Monday, November 14, 2011

Can Digital bring back the Good Times?

CMOs spend a fair amount of time travelling so I am no exception. I was in Bangalore last week, a trip I take relatively frequently for business meetings. I had gotten used travelling a certain airline and had finally accrued enough miles to start yielding Gold status benefits. I even went so far as to applying for the credit card. And then the news broke. The airline was red - literally. Its hemorrhaging and people are standing by awe and horror on how the good times are over.
Who were the first to jump ship? Not the pilots it seems. Rather, their most profitable and most loyal customers - the business crowd. The ones that didn't mind paying the premiums during the good times to rake up the mileage points are also the ones who don't mind paying the Rs750 change fee just in case the flight might get cancelled.
So how does the airline respond? It decides to reach out and engage its frequent flyers. Through one email. Yes, one email, apologizing and stating that cancelling their flights was part of their new strategy and thanks their clients for our continued support. Hmmm. Neither their website nor their Twitter ID even acknowledges the cancellations. I'm not comforted. Not as a frequent flyer, not as a CMO.
Losing your most loyal and profitable customers is every CMO's biggest nightmare. According to the CMO study, customer loyalty is the most important reason for Indian CMOs to be increasing their focus on digital. If you were the CMO of this organization, what would you leverage digital to retain these loyal customers and stop the bleeding?


  1. Similar fear I share ...what happens to my Gold status n Lakhs of miles ...who will bail out me in case they happen to wind up. Or is this an opportunity for other competitive carriers' CMOs to jump on & start a migration program to offer loyal customers 1 for 1. Convert my miles n status to their airlines ...well I will definitely be tempted given the situations n news that making rounds.

    - Mitul Mehra

  2. Hi Virginia, may be this airlines has not developed a social media policy for responding to crisis yet!

  3. And all the "personally hand-picked" short-skirted flight crew by Vijay Mallya didn't help.

    My King Club gold and Jet Privilege platinum cards lie safely in my cupboard, along with expiring mileage points: for the past two years, I've flown Indigo. As they say (perhaps too often): on-time's a wonderful thing.

  4. Surely that one mail was not enough and the reason was not compelling. Crisis happens and marketing plays a very important role in handling the crisis but this time none of the customers or better to say Loyal customers were convinced :(

  5. I honestly dont think this was the best effort that was possible. They could have instead sent an apology note with a small gift to each of those 100s of passengers.

    I had bought a hard drive sometime back from a vendor (small time), when I went home I realized it was a used one with data on it, however the package was intact. When I got it back to the vendor, he apologized dutifully and exchanged the hard drive, threw in an extra Simon and Schuster dictionary DVD! Now I knew he was making up but I admired the quick thinking he had so that I dont spread the negative word around.

    If small vendors can think on the feet and come out with such innovative acts, why not bigger brands which have a lot more in stake especially with the digital bandwagon giving all possible muscle to someone who wants to spread his angst!

    A jewellery brand that I knew wanted to remove a negative comment posted by an irate customer on mouthshut. The company refused to do it as it would go against the principle of social sharing. However they said they could mitigate the same in the future and can have the client address the customer directly before it goes public! Digital can instrument something like this for sure...

    Whats on the digital platform is like piss in a swimming pool. Its next to impossible to get the piss out of the swimming pool lest brands are nimble in their digital thinking.

  6. They could have done a world of good by simply sending a targeted communication to all those loyal customers who fly the canceled sectors. The customers in return would appreciate the gesture, and be more inclined to payback when the airlines turns around, after-all I do think Kingfisher is here to stay.

    Lesson to learn - Know your customers and if in deep shit, shout for help!

  7. Your question is directed at the heart of what good brand engagement and marketing efforts should do - namely, build strong brand connect during the "good times" so that if and when the brand is in crisis, the consumers and other stakeholders stand by it. And during the crisis, there is enough evidence to suggest that the best approaches are the ones were actions are swift, transparent and come through with the brand owners taking accountability and coming through as being authentic.

    The question to ask is in this particular case, has the brand owner done enough to convince its customers - and especially, its most valuable customers - in the most inclusive manner ? And has the brand built enough equity in the past to establish a connect that can withstand this crisis of service breakdown ? After all, many of us will still consider a Toyota automobile inpsite of the recalls, and continued to save with Citi inspite of the bailouts, enjoyed the products from Cadburys and consumed more Coke and Pepsi inspite of the product and service crisis these brands experienced. So, the question I have is , when Kingfisher resumes back its service, would you a) patronize it with as much enthusiasm as in the past b) would you hold it in as much esteem and stature as you do currently - especially if it has the current owners c) if in the meantime, you have begun to develop a relationship with a competitive service provider, would you consider going back to being the regular flyer that you were and d) next time you are told about a delayed flight from this airline, how much do you think you would believe the news and its credibility ?

    Personally, where I think the airline you mention missed a trick was in being transparent and authentic with its key constituencies - in the face of overwhelming media reports and stories about the status of its finances and its operations, the emailer that you referred to seems to attribute the reasons to aircraft reengineering and so on. In today's hyper media and digital age, this sort of posturing just doesn't build a credible brand.

  8. Airline loyalty programs are usually driven by software - and (in most cases) do not tell the airline what to do in a crisis. There have been numerous such incidents in the airline world (Swissair comes to mind immediately). The fact remains (as Vasantha says) the airline did miss a trick. This also shows what happens when one is so inwardly focused that one loses sight of the customers - the reason for our survival as an organisation.

  9. Social media and communication can only reflect the company's real self. In this case the usually media-friendly chairman was out whining on twitter on how the media were bullying him, how the press conferences were too long, couldn't get a cup of coffee, how it was the government's fault etc etc When you're wallowing in self-pity, it's hard to be sincere about the plight of others, even your customers!

  10. Really interesting perspectives. Clearly this is a wake up call for CMOs to consider managing your brand in a Social context more seriously vs. a nice to have! I recently met a number of CMOs who are starting to look at their online reputation management approach and realizing that they need to be more proactive than reactive! BTW, I took a chance and flew KF this week and guest what? It was FINE but an otherwise popular flight wasn't full. So clearly this has affected sales!

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