Feb 20, 2011 Travelling:

Case study: How not to run your frequent traveller program

I’ve been living through a case study how not to handle new frequent traveller program enrollments. And the saga continues. I got so fed up with the latest turn that I decided to write the sad history of my Club One membership.

We bought a cruise to Stockholm and enrolled to Tallink Silja’s Club One frequent traveller program at the end of November, 2010. The program — as most of them — are tiered, and this one has three levels: bronze, silver, and gold. You start with bronze card, and based on amount of money spent on the trips (tickets + eating, drinking, and shopping on the ship) you get upgraded for a year or so.

We bought a pretty good cabin and spent enough money to be upgraded instantly to silver. We got temporary cards from the check-in, and everything went fine and dandy during the trip.

Then the waiting started. The real card was promised to arrive in two weeks. I called Tallink Silja’s customer service first time after Christmas, just to hear that they’ve got some issues with their printing house and the cards are delayed. They asked us to wait for some more time, and we agreed that I would call them after mid-January should the cards still be missing.

I had a couple trips to Tallinn on their vessels, and on the second trip the shopkeeper noticed that the temporary card has expired. I didn’t even come to think that it would expire before I’ve got the final card. It was clearly my fault that I didn’t renew the card. On the other hand, they didn’t have any way to renew the card on the ship, and declined to sell me anything with club prices.

This combined with a hassle with vouchers that I received from the company to compensate a bottle of champagne with cork taint made the trip unforgettable experience — in negative sense. The Estonian clerk in the ship’s info desk was visibly annoyed of me trying to set things right with the compensation and with the card. At the end, I got the compensation and could get a new champagne bottle from the shop for free, but no new loyalty card. Or any kind of apology. On the other hand, the Finnish lady that offered me the compensation was very apologetic and friendly while talking on the phone a few days earlier.

Still, no cards. I called again their customer service, and got the same explanation that there has been some troubles in printing. They offered no apologies, no compensations, no timetable, nothing. The whole problem was not the fault of the person taking the call, and she made it pretty clear to me.

After a long wait, we got two thick envelopes from Tallink Silja this week. There were two cards for me and Sanna, total four, and — drumroll — all bronze. After two and half months of waiting, they couldn’t send us the right kind of cards. Instead, we got duplicate cards, most probably due to me calling their helpdesk.

Needless to say, I was furious and called once again their helpdesk. The lady on the other end of the line provided no explanation, no apologies, nothing. I got the feeling that she thought that this whole mess is, at the end, my fault.

I’m now a dissatisfied owner of two bronze cards (that should be recognised as silver cards by the card number — it doesn’t change), and I’m still pretty clueless about the date of arrival of the silver card.

This is so wrong on several levels:

  • Nobody from Tallink Silja ever sent any notifications to me, even if they knew well that there are issues with the printing house. They’ve got my email address and phone number.
  • They seem not to pay attention to the details or their system is so inflexible that they have to first print and send the bronze card before moving forward with silver card.
  • Their customer reps on the phone service are terrible. They are not interested in customers’ issues, don’t have any empathy whatsoever, and generally speaking can’t do much for anything.
  • The on-board staff on Helsinki-Tallinn routes are also unfriendly. They don’t care, and they can’t hide it. There have been zero issues with staff on Helsinki-Stockholm and Turku-Stockholm routes.
  • They seem to be unable to escalate issues, as I’ve complained already thrice and nobody has got back to me. Or maybe I’m not just that important.

My two cents: train your people to handle complaining customers better and with more empathy, empower the customer reps to soothe the customer with some freebies (upgrades, extra tickets, something) when needed, and get your act together with the printing and sending. I hope that someone from Tallink Silja reads this and gets back to me. In the meanwhile, I’ll carry my money to Lindaline instead.

1 Comment

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1. Janne — Thursday, Feb 24 2011

Update: got the silver card from TallinkSilja. Every cloud has a silver lining.

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2.  — Jun 26 2017