Former American Airlines executive talks loyalty at Steamboat Airline Partners Summit
February 5, 2014
Steamboat Springs — The first time a young Rob Friedman traveled to Steamboat Springs, the trip was 14 hours facing backward in the third row of a station wagon.
The family ski vacation full of denim and zinc oxide sunscreen must have made an impression because when it was time for Friedman to start his own family tradition in 2003, they headed to Steamboat Springs and have been back every spring break since.
"I'm going to tell you why you're loyal," he said to start his presentation Wednesday at Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s Airline Partner Summit.
Friedman is a former American Airlines executive who has worked in revenue management, helped lead marketing for AA.com and was president of AAdvantage loyalty program.
A customer's experience with a brand is a combination of the product and the people, he said. The right combination can lead to lifetime loyalty.
And loyalty, Friedman said, holds benefits for the customer and the business.
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Loyalty makes us feel better and more valued, he said. Companies that you're loyal to will fix your problems and continually seek to improve.
Using photos and examples from his own family ski trips to Steamboat, Friedman broke down the components of customer loyalty.
When his grandmother died right before their trip was scheduled, Friedman was able to move the whole trip two days for his family to attend the funeral. One year, Friedman's son came down with pneumonia during the trip, and the doctors were nice enough to provide him an oxygen tube long enough to stretch outside where he could play in the snow.
Friedman used the stories as examples of the tremendous customer service that was provided in Steamboat and the people who are just as friendly as the Western branding would have you think.
Another year, one of Friedman's sons who was just getting the hang of skiing wanted to ski with him and show him what he had been learning in ski school.
Friedman said he'd never skied with kids before but led the way for down Giggle Gulch.
He got to the bottom, and his son wasn't behind him.
"I'd kind of forgotten to look behind me to see if he was still there," Friedman said.
Fifteen minutes later, a ski patroller brought his son down and admonished him to pay better attention, but the real scolding came from his wife and family.
"It was really embarrassing," Friedman said. "I learned never to do that again."
He wasn't off the hook yet.
A year later, a few students in his son's class were selected to share stories they'd written during an event. His son's title: “Lost” — complete with a cover illustration of a mountain scene.
Brands, like dads, have to learn from their mistakes and improve.
To sustain disproportionate loyalty, Friedman said, brands have to continually measure and optimize their efforts.
Repeat customers pay a premium, give you second chances and provide stability during challenging times, Friedman said. They also make you a valuable and sought-after partner for business.
"I'm absolutely a lifetime loyal customer of Steamboat," he said.
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