Delta’s & Marriott’s Unforced Errors (Why Companies Never Learn)

by joeheg

I’ve seen loyalty programs destroy the goodwill of their customers more times than I can remember. You’d think they’d learn a lesson, but history keeps repeating itself.

Does this scenario sound familiar?

  • Airline/hotel/loyalty program announces unpopular changes
  • Customers protest online about the changes
  • The company rides out the initial backlash
  • People change behaviors based on the new rules
  • Before the changes take effect, the company backs down

Recent examples of this are Delta SkyClub eliminating passengers from visiting a club on arrival and Marriott Bonvoy saying they weren’t going to give members a soft landing on status in 2023.

While Delta has made many other changes to the SkyClub entrance policy, they backtracked on the arrival rule.

Marriott announced in November that only Ambassador Elite members would receive a soft landing if they didn’t requalify for status. That means they would only drop one level, to Titanium Elite. All other members would be downgraded to whichever tier they qualified for. Previously, Marriott would only drop members one level a year.

However, when the 2023 status levels were announced, Marriott Bonvoy said they would only drop members one level, regardless of their status. So Titanium would drop to Platinum, instead of possibly dropping to Gold, Silver or even having no status with the program depending on their 2022 night credits.

The problem with programs making announcements and then going back on them is that the damage is already done.

Imagine if you moved stays to Marriott at the end of 2022 to keep your status. Are you going to be happy that Bonvoy kept the soft landing policy? Of course not.

And with the Delta SkyClub changes, they tried to spin the backtracking as listening to their customers.

We heard your feedback in response to the updates, including that some customers want to visit a Club to refresh after landing or to recharge ahead of a meeting. … We value your input — and we’ve acted on it.

Programs know that when they announce a major change, it will be unpopular. They’ve made the decision that the changes are worth whatever blowback they’ll receive. Then why do they go back on their decision?

If they were worried people would be upset, don’t make the changes. I might not like it, but I respect when a program makes a change and sticks with it. They take their lumps. But there’s the conviction that whatever decision was made, it was the right one. There are times when a program will later review the changes and see they didn’t work out as planned. Then they can come back and change things back to the way they were.

When you announce a change, you can’t undo the announcement. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. Whatever bad feelings people have, they’re not going to forgive you when you say, “We didn’t know this was going to make you upset, so we’re not going to do it.”

It’s a no-win situation. By making the announcement, you’ve angered a portion of your customers. If you change your mind and go back on the changes, customers aren’t going to be happy. They’re going to ask why you didn’t leave things alone in the first place.

Now the company still has the old policy, which they wanted to change for a reason, AND they’ve gained a skeptical, bitter customer. Great job!

So here’s a bit of advice. When thinking about announcing an unpopular change, know that people aren’t going like it. They’re going to complain. They’ll say that they’re done with you and some will even follow through on that promise. Take that into account before announcing the changes. If you still think it’s the correct move, make the changes knowing what’s ahead.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

1 comment

PennStJeff January 18, 2023 - 8:36 pm

I think this is the wrong read on Delta’s strategy. I think they were very much intentional in their approach and had always expected to potentially walk back some of their changes. If they had simply announced the 3 hour change alone, that would of course had the same backlash but not much flexibility to reverse the decision. Instead, by going beyond their targeted change, they were able to garner good press from the media and bloggers for “listening to their customers” by reversing one rule, and then keep the 3 hour rule in place with less backlash. So they managed to successfully apply more restrictions while getting some positive news coverage out of it – the best possible outcome. It was well played and I am quite sure we will see similar tactics used in the future to introduce further restrictions and benefit reductions.


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