“Good morning and thanks for choosing to fly with Alaska Airlines. You might think these heart-shaped balloons and all the other decorations are for Valentine’s Day. Yes, they are! But they are especially for passengers Jiawen and Jared who are flying to Peru today for their honeymoon!!” The crowd cheers and claps, and for once I was speechless….
The surprise didn’t stop there. As my husband and I started boarding, we noticed the entire jetway was decorated with banners and fun little notes. A bottle of perfectly chilled champagne and boxes of chocolate truffles were already waiting for us at our seats. We settled in and just barely caught our breath from all the excitement, when all of a sudden we heard a familiar voice over the onboard speaker. It’s our dear friend Austin McNamee! Just as we were wondering how the flight crew got his recording onboard, Austin and another friend of ours, John Alderson stepped into our sight and that’s when we realized they had collaborated with Alaska to create these wonderful surprises for us. Jared and I were both in sheer shock. How did they pull this off?!?
My husband and I got married in 2013, twice! I was born and raised in Shanghai, and Jared was raised in a small town in Arkansas. Our relatives are literally located half way around the world, so we decided the best way to celebrate with as many of them as possible was to have two weddings – one in Shanghai and one in Arkansas. The amount of time, energy, and money it took to plan and execute two weddings is no small feat, so we waited a year and half for our honeymoon. It was to be the trip of a lifetime for us (at least to this point in our lives). Little did we know, that two of our closest friends with the help of Alaska Airlines planned the surprise of a lifetime for us.
We found out later that it took a village to pull off this surprise. Austin and John emailed Jeff Butler, Alaska’s VP of Operations and Customer Service, to see what Alaska employees could do to make our long awaited honeymoon extra special. Seattle Passenger Service Manager Michelle King heard about the request from Butler, and she immediately went to work. Michelle worked with Alaska’s Director of Airport Operations, Manager of Seattle Inflight Base Support, and Director of Onboard Food and Beverage to jazz up our inflight experience. To thank Alaska employees and customers, our friends Austin and John provided every passenger and employee working the flight with a box of chocolate and a thank you note.
The love and joy my friends and Alaska Airlines spread on that flight went beyond just the two of us. Many fellow passengers wished us well and thanked us for making their Valentine’s Day travel extra special and fun too. Love was truly in the air at 35,000 feet that day.
I consider Alaska Airlines to be my “hometown airline” and have been a loyal customer since 2002 when I moved to Seattle. I chose Alaska because of its “human touch”. In the world of ever longer airport security lines, increasing restrictions and fees, and diminishing leg room and services, we typically associate air travel with anxiety and angst. Yet time after time, Alaska’s deep care for their customers never fails to impress me. It truly stands out amongst its peers. Alaska sets a very high bar for customer service and satisfaction, not just for the airline industry, but for all companies. To me, Alaska is the epitome of a customer-centric company and the employees genuinely embody its mission and values. This is a company that has a very clear brand identity. But more importantly, it delivers on its brand promise. Often times, Alaska goes the extra mile (no pun intended) to exceed client expectations and that’s why #iflyalaska. I was so touched by the gesture that I couldn’t wait until we landed to gush about it; I just had to buy inflight wireless and tweet about my experience right away. And of course, I got a quick response from Angel @AlaskaAir.
Nowadays, most companies measure customer satisfaction, while those on the cutting edge are starting to deploy customer loyalty metrics. Gaining competitive advantage through loyalty is a hot topic. While measurements and analytics are important, what wins customers’ hearts and minds behind those Net Promoter Scores is the emotional connection companies make with their audience. It’s special moments like the one my husband and I had, with real human touch and genuine care behind it that really counts. At Tahzoo, we call it “Brand Like-ability”.
Most people would agree that customer loyalty is the Holy Grail of business. Many brands try to “buy” loyalty through occasional discounts and promotions. The results, if any, are usually short-lived. Loyalty is trust, commitment, and faithfulness, all of which needs to be earned and can’t be bought. A lot of companies offer cookie-cutter, generic loyalty programs yet fail to make real connections with their customers.
By creating unique customer experiences, consistently exceeding client expectations, and customizing its loyalty program, Alaska has differentiated itself from the herd. With a quick search using our social listening tools, I discovered many instances where Alaska Airlines was monitoring customer tweets and proactively offered life-event surprises. Key life trigger points, like honeymoons, put people in the state of mind to evaluate or re-evaluate a brand. Alaska clearly understands the importance of those triggers and mindstates and is able to use them to build that special emotional and human connection on a deeper level, and for that Alaska earned my loyalty for life!