Customer loyalty
I'm writing this in seat 57D in a Malaysia Airlines 747-400P somewhere between Alice Springs and Broome

'Down the back, inside aisle seat' is my usual check-in request for long-haul flights. There's not a lot of science or logic in this preference – it's got a bit to do with not having to climb over people to get to the toilet, and being more likely to get adjacent empty seats – but it is long-established habit.

Why Malaysia Airlines? Not a lot of logic in that choice either, but there is a story I like to tell.

Earlier this year I trained three groups of people – senior leaders from regional offices of the same international company – in the theory and practice of implementing an internal performance excellence award. A dozen people in Hong Kong, about 30 in Malaysia and another dozen in Bangkok. Two days at each location, a day in transit in between.

On the haul from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, with a few hours in hand and the programme's bugs all but ironed out, it was time for a bit of relaxation. Big glass of red wine, good airline meal. Second glass of wine, and a joke with the hostess about opening a second bottle. She already had, apparently by mistake, and asked, straight-faced, if I could help her by drinking it. I did my duty, within reason, and it became a standing joke, with all the back-cabin crew joining in as they walked past.

Then, just before the descent into KL, the senior steward came down the isle from the galley with a nicely wrapped bottle-shaped parcel in his hand. “we'd like you to accept this gift from Malaysia Airlines' he said. A bottle of excellent French red wine. Well, a bottle of OK French red wine.

Why? Don't ask me. I didn't get a chance to find out whether this was a standard event on every flight, or just a spontaneous gift.

Next day, when we got to the bit about 'customers' in the Baldrige-derived presentation, I told the Malaysia Airlines bottle-of-wine story, and we decided to present the bottle to the team voted 'best participants' by the whole room. Everyone enjoyed the fun, and it made the points about customer satisfaction and brand loyalty all the more compelling. It's a story I tell a lot.

So when the choice was Singapore or Malaysia, I remembered the wine, and the increasingly ordinary SQ customer experience, and I changed the habit of a lifetime (the Singapore Girl ads made a strong impression on this traveler, all those years ago) and booked MH.

The 'Q-Newz' point? Customer experience is the key 'loyalty' issue. Forget fancy one-to-one web-enabled customer relationship management, and focus instead on real experiences that individual customers will tell their friends and colleagues about.

Remember the conventional wisdoms – the 'Rules' established from many studies, in many industries, over many years: For every five customers who have a problem or unpleasant surprise with your products or service, you risk losing at least one; or – to turn that around – for every five problems you prevent or fix, you can take credit for the one customer who was retained.

Half of all individual customers and one quarter of business customers never complain. Those who do, don't find their way to where it matters – as few as 1% of complaints may arrive where they can be resolved. Changing dissatisfied to satisfied customers increases loyalty by 50%. Customers who's complaints are solved are as satisfied as those who've never had cause to complain.

Customers who are dissatisfied tell twice as many people as satisfied customers.

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