Taking Care of Your Good Customers

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There is a very old line in business: the easiest customer to get is the one you already have. There are lots of variants on it, such as, "upsell is easier than new-sale," but the principle is still the same: it is much easier to sell to an existing customer than a new customer.

In many industries, this can be difficult. As good as IBM's legendary sales staff is, if your customer already has DB2, it is hard to also sell them WebSphere. It is much easier than selling to new customers, but still a sale process.

The one area where upselling is incredibly easy, a.k.a. the deal is yours to lose, is frequent airline flyers. Those who travel regularly - at least once a quarter, but often one a month or more - can be very loyal. It is hard to be in the air all the time, and knowing your routine - who the gate staff are, who the checkin staff are, what the Website path is for online check-in, which seats are the best in your plane, how the terminal is laid out, etc. - can be a huge comfort, and significant stress reduction, to those of us who fly regularly, all of which induces us to stick with the same airlines, same schedules, as much consistency as possible. The accumulation of frequent flyer points, whose real value is more upgrades to business and first and access to privileges than free flights, is a financial incentive.

In other words, if you have a regular flyer, their next flight (and the one after that, and the one after that), are yours to lose.

I used to be a solid regular on British Airways, back when I flew regularly between New York and London. I stopped with them, largely because that route became less useful to me, although I continued to work with their partner American Airlines. Then I stopped entirely: at one point, I attempted to use a significant number of miles to fly between NYC and Tel Aviv. I had the points, and the seats, though difficult to get, were available, but the taxes and fees were ~$600 per ticket. Considering that a paid ticket is often available for not much more than that, it simply did not make sense. A large part of that was airport taxes imposed by the British Government - which must be doing real damage to BA, as it has to lower its profits to make up the difference in a competitive world - and another part was the various surcharges and fees impose. Specifically, British Airways charges "fuel surcharges", which in most business would be considered simply a business expense, on award tickets. British Airways, with the help of the British Government, had my deal to lose; it lost it.

Since that point, I have spent many thousands of dollars on airline tickets, sometimes that amount in one calendar month. El Al had that revenue for a while - its service, despite its early reputation, has been excellent - and lately Continental, whose service is equally good, but actually competes to service its frequent flyers.

If you have a good customer, take care of it; always focus on your current customers, even while trying to expand. They are yours to lose.