Email Strategies & Tactics Exposed: An Insider’s Look at American Airlines
In this month’s column, I want to talk a little about being proactive. So often companies fail to realize that one of the best strategies for growing their email lists is to make sure they keep what they have. In fact, acquiring new customers can cost five times more than satisfying and retaining current customers.
That’s why I highly recommend that every brand that is building or maintaining an email communications program think long and hard about creating templates to address common customer issues. By being proactive and planning for “what if” scenarios, a brand not only has an opportunity to head off attrition and maintain list growth, but also turn a bad situation into one that benefits the customer and the brand. These communications may also eliminate or at least substantially reduce the need for win-back communications — because by then you’ve likely lost most of them. Furthermore, those brands who can do this and in effect operationalize it can strengthen customer loyalty and further differentiate themselves from competitors.
While there are certainly some vertical markets that benefit more from this type of strategic planning, this month’s column focuses on one where it is essential: travel — more specifically the airline industry.
If you’re a frequent flier like me, you know traveling can be tough: unpredictable weather and flight delays, equipment issues, cancelled flights, missed connections, lost bags, nasty passengers, and overworked crews — the list goes on. Quite frankly, it is one of the toughest businesses to be in, and that’s why I’ve been so impressed with how proactive American Airlines (www.americanairlines.com) has been in with its email communications when problems arise.
American Airlines’ communication effort around travel issues is admirable because of the following:
∗ It’s part of the communications strategy. Whether it was the cancellation of thousands of flights due to safety inspections conducted across all MD-80s in 2008 or an apology for a delayed flight to New York from Dallas/Fort Worth, American Airlines has clearly made customer communications around “issues” related to travel part of the plan. In fact, American is the first and only airline from which I’ve ever received an apology for a delayed flight.
∗ It’s operationalized. While we’ll get into the issues related to the communications itself, it’s clear communications have been tied to operations. The fact that a manager in Dallas/Fort Worth has been empowered and can trigger an apology communication means there has been some thought put into when such a message should be triggered, who can do it, and what the response and communication will be. Taking it a step further, I was shocked last year to receive a call from American’s president’s department asking me why I haven’t flown American in while and if everything was all right. While I am a gold member, it is still impressive.
∗ It’s personalized. The text communications from American’s customer relations department and executive team are personalized and signed by key representatives putting a face on the issue.
∗ It’s customer-focused. Not only do the communications take responsibility for delays, but when appropriate, the airline offers apologies and in some situations even go so far as to compensate the flier with frequent flier miles. Unexpected gifts are always nice.
American’s efforts on this front are admirable, and the fact that it attempts to delight the customer and take on tough issues head on is something that every airline should think about. However, like every communication, American can do better here, especially in terms of execution/functionality.
In some instances, for example, it looks as though the communication was sent from a separate system. As a result, the from line and domain don’t match American’s standard communications. In addition, on at least one occasion the subject line looks more like an internal job number rather than a customer-friendly subject line crafted to encourage opens and communicate the apology. Length is also an issue, and while the content was important, perhaps a link to a website may have been more appropriate, although legal may have required the final execution. Finally, all communications, particularly those from customer service, should allow users to reply. As a result, American Airlines may want to think about a more robust inbound reply handling system, particularly for customer service communications.
All in all a really admirable job. Thanks, American; I continue to fly.
Michael Della Penna is co-founder and executive chairman of The Participatory Marketing Network, an industry association dedicated to helping marketers transition from push and permission marketing to participatory marketing. He’s also the founder and CEO of Conversa Marketing, which helps brands build social and email marketing programs. Reach Michael at email@example.com.