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Frequent flier pointers Featured

8:00pm EDT July 21, 2002

If you, like myself, are a road warrior and play the frequent-flier game, you can appreciate how frustrating it is to have to travel on one of those other airlines. You know, the one where you have no status, where you are treated like a plebeian, and where you look for horror stories to relate to your friends.

A few weeks ago, I looked forward to the unpleasant duty of having to fly on one these inferior lines to make a connection to another city.

Now, I also must share with you that, if given the choice, I prefer to travel cross-country in very comfortable clothing. It’s not unusual to find me in warm-up pants, a golf shirt and sneakers. On the day of this flight into the unknown, I arrived at the airport dressed in this fashion.

I finally made it to a ticket agent, after having to wait in the commoner’s line, and was greeted by an abnormally large smile on a woman in her late 50s. The first words out of her mouth? “Guess you’re not used to having to wait in line?” I was curious as to why she said that.

I certainly didn’t look the part of a person not used to being kept waiting. She noticed my inquisitive look and drew my attention to the luggage tag on my briefcase sitting on the counter in front of her. It indicates that I am in the top tier of my preferred airline.

Then she hit me with the question of the day: “What can we do to make you change that tag to one of ours by the end of this year?”

Lesson number one: Do any of you take the time to look for indications that your customers or prospects are already loyal to one of your competitors? Do you then take this information and process it to your advantage?

This woman had a choice. She could have dismissed me as one of its competitors’ customers, or she could have taken this one opportunity — without having a second chance, as far as she knew — to convert me to her company’s airline service.

I found it difficult to answer her question concerning how she could win my loyalty. I was very fond of my airline. And I know the hassles and tribulations one must go through to begin a new frequent-flier program . I looked at her and sheepishly shrugged my shoulders.

Lesson number two: Do you understand the huge discrepancy between what your prospect perceives as the COST of doing business with you and the VALUE of doing business with you? Remember, this is not reality — this is their perception. You must see the world through your clients’ eyes to see the way your client buys.

Almost as if she had read my mind, the woman allayed my fears. “I can imagine how the thought of starting all over with a new airline must paralyze a lot of frequent travelers like you,” she said. “I would like you to give us a fair try. Would it help if I offered you an upgrade to first class on this cross-country trip?”

Now, as many of you are self-employed professionals are aware, first class is a self-indulgence afforded to us by our airline because of our status, but not for which we would consider paying on any carrier. I turned to my new friend and graciously accepted her offer while biting my tongue in glee.

She floored me with her next request.

“Unfortunately, we have a dress code in our first class cabin,” she explained. She proceeded to walk out from behind the counter and survey me from head to foot. With an unapologetic look, she continued, “If you would be willing to change into something a little more professional, I would be glad to upgrade you.”

What’s one to do? Compromise one’s very comfort? Acquiesce to such an obviously insane dress policy? Absolutely. I asked where the nearest men’s room was and told her to hang on to her upgrade. Within three minutes, I was back, having fulfilled my part and waiting to consummate the deal.

True to her word, she handed me a shiny new folder — the one that displays the words “First Class” on the outside — and I proudly proceeded to my gate.

Lesson number three: Ask. How many opportunities have we missed because we didn’t ask? If our prospects or clients want something from us that badly, we can basically ask them to do what it takes to get it. Once we understand who it is we are dealing, it puts us in the proverbial driver’s seat.

Recently, I was flying on my original airline once again (it takes time for the ‘weaning’ process). I struck up a conversation with my seatmate — in first class, of course. With his baby finger extended as he sipped his tea, he explained to me that he too ‘endured’ that other airline just the week before and abhorred its lack of customer service.

Before I could defend my new friends, he finished with, “They do tell a good story, however. The woman at the ticket counter told me she once actually got some guy to change his clothes just to get an upgrade. Can you imagine being that desperate to fly first class?”

Lesson number four: It’s all in your perspective. I sat there thinking to myself that this guy didn’t even know the half of it. Had the ticket agent asked me to be loyal to that airline for the next three months and stand on my head, I probably would have done that as well.

Jeff Tobe, “Primary Colorer” at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, helps diverse businesses to be more creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at www.jefftobe.com or contact him at (412) 373-6592.