Reward of the tribe, or benefit of the doubt?

The email announced itself on the edge of my screen, one of those cyber sticky-tab notifications popped its nose around the corner catching my eye. This one was from British Airways, and since I had just re-scheduled a flight with them, rather than letting it shrink away untouched, I immediately clicked on it to check that all was well.

“Based on your recent visit to ba.com, we would very much welcome your opinions about certain aspects of your experience, and would be grateful if you could spend a few minutes completing our survey.” it read. My opinions? A few minutes? Grateful? How positively wonderful of them! I read on, “We are always striving to improve the service we provide you with, and your feedback helps us achieve this. The survey will take about 10 minutes to complete.”

That was it. No offer of a handful of Airmiles, or Avios as they have been renamed. No free upgrade on my next flight, or bump-up a level in the Executive Club (will I ever make it past blue?), not even the daddy of disingenuous gratitude: the chance to win a prize in a lucky draw.

Now British Airways is a large company with many moving parts and plenty of customers, they must know, to the penny, how much 10 minutes of a staff member’s time is worth, or the cost in fuel that a 10 minute delay of an inbound 747 in the crowded skies above Heathrow is going to set them back, but they clearly don’t value my time very highly despite what the email said. Given their desire to know my opinions about their service so that they can “strive to improve..” I am guessing, not altogether outrageously I hope, that their intention is to improve said service so that they attract more customers, sorry flyers, and therefore more revenue and in turn higher profits. And all thanks to my 10 minutes, charitably given, alongside the other recipients of this same email.

I’m afraid times are moving on, it is time that firms like BA start to pay the piper: not only does a direct reward improve response rates without hampering the honesty of the feedback, it also tells the customer that the business genuinely appreciates their time and effort in helping them to improve its bottom line. BA aren’t the only company guilty of this Scrooge-like approach to rewarding their customer’s efforts. SKY TV called me the other day to ask why I had cancelled my contract prematurely, and could I give them 5 minutes of my time to answer a few questions so that they could improve their service in the future. To my request for clarity as to what was in it for me I was told that obviously the service would be better next time. Strike out SKY! 5 minutes of my time is obviously worth a lot more to me, my family and business colleagues than to you. While I assist in improving your business for free, you can’t even be bothered to offer me a discounted deal for re-connecting, let alone something I might actually want.

The well known review sites have garnered huge amounts of postings from customers and travellers without paying a thing, the theory is that everyone wins with the reward of the tribe — you put in so that others can profit from your experience of a product, hotel or restaurant whilst at the same time you too can dig into the same site and garner information from other people’s reviews — a benevolent merry-go-round of information. And yet, and yet…there are adverts on these sites, and the data collected is being resold to third parties and maligned businesses are being held to ransom and someone, somewhere is making a packet.

In short then, I believe that our time and opinions are worth substantially more than the zero they are currently valued at. Don’t give these businesses your time and energy without adequate recompense — you know they wouldn’t if the tables were turned — how long have we all sat on the end of the line being told that they are experiencing an “unusually high volume of calls”?

Your opinions are valuable, they do matter — why else would these companies be paying agencies to email or cold-call us? Demand something in return for helping them to improve their customer offerings, don’t be satisfied with telling them you are unsatisfied unless they are prepared to stump up something intrinsically valuable to you. It doesn’t have to be ludicrous and it might even have a slight catch — 10% off your next purchase perhaps (or those Avios which might mean a lot to you but are effectively free to the airline), at least it shows that they really do care about you as a customer as well as what you think about them.

© Guy Winterflood 2016

The author is founder and CEO of letyano.com the only feedback business that truly values your opinion.