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This past year, I had a lot of business travel. While travel is not a new thing, I’m still a fairly lightweight business traveler. I regularly achieve the first tier status for my preferred airline each year, but never higher.

This year was different. For the first time, I had moved into the mid-tier. The new benefits make the time stranded in airports as a result of often delayed or sometimes canceled flights worth it.

The feeling of elation was short-lived. Last week, I received an email from my airline. As I had only recently completed a trip that moved me up to the next tier, I expected this to be a congratulatory email. Instead, it sent me on a path trying to find explanations to questions I thought I already knew the answers to. Why? A lack of thorough customer journey mapping, disconnected departments and processes, and poor self-service options.

Disconnected processes

The email stated I could maintain my newly attained status in 2019 if I would like; it would just cost me. I thought I had read prior that status achieved in a given year would be held for the year attained through the end of the following calendar year. I followed the link in the email to see what additional information I could find.

Looking back, this was a clear breakdown in process. Whichever department sent out this email (perhaps marketing or the loyalty team) had not targeted the correct customers.

Hit-and-miss self-service

I followed the link in the email. It took me to a landing page that offered the option of extending my status for several hundred dollars. This part of the journey was working as intended, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. Nowhere on the page could I find an answer to my question or a link to FAQs.

I abandoned this route and logged in to my mileage account to verify my status. Maybe I had miscounted the miles I had needed. No, my calculations were correct, and my account reflected my new tier. Unfortunately, no answer was to be found here.

My next stop was customer service. Certainly, I could find the answer in a knowledge base, FAQ, or elsewhere. No, the closest I could find were pages explaining the airline’s different tiers and the benefits at each, all lacking the complete terms and conditions. It was time to initiate a chat … but none was offered.

In this leg of my unexpected journey, the airline had missed the ball for self-service. Though they offered some rudimentary cross-site search, no true knowledge base exists. I can’t imagine I was the first seeking information about their mileage program terms and conditions. They were missing a huge opportunity to provide easy answers to common questions. The lack of chat–automated or with a live agent–was also a lost opportunity at faster, lower cost service.

Going guerilla

By this point, I had given up on the airline’s website. It was time to take my question broad. I went to my search engine of choice and typed in my query. And I got an answer.

Well, I got several answers, in fact, as is typically the case. Unfortunately, none of the answers affirming my suspicion that I would have my new status through the end of 2019 came from the airline itself. Several of the top answers were from well-known and respected travel blogs, so I was reassured–but still not 100% certain. It was time to reach out to customer service.

The final option

Though my attempts at self-service with the airline had failed, I had some confidence from the third-party information I had found. I emailed customer service with my question, as well as details of the email that had put me on this course. I added how I had tried to find an answer myself, but their lack of a knowledge base and chat had forced me to take the email route. (A little unsolicited feedback.)

About a day later, I received my response. As the other sources had indicated, I would have the status through the end of 2019. The agent apologized for the confusing email I had received. She went on to say this was a new practice and apparently something had gone wrong. No comment was made on the lack of self-service options or any plans for the future to prevent any much misleading emails, but hopefully, my comments would find the right ears.

As is often the case, customer service had to clear up confusion –but they weren’t completely without fault. This was a mess caused by another department proactively sending an email to the wrong customers. Customer service wasn’t aware this was happening, but they also had failed to make the tools and information available that might have prevented me from needing to contacting them.

Fear and doubt

The airline intended their email to be useful information. Instead, it ended up backfiring in two ways: it temporarily removed my joy of the new status and caused effort on my part to find the answer. It also exposed some flaws in their customer self-service options.

This could have been avoided. Their customer segmentation was flawed. Customer service wasn’t aware of the emails and the timing of their delivery. Easy-to-find self-service answers to the most likely customer questions arising from the email were missing. This represents the lack of a complete end-to-end journey map and also exposed the airline’s need for improved cross-departmental customer focus.

Brands attain loyal customers through many things, among them useful products and services, great customer service, and the actions they take as a business. We collectively call this the customer experience and companies are fighting to be leaders at it. That extra free checked bag and occasional seat upgrade that come with a higher status are appreciated, but when a company is creating more problems for its customers than it solves, this poor experience leads customers to consider other options.