Wings of Loyalty
By John Hennessy
Who is Cigarman and why is Larry Kellner, the CEO of Continental Airlines, having dinner with him?
It turns out that Cigarman’s real name is Dean Burri. Mr. Burri belongs to Flyertalk.com, a message board populated by travel enthusiasts. And, as reported by Susan Stellin in the New York Times, Cigarman figured out Mr. Kellner’s email address and shared a thing or two about Continental.
Rather than ignore these comments, Mr. Kellner emailed Cigarman back within minutes. That exchange led to “occasional dinners” and eventually to a bet between Cigarman and Mr. Kellner.
According to Cigarman, “Larry and I were having a disagreement about the power of a site like FlyerTalk … I was telling him that I think it’s very important that travel companies watch these sites, for the good and the bad, because rumors get blown out of proportion. He said there’s not more than 60 people on FlyerTalk.com who fly Continental on a regular basis. I told him he was crazy, so a wager ensued.”
The bet was that if more than 60 FlyerTalk members paid their own way to Houston, Mr. Kellner would buy them dinner, give them a special airport tour and answer their questions. Surprise-surprise: A total of 274 Continental loyalists showed up … and, according to Cigarman, the “give-and-take” was “like Oprah.” Take that, JetBlue.
An interesting turn of events indeed, especially when you consider that Continental generally keeps a certain distance from sites like FlyerTalk: “When we see something that’s factually incorrect, we’ll work with the moderator, but we don’t like to put our own posts on there,” says Mark Bergsrud, Continental’s marketing veep.
FlyerTalk’s founder, Randy Petersen, also editor of InsideFlyer (insideflyer.com) magazine says he’s surprised by all the airline involvement. “I was almost taken aback at how well Continental embraced that event,” he said. “The biggest guys in the company rubbing elbows with some mileage fanatics.”
Moderator’s Comment: Should companies monitor outside channels, chatrooms and blogs to learn how customers perceive them?
There are a lot more vehicles available for customers to speak out and with each other about your company. This is both a blessing and curse. A blessing
in that you can now obtain a lot of unvarnished feedback. A curse because you no longer control it or cover it in stain-blocking primer and paint.
Ignoring the feedback doesn’t help you or deliver better service to your customers. But responding in knee-jerk fashion isn’t the right approach either.
For a company to benefit from this torrent of free advice, the comments need to be filtered and authenticated. Issues that are real and persistent need
to be distinguished from those that are unfortunate but uncommon missteps.
Once a real issue is identified, corrective measures need to be taken. Afterward, appreciation should be shared with those who took the time to point out
the offending practice. You should also extend a sincere invitation to give you another try. The shock of being heard and responded to is sure to increase loyalty. –
John Hennessy – Moderator