation

My experience started with a 7:00am call from American Airlines, which I missed because I was in the shower. When I return called the number it did not take me to the special Concierge Key agents, which handles CK members exclusively. In fact, it offered an electronic menu that I found difficult to navigate given the time pressure I faced to be ready for a 7:30am taxi pick-up to take my wife and me to the airport.


When we were situated in the taxi with our five suitcases (we had been in Barcelona for 3-weeks) and carry-on luggage I called Concierge Key direct. The agent who greeted me reviewed my itinerary and informed me that my flight was delayed 3-hours. Hmmm, not exactly what one would perceive as a positive experience, a delayed flight. One of my daughters returned to Chicago just 3-days earlier on the same flight and she encountered a 2-hour delay! Delayed flights are not a positive experience, particularly when you arrive at the airport 2-hours before the originally scheduled departure. For us, it amounted to a 5-hour wait, at the start of more than 10-hours flying in total (i.e., Barcelona to JFK and then JFK to Chicago O’Hare). Additionally, it threatened our ability to make our connection at JFK to Chicago. What a fine, but unfortunately too common, mess! It’s a lemon (sour and difficult to stomach) of an experience.

The Experience

The Concierge Key agent vainly attempted to reroute us home. However, there were no available seats in our class of travel. So we were given an option of remaining overnight in New York and departing on a flight the next morning from JFK, or switching to a later flight from LaGuardia airport. We chose the LaGuardia (LGA) option. However, we did not have to surrender our JFK connection to Chicago. Instead, she confirmed our back-up reservations on the LGA flight. Additionally, she sent a message to Concierge Key at JFK to be aware of our situation and assist us with our travels (e.g., arranging transportation to LGA if needed).


We passed the 5-hours at the Barcelona airport having breakfast and window- shopping the many fine retail outlets available there. We spent the remaining hours in the VIP Lounge catching-up on the many emails sent during the holidays. The VIP Lounge is complementary for Concierge Key members. There is no annual membership fee.


Our flight from Barcelona eventually departed for JFK some 4-hours later than originally scheduled. Now we had no time to navigate through customs and security to make our Chicago connection. We resigned ourselves to making plans to get from JFK to LGA to work our way home. We relaxed on our flight with the attitude “Que Sera Sera” (What will be will be!).


Some several hours later when our aircraft descended for landing we noticed that New York was blanketed in snow. Snow suggests aircraft delays. My wife and I speculated that, perhaps, our Chicago flight would be delayed sufficiently that we might yet make it, even though scheduled departure was in less than 30-minutes.


When we departed the aircraft a Concierge Key agent was awaiting us with a placard bearing my name. She greeted and introduced herself and told us she was determined to try to help us make our JFK connection. If it did not work out then she would take the next step to assist us in getting to LGA. Despite our Chicago connection showing an on-time departure she, nonetheless, helped speed our way through customs, baggage claim, baggage transfer and then security. Once through security she arranged for an American Airlines’ car to take us to our gate. All through the transition she kept in contact with the gate informing us of its departure status.


After clearing security she escorted us to the car, which was located out with the aircraft. A driver met us, stowed our carry-on in the trunk of the car and drove us (including the Concierge Key agent) to our gate. I offered and tried to press a tip on him but he declined it telling us “it is against AA policy to accept tips.” The Concierge Key agent informed us the aircraft was now boarding. She took us to the gate and actually checked-us onto the flight. This time I tried offering her a tip, a mere gesture of thanks. But she, like the driver, gave us a smile and thanks but would not accept the tip. My feeling is that she was every bit relieved and pleased as we were that we had been successful in making the connection.


My wife and I were on our connecting aircraft, grateful that we had made it thanks to Concierge Key and the special service their agent provided. We were most content even though we did not expect our luggage to make it with us. We were not concerned if the luggage arrived a day later since we were going home. As it turned out, the aircraft connection departed about 2-hours later than originally scheduled. It had to await anti-icing. But that didn’t disturb us. We made it home (earlier than had we departed through LGA and without added hassle), and so did our luggage. It was an experience that turned a lemon into lemonade.

The Analysis

Not all the episodes comprising our experience were positive. However, the Concierge Key service turned a late departure with limited possibility of making a connecting flight (a lemon) into a very positive conclusion (lemonade). Concierge Key is an important reason why American Airlines is my airline. It suggests they care about me and don’t take my business for granted.

Episode Assessment
  • Aircraft in BCN is delayed 3-hours
   - Lemonade
  • AA calls to advise of delay
   - Lemonade
  • I attempt to reply to AA but my call goes to electronic answering service that is cumbersome to navigate
   - Lemon
  • I call Concierge Key agent directly who provides options and back-up on a flight leaving from LCA at a later time
   - Lemonade
  • Pass time in the comfort of the VIP Lounge complewments of the Concierge Key Status
   - Lemonade
  • Plane departs BCN 4-hours later than scheduled
   - Lemon
  • Concierge Key agent meets us at JFK determined to do everything she can to help us make our connecting flight
   - Lemonade
  • CK agent escorts and runs interference for us through customs, baggage claim and security
   - Lemonade
  • CK agent arranges for car to transport us to connecting flight gate
   - Lemonade
  • CK agent checks us onto connecting flight
   - Lemonade
  • Connecting flight is delayed due to wait for anti-icing
  • We make it home with all our luggage
   - Lemonade




Here is learning from this experience for your consideration:


1.  Identify and recognize your best customers – It’s important to segment your customer base to recognize, reward and devote attention to your best customers in a way that strengthens the relationship that binds you.


2.  Create added value – Intangibles such as Concierge Key provide added-value service to customers. We would have been wiling to pay for this service (as we would for VIP lounge privileges) and, in fact, tried to tip their agents as a way to acknowledge their attention and care, and say “thanks.”


3.  Retain and encourage usage – So many marketers are hungry to attract new customers. It is far more costly to add customers than it is to retain and encourage additional usage. Don’t forget or ignore current customers.


4.  Be empathetic – Differentiation is not about blindly augmenting products and services in an arms race versus your competition. Instead, it’s about discovering what’s really important and missing for your target-customer and filling it to make her/him realize an experience worth sharing with others.


5.  Make lemonade – When you have a negative experience with customers use it to make lemonade. Admit fault, apologize and find a way to make things right.


Let’s get beyond the product we sell and think about the experience we deliver.

Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or


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