As I so often do, I'll resort to parable.
Parable 1: On my older blog, which deals with an extremely narrow niche of a niche, I created the "Hero program," in which people who buy an item off my Wish List for me to review get the least of all possible rewards - a jpeg image of a badge. This program took off so quickly that there are times I'm pressed to keep items on my list...and I had to create a premium tier for people who wouldn't stop giving me things!
The point here wasn't that I was giving them meaningful physical rewards, but that I was giving them recognition. I'll come back to that in a moment.
Parable 2: I recently called up an airline to request an upgrade for my upcoming trip. I am flying with my wife and while I have barely-elite status, she has none. The CSR said, "You'll be upgraded first, then she will, if there's room." I replied, very slowly and calmly, "But you're going to do *everything* in your power to make sure we both get upgraded, right?" And I kept on her until she actually said those words back to me.
Which brings me to my actual point. Customer Service has two key components:
- What you do for people
- How you do it
What you give people is the actual reward. Whether it is a little gesture of thanks, or a new car, the reward itself is only as important as the feeling of "seriously, we appreciate you" that the customer gets from it.
Truly frequent fliers probably don't notice anymore when they get upgraded...they expect it, demand it, feel that they've earned it. It's their due, not a gesture of appreciation for their business.
How you do a thing is 99% of the impact of excellent Customer Service. Is what you're giving a true expression of gratitude for the customer's business and support? Or is your loyalty program instead of a true expression of gratitude?
My Heroes know that I appreciate them...from the bottom of my heart. The badge is worthless, my sincere and heartfelt appreciation is priceless. And they know that.
In Parable 2, had the CSR said those words - even if she was lying - to me the first time, I would have felt much more appreciated than when she responded with "well,I don't know...there's not much I can do."
When I call a business that I've supported for years and say, hey, can I get a coupon or something, the wrong response is "well, we don't have anything like that." The right response is to offer something, anything. "Of course, ma'am! If you come in today, we'll give you...." It absolutely doesn't matter how small the thing is, it's not the the thing I care about. It's the way the thing is presented. What I'm actually asking for is that you recognize and appreciate me and my business.
So, if an airline says, "We see that you've flown with us three times this month and we just wanted to say 'thanks,' so here's a free drink coupon for you." It's worth, what, $6? But it would make me feel good. Like someone noticed me. I feel that my contribution is recognized.
Providing customers with a pleasant feeling of recognition for their business is the very least thing and the most effective thing you can and should do for good customer service.