Why airlines suck at retaining customers

Or the importance of thinking laterally

Story time. Took a flight with SWISS the other day to Porto, Portugal.

After an exhausting 10 hours traveling, between trains, airports, and planes, I arrive to Porto and I’m greeted with a two hour wait for my check-in.

Between my sessions of cursing this airline more than a drunk fanatical football fan on match day, I got an idea. Why don’t airlines use miles more often?

Miles are cool. It’s almost like an internal currency for the airline, as you can upgrade flights, book trips, and even buy in-flight items with it.

But it’s not used to retain users. Back to the example:

SWISS claims they’ll reimburse you for any expenses that happen due to their mistakes. This involves collecting invoices, sending them, and then waiting for weeks.

A better process would be using miles. Yes, you have to reimburse the customer - but why not giving them an immediate miles deposit as a gesture of good will?

Here’s why this would work:

  • You’re handling the situation immediately, with no extra work on part of the customer;

  • This carries no costs for the airline - but feels valuable for the customer;

  • The fact that the customer now owns miles makes them more likely to book with SWISS, because they don’t want the miles to go to waste.

The situation is handled and they increase the chance customers come back in the future. A bit of creative thinking could have won them a few new fans.

💡 Exercise for you: forget discounts and persuasion - what can you do to keep customers that they’re unexpecting?