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Focus On Customer Experience

By Benjamin DelGrosso

Let’s talk about customer/employee experience. Do you want a transactional approach or a relationship approach? Do you want someone who is there for you? Are you taking care of your employees? How are you taking care of your customers and employees in terms of experience.

Mark Ross-Smith (00:00):

See because when you fly a lot, it’s what I call the small moments that count. It’s the really small things, when the cabin crew and the check-ins, when they nail all these things, I called a [Japanese 00:00:14] moment. It’s when John Travolta’s in town, so this is a few years ago and he’s flying his Qantas-branded 707 aircraft into Sydney and would you like to have a flight with him? So I said yes. So a week later, I’m flying around with John Travolta in his 707 above Sydney for a couple hours. Just-

Speaker 2 (00:39):

One of the most important facets of any business is customer service. In business, you are not only selling a product or a service, but an experience, providing exceptional customer service and developing real relationships with your clients means increased sales, retain customers, new customers via word of mouth and a positive reputation.


You’re listening to the Focus On Customer Experience Podcast. Benjamin DelGrosso gives you the ins and outs of one of the most under-looked aspects in business today. Improve your customer service and watch your business skyrocket.

Speaker 3 (01:15):

2, 1.

Speaker 2 (01:20):

Now, here’s your host, Benjamin DelGrosso.

Benjamin DelGrosso (01:26):

Hello and welcome to the show. Today we have Mark on the show. Mark is co-founder of StatusMatch. If you’ve ever wondered the who’s behind some of these loyalty programs or what they can do to help you out, Mark’s a specialist in that area. So Mark, explain to us a little bit more about what you do and how you got there.

Mark Ross-Smith (01:50):

Great to be with you today. It comes down to I’m just an airline loyalty geek that likes creating products and try to make the world a better place for travelers. This all started back in, I’m Australian, obviously, living in Asia now, if you didn’t guess. So I used to live in Australia.


I used to have a social networking company in Australia and I sold that in 2013, and as part of that company I was flying around the world, jet-setting, business travel, London, Europe, US, pretty cool life, I would say. It’s business first class travel. You get all the perks, you get all the shiny objects come with that.


I’d sold my business at the time. It was a great structure. It was cash walkaway-type sale and I thought I’m going to move to Asia now because I wanted to live in Asia. So at that point, I was unemployed for the first time in a long time in my life and I thought what am I going to do now? So I’d had this sort of background of being a legitimate frequent flyer myself. I’d never worked at airline, never worked for a hotel or any sort of travel company prior to that.


So I’m living in Hong Kong and the big airline there is Cathay Pacific. And so I managed to meet someone in management team there and I said, “Hey, look, I’m a really high value flyer with Qantas, “the Australian big airline. “Can you give me a status match to your top level diamond status?” Because I was uber VIP with Qantas. I was like the top top, couldn’t get any high there.


I said, “You give me your diamond status for free and I’ll start flying an airline.” I thought it was a good trade. They give me something that doesn’t cost them anything, and I start giving them a little more money as I fly around the world doing my thing. And they said no. I said, “Why not? I spent x tens of thousands of dollars on air travel a year,” and they said no. And I thought this is a bit odd.


So I did a bit investigated. Actually, I asked Singapore Airlines as well. I said I thought I’ll try my luck with them. They said no as well. I thought, why the heck doesn’t an airline want a new high value customer? Why say no straight away so quickly without even asking a question? Not even saying, “How much do you travel or what’s your next flight?” Or anything like that.


That’s what kick started this whole journey with StatusMatch in helping airlines acquire high value customers. They’re pretty good at getting you to book a cheap ticket across country or a one-hour flight to go see grandma. They’re really good at selling on that kind of stuff, but they’re not that great at acquiring solo individual, high value fliers. And that’s where this all came about.


So there’s no university to learn how to do airline loyalty stuff. So I started attending events and conferences, just paying my way there, learning about the industry. I realized pretty quickly that I’d, as a frequent flyer, you’re already educated on a lot of these things on how loyalty works, because you’re a customer of the product.


Whereas most people at that work at airlines, they’re not customers of their own product. They just work at an airline. Because if you think about it, how many people at check-in counter of an airline do you think have flown on Emirates first class across the world? Probably not many.

Benjamin DelGrosso (05:16):

No, not many.

Mark Ross-Smith (05:20):

They should though. It’s worth it, but they just drive that experience and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what it means is a lot of the way they approach decision making with an airline is not from a customer perspective. It’s from a how-do-we-run-an-airline-and-make-money perspective. And these are obviously not totally aligned all the time.


So I thought, I’m going to help airlines. I’m going to fix this problem for them, and there’s a lot of things I can’t fix in the world, but I can fix them getting high value customers because who else better to do it?So I teamed up with a couple friends from the industry and we created and went from there.


We’ve been running just under two years now. We signed up more than a couple of handfuls of airlines onto our platform. It’s been really successful for them, really great for them. We’ve helped airlines acquire more than $400 million in new business in that time, and that’s during COVID, the worst possible time ever for the airline industry. They’ve still managed to get all these new customers, and so pretty happy about where I’ve been, where I’ve come from so far.

Benjamin DelGrosso (06:32):

That’s pretty cool. You guys cover a big part of the world. I’m in Canada. You’re in Malaysia right now, and you even have listed as Air Canada as one of the clients that you help.

Mark Ross-Smith (06:44):

We do.

Benjamin DelGrosso (06:47):

You guys have quite a big reach. If people are looking to take advantage of this, maybe you’re a current a WestJet customer and you’re thinking, hey, you know what? I’d like to get over to Air Canada or something like that. This is where you can talk to these guys, and you guys negotiate on their behalf I think is what you’re saying, and basically try and match them up to make that happen. Is that the way I’m understanding it correctly or?

Mark Ross-Smith (07:16):

Yeah, we’re sort of a broker, like an automated broker. So there’s a bunch of airlines we have relationships with, not everyone but we do have relationships with. If you’ve got a silver-gold status or higher with an airline, so it’s not for everyone, but if you’ve got some kind of elite status for an airline and you’re looking to move your business or maybe you’re changing jobs.


You’re moving countries, you’re changing cities and you can’t fly your old airline anymore because it makes no… For example, you might be moving from New Zealand to London, and you can’t possibly fly in New Zealand anymore. It makes sense to go through a bit of a process and get a status match with an airline. Because if you’ve got a silver-gold status, you’re used to these perks and benefits.


You’re used to the priority check-in, the priority screening, the lounge access, the free seats, the free bags. You’re used that you don’t want to start from the bottom again. So the idea is if now airline can give you an equivalent status with their airline, you’ll shift your business over. Airline should be happy, you should be happy. We sit in the middle of that transaction and everyone wins.

Benjamin DelGrosso (08:26):

So when you think about those people who go to the Air Canada lounge, and they love going to the Air Canada lounge and what do they? I think they have snacks in there, drinks, all that kind of fun stuff. There’s certain perks that you get in these lounges at the airport, and you move to the States now and now I don’t know. Now, you’re going to have to use a different travel partner, Delta or whoever is the company down there. I’m not too sure.


You are going to basically say, well, you’re a business traveler that, I don’t know, spends 50,000 a year or something crazy like that on air travel. I do know people that seriously spend huge amounts of money. They’re literally in the air, I want to say, 150 days out of the year. It’s crazy the amount of travel some people do, and you guys are going to try and find a way to help them out so that they get that same status.


And that’s pretty interesting. I’ve never really heard of that before. I didn’t know something like this existed. I could definitely see a lot of business travelers taking advantage of this, and I even know some people who have moved from Canada to the UK. I know people who have moved from Canada to the States and some of these people are very big business travelers. So what you’re doing, it does make sense, exactly what you’re saying.

Mark Ross-Smith (09:50):

Just trying to make life a little bit easier for people that travel a lot. To your point, if you move from Canada to Europe and it doesn’t make sense for whatever reason to fly with the airlines you have status with currently, we just make that switch across to a new airline just a little bit easier. Because to your point, if you’re in the airline lounge and you’re used to all the snacks, the free drinks.


Some lounges have full-blown restaurants in there, like five star, really, really nice food. And it’s once you’ve tasted some of that, you don’t want to go back again. So if airlines can keep you at that level that you are accustomed to, the chances of them acquiring your business moving forward is a lot higher than if they didn’t do that.


In fact, we’ve got some interesting data on airlines that don’t give status matches. So they basically say, “We know you’re gold over here, but we’re not going to give you anything.” Now, let’s say you still fly that other airline that said no anyway, because maybe you have to or your company says you have to fly this airline. What happens is you, you’re actually more disengaged so you’re less likely…


Airlines have the credit cards to earn the miles, so you’re less likely to get those credit cards, which make the airlines a lot of money. You’re almost always going to pick the cheapest flight of the day. You’re never going to spend more to try and get an upgrade, because why do you care. Because you haven’t got the status.


You’re going to take less of these actions that make the airline money, because they didn’t give you the status. So it’s actually cheaper, better, fast. There’s all the right metrics for an airline to want to give you the status as long as you would meet that kind of criteria that it’s the type of clientele that they want to bring in.

Benjamin DelGrosso (11:38):

It’s funny. So what you’re making me think of right now is Las Vegas, because I have these… So working in the aftermarket automotive industry, I’d deal with a lot of car dealers, and there was a few salesmen I’d meet and they’d go down to Vegas all the time.


To the point, the one guy, literally, Monday to Friday, he’d work at the car dealer selling cars. And then Friday night he was on a plane going to Vegas, because he spent so much money gambling in Vegas, Vegas flew him to Vegas, paid for his hotel, everything, because they wanted him to spend his money.


He also had certain friends that would always come with him, spend their money. So that’s the thing, if you have a certain status, and he was telling me how he used to go every weekend, and then it got to the point where, whoever it was, MGM, blah, whatever, one of these places in Vegas said they weren’t going to pay for it anymore.


He’s like, “Well, then I’m not going to go anymore.” And then he said a year later he approached another conglomerate in Las Vegas telling them, “Da, da, da, this, this and that.” And then they started flying him down, because they’re like, “Well, we want this guy’s money. We want him coming to our casinos now.”


So now all of a sudden now he’s all preaching, “Do you want to go to such and such casino, such and such?” And that’s the thing too, let’s say, you’re a loyal, I don’t know, Air Canada customer and you turn into an Emirates customer. Now, because you were able to do that and change from Air Canada to Emirates, you’re going to tell everyone about the Emirates. “Emirates is the best. This is that.”


Which is then going to ripple positive, because what do people do? People like to take advice from their friends. “Who do you recommend flying with?” “I fly with the Emirates, it’s the only person I fly with,” and then their friends are going to go, “Well, let’s look at the Emirates.” So there’s a whole ripple effect, especially from people who fly a lot. If you can get them on your radar, they’re going to be very big advocates for your brand, but that’s my opinion.

Mark Ross-Smith (13:53):

You’re actually, you’re to totally right. Funny enough, frequent flyers have frequent flyer friends, and they talk to their frequent flyer friends and a lot of these flyers also meet people while they’re traveling. Great for networking by the way, to travel, especially airline lounges, and air lounges onboard aircraft like Emirates. This podcast might be a giant advertisement for Emirates. We’ll see.


To your point, your friend that was always flying to Las Vegas and effectively got a status match with this other casino, that’s effectively what happened in the background. There would’ve been something that goes through his head, what this casino has ditched me. I’m moving my business to this other casino, and now I want to prove myself. And.


So what happens at that point? A bit egotistical, start spending money, you start spending maybe more than you need to be spending, because I need to prove myself, prove my worth. Now, the casino may have given you maybe a free dinner to start with or I don’t know, something. It probably didn’t start off by flying him there, it would’ve been something else. And then the next thing would’ve been the trip, the flight.


So there probably is an element of that conversation or him getting effectively that quasi-status match that changed his behavior or his psyche to think, you know what? I’m going to prove they made a right decision, tonight’s a 100 grand night, whatever. There’d be a bit of that I think happening, and to your point, it’s the old casino he wasn’t spending money at then loses out.


So there’s this whole dynamic with loyalty in play here. There’s the acquisition-retention kind of balance. How much do you put into acquisition versus trying to keep people into your brand? And then what does that look like? It really actually shows the power of loyalty on both sides of it.


That if the old casino was suspend or treat him slightly differently and doesn’t mean just flying him out every weekend, could have meant something else, hooking up with an experience that he can’t buy. Or it could be something lunch with his favorite golfer or so something like that, which how do you buy that? Very difficult or it’s expensive. Whereas for casino it might be free as part of some sponsorship deal they’ve got.


So there’s all these kind of money-can’t-buy experiences that can keep people very loyal. On same token, the other side, you’ve got the acquisition part of it, and everyone thinks the whole grass is green on the other side thing. Actually is for frequent flies, can often be greener, because you make it greener because you suddenly become more interested in this other brand or this other loyalty program.


You start reading about the deals they’ve got in their credit card. You start looking at where they fly. You start looking at their product. You try their product. You go, “Geez, my old airline didn’t have flatbeds, this one does. I like this a lot more. Geez, they’ve got great cocktails here. Oh my gosh, this airline has a shower in the sky. Why would I ever fly this other airline again?”

Benjamin DelGrosso (16:56):

Yeah, that’s crazy because you were telling me about that, off camera, about how some of these Emirates planes have a shower on board, like you could take a shower. That’s amazing. I’ve never even heard of that.

Mark Ross-Smith (17:12):

It’s a must. You need to try it. It’s a must do I think on everyone’s bucket list.

Benjamin DelGrosso (17:17):

So I feel like what you’re getting when you change these people over to another airline, it’s like you are creating brand ambassadors for these airlines. It’s like if you look at social media now, you could call it an influencer. So when you look at electronics, you send somebody a new fancy gadget and then that fancy gadget, they go and do a review on YouTube and saying how great it is and whatever and it’s awesome and this and that and they’re an influencer.


With the sky, I mean, I don’t think people, I don’t think they really go and blow it up on YouTube doing like, “Hey, this is why you need to fly this plane.” Now sometimes they have little videos of how cool they are. I think I’ve seen one of the Emirates videos of how cool it was. But I don’t know if you know where I’m going with this.


You’re creating brand ambassadors because these people are now going to go and influence and tell their friends, which we already were talking about I guess. Do you have any… Sorry, go ahead.

Mark Ross-Smith (18:40):

I mean there’s a bunch of videos out there from what we’ll call frequent flyer bloggers. They post tips and tricks on how to leverage credit card miles to fly very cheaply in business and first class of some of these airlines. Some are very good tutorials, “You get this credit card and combine this credit card and redeem these miles on this airline through this. Pay 200 bucks in tax and you can fly from New York to Singapore for a hundred dollars,” kind of thing. There’s some interesting tips like that.


And are they influencers? Probably to a point. But they’re not really influencing the airline of choice. They’re leveraging the airline’s brand and the billions of airlines have spent on their own brand and product and that stuff, and acting like credit card junkies really.


They’re influences for the bank, because when you get the credit card you get, I’m making this up, a 100,000 miles for getting the credit card with some minimum spend. You can use those a 100,000 miles to book your award redemption with the airline. You get this great business first class trip. In the background, there’s some really interesting economics where the bank is actually paying the airline for a lot of this, airlines make money when you earn miles on your account.


In fact, airlines have earned so much money from selling these miles to banks through its credit card products that the loyalty program in airline is actually in most cases is worth more than the airline itself as an independent business. This has been validated many times in the last couple of years through some of the financials, especially the US programs, airlines. They’ve published a lot of these financials, and it’s really fascinating to the point now where airlines can make more money selling miles than they can selling seats.

Benjamin DelGrosso (20:31):

That’s interesting.

Mark Ross-Smith (20:34):

That’s a whole other podcast I think could talk about those economics. But this is actually really interesting because it’s all about a great, we’ll call it customer introduction maybe. You’ve got all these miles of the credit card, you’re flying Emirates for the first time and you sit in that business of a first class seat on the A3, and you’re like, “Wow, I’ve never had something like this in my life.”


It’s so many steps above what I’m used to with an airline that you’ve got a new standard now. Your new standard used to be, if I get some kind of alcoholic beverage before takeoff, I’m happy. Whereas now, you fly Emirates, it’s like there’s a bar [inaudible 00:21:19] playing. There’s 30 people hanging around a bar area with just chilling and selfies and what, it’s totally different experience.


And you may never have flown this airline before. And so suddenly that’s what got you onto the airline. It wasn’t the, you saw a billboard that said, “Fly to Amsterdam for a 1000 bucks in economy.” It wasn’t that that got you, it was the allure of something aspirational, something you normally wouldn’t buy yourself.


Not everyone goes out there and shells out 20 grand for a first class ticket around the world, but you might go out there and get a credit card that costs you a hundred bucks. It’s doing the same thing.

Benjamin DelGrosso (22:01):

I’m trying to think here, you look at my credit card here. First class travel, and I mean, trying to cover up the numbers, but I mean, I get tons of reward points. Honestly, in the last year I probably had over a thousand dollars in free flights, hotels. Actually, I think I want to say it’s over $1500 already. I don’t even travel as much as some of these other people that are spending a lot more money, and I’m just using it, the credit card, for the business.


I have a few credit cards that I get points and everything from. That’s a very big game. And I mean I just booked another trip and had $700 taken off of my $1,200 trip trip in points. I’m only costing me $500 out of my pocket. I know we went away earlier in the year, and we had points and we used $500 for hotels and stuff like that. These travel credit cards are crazy.

Mark Ross-Smith (23:07):

They can be really good value. I know if you’re just using the points on the card or you’re transferring into an airline, they can be really beneficial if you transfer into an airline program, and this is money you’re going to spend anyway. It’s like you could use a debit card or cash or a credit card. It’s almost the same cost to you, but one of them gives you a lot of rewards. And one of them doesn’t.

Benjamin DelGrosso (23:33):

A lot of people get the entry level credit cards because there’s no fees. I don’t know, I like to get, I don’t know, these kind of credit cards. Usually, they charge you a hundred or 150 bucks for a yearly fee. But honestly, man, I usually get a thousand dollars plus in free travel and free this. If you have one of those $0 free credit cards, you’re usually not getting a whole lot of anything other than lower interest.

Mark Ross-Smith (24:04):

What we’re learning here is you’re getting thousands of dollars of value out of your credit card. You’re paying very little. So if there’s any banks listening to this, make sure you hit up Ben with a really high annual fee credit card that earns even more.

Benjamin DelGrosso (24:16):

Well, the funny thing is, I just got another one in the mail. It’s hidden behind there. But I just got another one for travel and everything like that. Because I’m going to be trying to focus on two credit cards for the business and just keep rotating through them and getting more and more points that you can utilize for travel.


Most of this, the travel I do, which is not even close to what a frequent flyer would do, it’s mainly for training and self-improvement, development, mindset kind of coaching stuff. I like going there, and sometimes I just go to visit family and stuff.

Mark Ross-Smith (24:57):

Interesting though, this is the kind of segment airlines want to target. So they’ve got their elite frequent flyers up there, but then 98% of people are not elite frequent flyers. You fly once, two, three, whatever times a year, and airlines [inaudible 00:25:11] something called shared wallet, which is how loyal you are to a brand.


So if 100% of your flights are with Air Canada, for example, you’re really loyal. Whereas is if just one of your flights was with West Jet, for example, suddenly you’re not a 100% shareable with Air Canada, you might be like 80%. Because that one flight equals 20% of your entire capacity just to travel each year, and so the airlines want to get that back again.


They want to keep you at a 100%. So a 100% for you might mean four flights, where someone else, it might mean a thousand flights, but they just want you at a 100%. Because if they keep you there, they’re more likely to get your future business. You’re more likely to spend, spend more in the right ways with them.


You’re actually what we’ll call the next segment that airlines are going after. It’s the people that have some travel, the ability to travel, but they’re not quite the silver level-type frequent fly yet. They’re somewhere between zero, and well, let’s call it 10 sectors a year, 10 flights a year, somewhere in there. The bulk of people are in there.


If airlines can shift more of these people, because remember there’s so many people in this group. You’re moving 200 bucks of your business towards one airline, doesn’t sound like much, but you’ve got another 30 million of you out there. So moving to do all that, suddenly it’s a decent amount of change where airlines want to do something about it.


You’ve got a choice of who you fly, because you don’t have a silver-gold status. You’re not locked in with an airline. You’re not used to those perks because they don’t exist so much for you, and so you’re a free agent. So how do airlines keep your business?

Benjamin DelGrosso (26:50):


Mark Ross-Smith (26:51):

How do they keep you loyal? That’s the next great frontier for some of these airlines. How do they do something for you there?

Benjamin DelGrosso (27:01):

I’m a free agent. You hear that airlines? Come and get me. So I got a question here, and I think everybody would really love to hear this. So what was your most memorable experience as a customer on an airline? I have a feeling you might have a really good story because you’ve travel a lot.

Mark Ross-Smith (27:30):

I have and I collect boarding passes. All right, so how boarding passes are all mostly digital these days on your phone? So I actually asked for a printout every time, and I’ve done this for the last 20 years. I’ve got a collection of about a thousand boarding passes. One day you’ll see them on the back of my wall, I’m just going to plaster a whole room with boarding passes. It’s going to be really cool.


So I do have a good experience, but a good customer experience, I think we need to take a step back and look at what a bad customer experience is, because you don’t know something is good unless you know what’s bad. Although, everything is just kind of wishy-washy in the middle. I think to have a really great customer experience, you have to have experienced the pain of a really poor customer experience, because then you appreciate and you really know how bad things could get versus how great things could be.


Otherwise, you’re just somewhere in the middle. I’ll tell you one example with Qantas many years ago, so I was one of the top frequent flyers, the VVIP sort of status in their airline, and they just launched this new status tier, this super VIP one. And I was on the first flight of the first day that they’d launched it.


I was a little excited and I was on onboard the plane, I was in business class, and the flight attendant come down the aisle, they’d welcome you on board. It’s like, “Welcome back, thank you for flying. Can I get you a glass of something?” And they introduced themselves to the person next to me. And then to me it was, and, “welcome back, Mr. Ross-Smith.”


So it was like, why did you get a better introduction than me? We’re not traveling together. I’m like, “Dude, you must be a gold member or something. “He’s like, “Yeah, I’m a gold member.” I’m in my mind I’m like, “F you, I’m six times higher than a gold level. Why didn’t I get something better?”


This is such a tiny thing, it’s a legit first world problem. Shouldn’t be complaining about it. But I did complain about it because it was the launch day of their new VIP thing, and I felt they should have at least recognized person of that status. It’s a very small group of people.


So I mentioned this to the airline, because frequent when you fly a lot, it’s what I call the small moments that count. It’s the really small things when the cabin crew and the check-ins, when they nail these things, I call it a [Japanese 00:30:04] moment. It’s a Japanese word for describing something you can’t possibly describe.


Sort of the moment the sun rises above the horizon, just that split second of the light, just ching, for so perfect moments there’s no word for it. It’s called a [Japanese 00:30:18] moment. So I talk about this in the context of airlines. If they get these little things right, the whole experience goes really well generally, and they screwed up on this one. So I complained. [inaudible 00:30:31]

Benjamin DelGrosso (30:31):

I can actually already think in my head what’s going on and I think I can easily explain it, but I’ll let you keep going.

Mark Ross-Smith (30:37):

So what’ll end up happening is I got a call back and they said, “Sorry, and we’ve got a event next week in Sydney, do you want to come in Australia?” And I said, “Yep, I’m coming anyway.” It was a launch for this event, and they said, “No, no, we’ve got a special thing with day after the event, John Travolta’s in town.” This is a few years ago, “And he’s flying his Qantas-branded 707 aircraft into Sydney and would you like to have a flight with him?” So I said yes.


So a week later I’m flying around with John Travolta in his 707 above Sydney for a couple hours, just drinking champagne, having fun. He was actually flying the aircraft. There’s a few other people on board as well, but pretty cool experience. You can’t possibly buy this. So suddenly this small moment that in my mind was kind of damaging for Qantas hyping this big elite status tier thing up, so in my mind this was pretty bad.


But in grand scheme it’s not really. But then Qantas bounced back with this, there’s such a high bar that now I can’t say how I could really beat that from now on, and that just wowed the heck out of me, obviously. Since then, I’m just telling the story everywhere, so they’re obviously getting a lot of PR coming out of this years later. Congratulations, Qantas.

Benjamin DelGrosso (32:08):

Well, I just think about how you go to a bar, many years ago when I used to go to the bar, and you’d watch these people come in and people come in, “Hey, how’s it going? Blah, blah, blah, blah.” And then, “Well, what can I get you to drink?” And then the person, “A screwdriver,” or whatever. Oh they make it for you, “Here you go.” You go sit down.


Let’s say you’re someone who frequents that bar, you might be like, how does this guy not know my drink, my name, whatever. But then if you’re somebody of that status that comes in the bar, and my friend Kirk used to be a bartender for many years at this bar. The funny thing is, I barely ever drank there. I’d go there and drink iced tea and just hang out and chat with him.


Because I couldn’t see him. He worked nights. But anyways, needless to say, you’d see the regulars come in and it’d be like, “Hey Dave, how’s it going? You want another screwdriver like usual?” “Yeah.” “Going to your usual seat?” “Yeah, I’ll have Wendy bring it over,” and boom, he’d go sit down.


And what do you feel like? You feel a lot more welcomed, and had you got on that plane on the first flight and they said, “Hey, Mr. Ross-Smith, welcome aboard, blah blah blah, blah. Would you like your usual red wine,” or whatever it is that you drink? “Yes, I would. Wow. Thanks for remembering that.” You know what I mean?


And he’d probably be just like, “Oh wow, they’re keeping track of what I drink and what I eat.” “And we know you like chicken, did you want chicken brought over for your meal today? Blah blah blah with the special, whatever, stuffed broccoli.” I don’t know, I’m just making shit up. You’d be like, “Yeah, that’d be amazing.”


But I mean that’s the difference between them welcoming you and knowing you as a customer, because you’re like that elite status. And someone else who, let’s say, is a gold member that they may not know as well as you who travels frequently. I mean, if something like that happened, you’d be a lot more.


But if you just came into the bar and they don’t really know who you are, but they should know who you are, because you’re there all the time, it’d be, “You don’t remember that I drink screwdrivers all the time?” What do you think? Do you think that was I kind of…

Mark Ross-Smith (34:32):

I’m digging deep in my memory bank here. Do you remember when Google Glass first came out, what, 10 years ago? I don’t when it was, a long time ago, I’m pretty sure I remember Virgin Atlantic doing, so I could be totally wrong here. So bear with me.


I’m pretty sure they had something where the idea was you’d walk into the [inaudible 00:34:53] Lounge, the staff would have the Google Glass on, and they had some sort of virtual sort of thing, and they would, I don’t know if this is true, scan your face and go, “This is John Smith, he’s a gold member, he likes red wine, he doesn’t have this, he’s not traveling with anyone today,” whatever.


Seeing this kind of information, and then of course when you approach the desk, that person is already armed with information, because they were seeing it in real time. I don’t know how true that is, but I’m pretty sure I read something about this. Maybe it was just a really bad April Fool’s joke. Anyway, if they did that, that’d be pretty cool.


So imagine you walked into that bar, but imagine there was some sort of global intelligence system. Please don’t get any ideas, World Economic Forum, but you walk in this bar, and they see you and they go, “Ben has been to four bars in the last three hours. He spends about this much. This is his favorite drink, this is what he likes it.”


It’d be kind of cool to have that kind of intel to you walk in, they go, “We got to give this guy one, two, and three, and boom, he’s satisfied. He’s going to keep spending all night, he’s going to come back again.” That’d be cool.

Benjamin DelGrosso (35:58):

Yeah, because I mean, Vegas is king at that. If you sit down at a table, they come up to you, hey, they keep track of the people who are spending money and you have to give your player a card on certain games and stuff like that. I don’t spend a lot of money, but I do like to go play roulette.


After you’ve been sitting at the table for usually a good 15 minutes, half an hour, they come up, they offer you a drink, and usually depending on the casino you’re at the drinks are free, because you’re spending money and you’re at the table and they’ll keep it coming.


As long as you usually give a couple dollars to a tip to the server, waitress, whatever you want to call it, they’ll just keep bringing them coming because they want to keep you there. They want to keep you at that table. They want to keep you spending. They’ll make you feel comfortable.


If you spent a lot of money, I remember one night I was up to a thousand dollars in winnings on the table, and I was doing really well for roulette and for me that’s a lot, because usually I might spend a hundred bucks kind of thing. I remember they started taking notice, because I was on the low limit tables, dollar, $2, whatever, $5, $10 table or something like that.


So they start taking notice and you can tell they take notice. Next thing you know, someone will come by and address you by name, but this is all about going up. And I wasn’t at a high limit table. Those high limit tables, I’m pretty sure it’s like they already know what they drink, they already know what they want.


But that’s what we’re talking about is that there’s certain statuses, and these people are comfortable with a certain experience and at the end of the day you are helping them be comfortable when they relocate somewhere else to still get that same status again. But it may be with another airline because that airline doesn’t travel there anymore, or they can’t utilize it because they’ve relocated.


When you’re used to a certain level of customer experience, it gets ruined, and I hear this all the time. Somebody bought a Honda car and they bought it at such and such dealership and they go in and they knew, “Hey John, how’s it going? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. How’s the Civic doing?” “Great.” “I think it’s almost time for your oil change. What brings you by today?” And because they know you, and then you move somewhere else and now nobody knows you.


It’s like Cheers where everybody you knows your name and now you’ve moved. So you’re trying to get these people into that status like Cheers, where these people will know your name, they’ll treat you the same, they’re going to get that elite status again. They’re going to feel comfortable again. It’s like welcoming them to a new home.

Mark Ross-Smith (38:42):

Exactly. With everything semi similar, just [inaudible 00:38:48] on everything.

Benjamin DelGrosso (38:48):

Maybe not a bar, but…

Mark Ross-Smith (38:51):

Or a shower.

Benjamin DelGrosso (38:51):

Well, do you have any final words of wisdom or anything else you’d like to share with our listeners? You want to pay for some ad spend or something like that> I’m just kidding.

Mark Ross-Smith (39:16):

I’m not sure. I think in my career working at airlines and with airlines, and then as a separate vendor, I’ve always found success in what we do when things are aligned with great customer experience in whatever that looks like, sort of putting that above any sort of financial motive or gain.


Because at the end of the day, especially travel, people are very emotional when it comes to travel stuff, because you’re on an aircraft for 3, 4, 5, 10 hours at a time kind of thing. I think the opportunity, especially in airline business, to really nail these small moments, to create better experiences for customers. I think the upside there and what they could do more to create more of the experiences, which funny enough, translates into people spending more money.


Who would’ve guessed happy people spend more? Rocket science. The more airlines can do that, the better off they’re going to be financially moving forward. People will be more loyal, they’ll spend more, they’ll do all the right stuff. I think also they could probably look at other industries and learn from what other industries do really well because everyone likes the idea of travel to some degree at least.


So for the last a 100 years, we wanted the travel experience to be seamless and just really easy and enjoyable. You think about as a kid, the first time you ever get on a plane, it’s pretty magical for most people. Hopefully, you have the window seat, you’re looking outside, you see the engines just spool up, you take off. It’s really, really magical.


How can the airline industry and other industries bring that moment, that feeling you had as a kid back every time you fly or engage with a brand. This is all brands around the world, not just airlines. How could they bring this really good feeling moment? And I don’t have all the answers.


Status matching is one of those maybe thousand ways they could achieve that. And so personally I just like to see when brands step up and legitimately try new bold things to help improve the customer experience.

Benjamin DelGrosso (41:52):

Awesome. That’s great. I was glad having you on today. I mean, I can say I met the guy who got to go fly with John Travolta.

Mark Ross-Smith (42:05):

That was a fun day, for sure.

Benjamin DelGrosso (42:07):

That that must have been pretty amazing. I mean, I think about things that I’ve had in my life and customer experiences I had, and there’s always a great story to tell, and that it’s hard to continuously do that over and over and over again.


Even myself, when I get repeat customers, I’m trying to figure out, well they’ve already had this great experience because they’ve used me again. How do I make it better the second time around? Because you got to try and find a way to one up every time, or at minimum be consistent. And that’s the big thing when any of these people who are flying the way they are, they’re flying with that airline because they want consistency and they want the experience.

Mark Ross-Smith (42:57):

It’s like consistency plus some sort of positive thing that’s happening at the same time. So they feel good about buying something. It’s positive. When you repeat that over and over and over and over, suddenly, it starts screwing with your head and your subconscious. You start associating this brand, this product, with good things. It’s the same kind of chemicals as love basically.


You start really enjoying this experience and you want more of it, which means you’re going to come back again, again and again. As long as repetition plus positive experience, those two have to go hand-in-hand. Airlines can be really good or really terrible at this. Other companies, same thing. Actually, it reminds me of cars. Remind me of every time I used to walk into BMW dealerships in Australia, there’d be a smell.


I don’t know if they’ve got some secret scent in those dealerships or something. Like you walk in, and you go, “Ah, I’m at BMW.” You could do a blindfold test, and I’d know what dealership I’m in, all right. You’d smell it and you’d be like, “Ah, this is really good.” So I’d start associating that smell with BMW. Didn’t smell like the car at all, just, I don’t know, paint or something. There’s tires in… There was a smell and it was very-

Benjamin DelGrosso (44:13):

Lemon fresh scent.

Mark Ross-Smith (44:15):

I’ll probably go to the supermarket tomorrow, it’ll be like, “Buy BMW smell,” spray it, like I don’t know.

Benjamin DelGrosso (44:26):

That’s amazing.

Mark Ross-Smith (44:28):

Anyway, it worked. It worked, and I spent way too much money there.

Benjamin DelGrosso (44:31):

Well, you kept going back. That’s why they get to know you.

Mark Ross-Smith (44:36):

Exactly, exactly.

Benjamin DelGrosso (44:38):

All right. I mean, thanks a lot for coming on and sharing this. This is a totally different thing that I didn’t even really know existed and it totally makes sense. I know a lot of people that would actually utilize this and I think it’s pretty awesome.

Mark Ross-Smith (44:54):

Cool. It’s been fun to chat.

Benjamin DelGrosso (44:56):


Speaker 2 (45:02):

Thanks for listening to the Focus on Customer Experience Podcast. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcast so you never miss an episode. For more information or to connect with Ben, check out Benjamin DelGrosso on LinkedIn, @SafeDriveSolutions on Instagram or online. We’ll see you next time.