One Lesson Travel Corporations Can Learn From Small Businesses
I have been volunteering as a mentor in this micro-entrepreneur accelerator program with Emory University in Atlanta for several years now. You might already know that if you have read past articles such as this one pertaining to thoughts on a passion for travel and our mortality; and this one in which I asked your opinion about whether or not I should travel to Nicaragua, as a professor of the Goizueta Business School at Emory University invited me to join a group on a trip to spend ten days in what is known as coffee country in Nicaragua as one of the programs in the Nicaragua module of the Social Enterprise @ Goizueta program.
One Lesson Travel Corporations Can Learn From Small Businesses
I am still considering going on that trip some time in the future — but I digress.
Last night — on Tuesday, February 20, 2018 — I was one of the lead facilitators at what is called Customer Night for the entrepreneurs who were fortunate enough to be selected for this program as part of the 2018 cohort. People were invited to attend Customer Night to listen to the entrepreneurs give their pitch of a maximum of five minutes about their business ventures — giving such information as the story behind the impetus of the idea of launching a company; pricing information; and what products or services which are offered by the company. After the pitch, ten minutes were allotted for questions and answers — as well as constructive feedback which was imparted both verbally in person and via comment cards.
One entrepreneur in particular owns and operates a fitness center in Atlanta; and as he mentioned the services which he offers in general, he also talked about how he recognizes when his customers seem to be experiencing stress or other issues which could be potential problems. After a session has been completed, he will proactively approach that person and ask a few questions; listen to the responses from that person; and offer some recommendations which may not necessarily directly increase business for him or his company.
The cost of these impromptu sessions for customers: $0.00.
What Travel Companies Seem to Do Instead
Travel companies in particular use their marketing and corporate communications departments to promise a utopian experience for members of their frequent travel loyalty programs — only to seemingly stab them in the back with policies and actions. One example is this recent promotion from Wyndham Rewards whose deadline to book rooms was changed from Wednesday, January 31, 2018 to Thursday, January 18, 2018 with no notice or warning whatsoever — and that was not the first time Wyndham Rewards has betrayed the trust of its members.
What I find amazing is that I know many people who work for corporations within the travel industry and seem like nice and respectable individuals who would assist a fellow human being without hesitation. Somehow, a corporation comprised of these same people becomes a heartless and ruthless machine in which profit in the form of the almighty dollar is king — or queen — and will seemingly do virtually anything to squeeze every penny out of their customers to achieve as much profit as possible.
Exceptions do exist; and many of them may never see the light of day. For example, some considerate employees of British Airways assisted a customer who was truly in need. They were not thinking about profits, policies and procedures — they were there to help the life of a fellow human being become just a little bit easier to handle. Would it not be nice if we all did that — even just a little more often?
I find it insulting when a company uses the word can’t. “Could you please restore the expired points to my account?” When the answer is “I am sorry; but we can’t” or “there is nothing we can do”, what that person is really saying to you is “No, we won’t.” Why? Because that is their policy; and then they have the nerve to follow up with “but your account is still open and you can still earn points, as we value you as a customer”. The company is willing to sacrifice a customer over a few hundred dollars worth of points to protect their revenue; and — more often than not — the customer will not return.
Corporations certainly have a right to earn a profit. After all, that is one of the tenets of a for-profit corporation being in business…
…but when airlines rally for your help to ward off what they consider unfair competition from their counterparts in the Middle East while simultaneously wanting to keep their own business practices as opaque from you as possible — or when hotel and resort properties fool you into booking a room at a low rate while hiding that insipid mandatory resort fee — the result of the erosion of trust in those companies for some people is understandable.
As the result of incidents or situations from years ago, I still do not patronize certain companies within the travel industry due to draconian policies which could have been effortlessly remedied on their part. After being perceived as shafted, customers tend to remember that for years in the form of not purchasing the products or services of these companies. Assuming that those customers are not of the high-maintenance variety, that is a loss of revenue for the companies.
Sometimes, it seems as though travel corporations — as they grow bigger and bigger through mergers and acquisitions with fewer competitors — tend to forget how to properly treat their customers.
Like it or not, our planet is becoming more and more of a worldwide community — and technology has played a significant role. For the most part, countries can no longer successfully isolate themselves. Even North Korea tends to crave media attention from elsewhere in the world — as selectively as possible, anyway…
…and corporations which ignore the wants and needs of its customers are not immune, as those customers will most likely remember negative experiences which could trump positive interactions — possibly resulting in those customers no longer patronizing those companies. The news in recent years has lately been filled with stories from passengers who are dragged off of airplanes to hotel properties which engage in price-gouging their guests — and when they become “viral”, they quickly spread all over the world and potentially cast a negative pall over the companies in question.
That aforementioned entrepreneur who spoke last night does not know the meaning of the word can’t pertaining to his customers — primarily because he cares about them. The result has been his business being promoted by word of mouth from customers to others — and that is arguably the best marketing you cannot just simply buy.
If only corporations would follow that example more often and give their customers a more personal experience, as business is not just about profit at the expense of the wants and needs of customers…
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.