Guest Editorial: Gamification of Loyalty - improving customer engagement

Guest Editorial by Aaron Carr, CEO, Friendefi

With loyalty program membership levels hitting new worldwide records and U.S. households only active in 12 of the 29 programs they belong to1, its no wonder that member engagement is an increasing priority for loyalty programs.

Enter gamification, the practice of using game mechanics to make otherwise regular tasks and activities more fun to do. Loyalty marketers are increasingly viewing gamification as a complementary approach that can help strengthen their own customer engagement efforts. As cited last year in The Wise Marketer, companies are increasingly incorporating gamification through their digital channels in order to encourage customers to interact with them and to elicit important information from them2. This has great importance for customer engagement, The Wise Marketer argues, because loyalty program members can be more readily engaged in contests and polls to capture demographic, preference, and purchase intention data.

But, the opportunities to boost loyalty program member engagement don’t end with better data capture. In an increasingly digital world, gamification also offers a framework for motivating members to learn about your program, interact with partner offers, and to share (or even compete) with their friends.  American Airlines’ AAdvantage Passport Challenge offered loyalty members the opportunity to earn stamps for their digital passport as well as miles for completing various AAdvantage program and partner games and trivia from their computer or mobile phone, netting the airline a significant increase in purchasing at partners during the promotion as well as a 500% ROI3. Customers reported spending 15-20 minutes playing the various games and trivia, which tested their knowledge of American’s AAdvantage program and partner offers.

Air Canada has also adopted gamification to boost flight behaviour amongst its most frequent flyers with their ‘Earn Your Wings’ promotion each Fall4. The promotion pits flyers against one-another on a leaderboard in an effort to see who can travel the furthest during the promotional timeframe. Air Canada has evolved this promotion over the past 3 years and now only targets their top flyers who demonstrate a healthy appetite for competition. Participants are motivated to check their standings regularly, in particular after recently taken flights.

Social sharing and advocacy is another important feature within most gamification frameworks. Many ‘gamified’ promotions encourage participants to share brand messages and to invite their friends to join. This can be even more powerful when loyalty currencies are on offer. Aeroplan piloted social referral last year with their Connections campaign (in partnership with Air Canada) offering existing members miles for getting their friends to enroll in the program. The campaign provided participants with an online dashboard showing how many friends accepted their invitations as well as their progress towards their rewards goals.

Gamification is still a young practice, especially amongst loyalty marketers. But with multi-channel engagement an increasing priority amongst programs, it will undoubtedly play an increasingly important role in the years ahead. To find out more about gamification, you can check out Friendefi's website or contact via email Aaron Carr, its CEO.

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Ai Editorial: Airline Co-Brands - Who is Winning?

Gaining an upper hand as a stakeholder in the arena of airline co-branded credit cards is always an interesting saga.

In this context, it is fascinating to assess the extent to which airlines tend to rely on credit card issuers for “buying of miles”. Is this dependency going down? What sort of control can airlines exert over the frequent flyer or rewards earn/ burn rate at the issuer?

Also, it is important to assess how the regulatory environment on interchange fees for card-based payment transactions, says in a region like Europe, is going to impact the ties between stakeholders of an airline co-branded credit card.

These are some of the vital issues as things stand today.

Ai’s Ritesh Gupta interacted with RFi Consulting’s MD Lance Blockley regarding how the scenario is evolving,  how rewards earn and/ or burn rates on consumer co-brand credit cards are likely to shape up, what happened in Australia when The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) intervened and lot more. Excerpts:

Ai: As an airline co-branded credit card holder, if you were to assess the major utility/ attraction of using such cards, what would it be?

Holders of airline co-brand credit cards have them for the airline loyalty points that they can earn. In some countries these cards have no annual fee, and therefore whatever frequent flyer points you earn on the spend is all “upside”.  However, in those countries where there is an annual fee on these credit cards, our analyses have shown that there is always a minority of the cardholder portfolio who don’t spend enough on the card to earn back the annual fee in frequent flyer points  -  these cardholders would be better off not taking out a rewards card.

Ai: Co-brand deals are generally complicated relationships between multiple stakeholders. Is there any major development that you would like to highlight?

There is always tension between the payment acceptance (ticket selling) side of the airline, which wants to pay the lowest Merchant Service Fee and Interchange rate on the transaction; whereas the bank issuing the co-brand credit card wants to receive the highest possible Interchange rate, as many issuers around the world use this revenue stream to fund the frequent flyer points that they are buying from the airline as part of the co-brand programme.

Some of the co-brand programmes are set up not only to purchase frequent flyer points from the airline, but also to contain some form of profit share in the credit card portfolio.  This usually becomes contentious as neither party feels that they are being adequately rewarded from the business.

A further area of contention is the marketing and new cardholder acquisition of the co-brand portfolio, usually both parties (the issuing bank and the airline) feel that the other could be doing more and better leveraging their assets (e. g. airline magazines, business lounges, etc) to get more cardholders.  Also, depending on the profile of new card applicants, the airline can sometimes become upset by the rejection rate on new applicants due to the issuer’s credit assessments.

Ai: Talking of Europe, what do you make of the regulation on interchange fees for card-based payment transactions – interchange fees will be capped at 0.2% for debit cards and 0.3% for credit cards?

Because commercial cards have been “cut out” of the legislation and usually get high use by frequent business flyers, there is likely to be a focus on expanding co-brand commercial credit card programmes  -  where the higher interchange rates will support a strong frequent flyer points earning offer.

The rewards earn and/ or burn rates on consumer co-brand credit cards are likely to decline (as they did in Australia in 2003-4, when interchange rates fell from 0.95% to 0.55% due to the Central Bank’s intervention), as the interchange revenue stream to the card issuer will decline and most use this to fund the purchase of frequent flyer points from the airlines.  Hence the airline frequent flyer programme revenues from co-brand consumer cards may fall, although this could be offset by an increase in the amount of card transactions.

Ai: Considering that airlines manage their co-branded credit card differently for different countries, what sort of impact do you foresee on fee-free credit cards, cashback payouts etc. as a result of interchange caps? What should airline watch out for?

In Australia, when the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) interventions occurred in 2003, just about all credit cards saw an increase in annual (and other) fees and a number of issuers brought in an additional fee for rewards programme participation. 

These higher fees did not put off cardholders who were really high spending on their cards and relished earning the airline frequent flyer points, but they did slow down participation at the lower spend end of the market , which probably should not have a rewards card anyway.

The earn and/ or burn rates on co-brand credit cards are likely to be changed by the issuer, in a downward direction.  Subject to contractual arrangements, the airline may or may not have any say on these levels, and therefore should keep a close eye on what is changing.

In addition, the issuing banks often view airline frequent flyer points as the most expensive rewards/ loyalty option that their cardholders can choose.  Hence they often try to steer cardholders into the bank’s own proprietary rewards programme, where the bank has full control over the cost of redemptions i.e. setting the number of points needed to redeem for a gift card or a return ticket to city X - many banks form linkages with travel agents and just buy airline tickets on the open (often cheap) market.

Ai: Even after the RBA regulated interchange down to a weighted average of 0.5% on MasterCard/ Visa in Australia, the co-brand card market and the loyalty points associated with many of them still continued to flourish. What does this indicate as far as the market for airline co-branded credit card is concerned?

It indicates that, if a cardholder thinks that they are getting something for nothing, changing the “exchange rate” (i.e. the earn and/or burn rate on frequent flyer points) on the points does not change the premise that “I’m getting something for nothing” – even if the rate of earning the “something” has diminished.  Plus, in Australia at least, more and more of a household’s expenditure is going on to payment cards (displacing cash and cheques), so to some extent the reduction in points earn rate can be offset by the cardholder increasing their spend on the card  -  hopefully without getting into any credit difficulties. 

Obviously inflation and economic growth also help grow overall card spend to grow in dollar terms.

Ai: What according to you would be the key areas for airlines as they structure their co-branded credit card deals going forward?

If I was an airline, I would want –

·       Some form of control over the frequent flyer or reward point earn /burn rate at the issuer

·       Some form of control over the fees being levied on cardholders

·       Access to the cardholder transactional data, for example so that I can see when my co-brand cardholder spends money buying a ticket on a competing airline

·       Maintain the pricing on my frequent flyer points to the card issuers, and take care having different prices to different issuers - as it is a very incestuous business

·       Maintain the pull of frequent flyer points for the consumer (making them a “must have” for a bank’s credit card portfolio), and fight a rear-guard action against the bank’s in-house proprietary rewards programmes.

Outside of the USA, the profit margins on credit card operations are likely to decline, so you might want to avoid profit sharing arrangements, but rather maximise the revenue achievable from selling frequent flyer points.

Plus I would not rely on the frequent flyer point revenue from credit card issuers growing as fast in the future as it has been in the past.

Ai: How do you foresee airlines gaining desired price for mileage sales, and selling more miles? What would you make of concern pertaining to money available to fund mileage payments going down and these impacting airlines in a negative way?

There are plenty of other financial services products, outside of credit cards, on which financial institution partners could offer frequent flyer points as an inducement to their customers/ prospects to act in a certain way; for example, frequent flyer points when you renew your mortgage, term deposit or other instrument.

Similarly there are plenty of businesses outside of financial services that might want to offer frequent flyer points as an inducement to their customers/prospects to act in a certain way; for example, in Australia, BP gives Virgin Velocity points on purchases of petrol, etc from its outlets; just as hotels have given frequent flyer points in the past.

But you can’t get away from the fact that, via high interchange rates (which come through in the Merchant Service Fee), merchants who accept credit cards have been funding, at least in part, the purchase of frequent flyer loyalty points from the airlines’ loyalty programmes.  The level at which this has occurred in the past is certain to decline.

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Ai Edtiorial: Dynamic Pricing and Reward Seat Availability

Understanding the game of dynamic pricing and reward seat availability

One factor that seems to be annoying a lot of customers these days is the availability of the lowest cost award tickets. Ai’s Ritesh Gupta explores why airlines are going ahead with dynamic pricing

All the talk about frequent flyer programs proving to be a value asset for any airline is incomplete if the loyal customer is frustrated or dissatisfied. But is this really an area of concern for carriers?

In fact, it is being highlighted that what works for a passenger isn’t adequate for airlines in financial terms. 

So what is it that’s forcing airlines to change their approach toward FFPs?

Cameron Trant, president at Trant Consulting says airlines first and foremost are concerned with losing rather than gaining in the FFP game. He explains: “History has shown that airlines that have tried to hold out on having a program, such as Southwest, Swiss or Singapore all discovered they were losing market share within the high yielding business segment and eventually initiated a loyalty program of their own.  I think that only after coming to the realization that a FFP is a critical part of doing business do airlines then look to try and monetize the program itself, primarily through partnerships that purchase mileage from the airline.”

Award ticket pricing

So what’s annoying flyers today? One factor that seems to be annoying a lot of customers these days is the availability of the lowest cost award tickets. 

Typically airlines have very sophisticated inventory management solutions and often they only allocate the lowest awards to seats they feel would otherwise go unsold. As Trant points out, however as load factors have increased from the low 70th percentile to the low 80th percentile over the last decade, the number of seats going unsold has been drastically reduced – especially on flights around holidays, or any peak travel times for leisure customers. 

“Airlines have to walk a delicate balance between risking long term revenue potential by alienating customers that perceive they can never redeem their miles, and maximizing their short term revenue potential on any given flight,” says Trant.

In terms of how airlines are going about reward seat availability, a survey by released by IdeaWorksCompany in May this year indicated that increasingly more carriers are governed by “accounting regulations that allow airlines to post revenue to their income statements only after a member redeems miles or points”. Overall, airlines “are continuing to be more generous with reward seats”. The average for all airlines for 2010 was 66.1%, which increased to 74% this year.

Still there already has been quite an uproar about revenue-based award tickets.

As highlighted by IdeaWorksCompany, a major development last year was Delta’s decision to go for revenue based mileage accrual this year.  This ranges from five points per dollar spent on base fares for members without status, and up to 11 points for Diamond level members. 

This meant that the new approach would result in a “windfall of miles for members paying higher fares”, and at the same time, it curtails the overall mileage accrual for members without status booking saver-type fares. 

So a regular member buying a $316 roundtrip Atlanta – San Francisco ticket accrues 1,580 miles in 2015; that same trip delivered 4,278 miles last year!      

The big question over here is the way airlines modify the value of miles.

It is being highlighted that a majority of awards are anyway not going to be relevant to those who are associated with relatively lower earning rates. This essentially means that it would take them a lot more time to earn the requisite mileage for that particular seat.

Dynamic pricing

Trant says, “Airlines have historically used very complex systems for making pricing and inventory decisions for revenue tickets, however their award ticket pricing has been relatively static – meaning it is the same cost for a customer who wants to fly on a off-peak day vs. someone who wants to fly on a peak travel time as long as the inventory was available.”

He adds, “With dynamic pricing, the airlines hope to apply the same sophistication to properly price award tickets.  If you are a consumer that is willing to fly the redeye flight or travel on Tuesdays you may actually benefit, if however you are only a weekend warrior you may find yourself paying significantly more miles than you have been accustomed to.”

Commenting on the non-availability of mileage award charts (such as Delta stopping publishing of charts), Trant says, “If you were to equate frequent flyer miles/ points to a currency, the airline itself has extremely broad powers to set the value of the currency.”

According to him, what the airlines are doing through dynamic pricing is an attempt to optimize the cost of award tickets in the same manner that they do with revenue tickets. 

In its simplest form, if a particular flight has a high demand for award travel, the airline would increase the required miles to redeem on the flight until the demand met the available supply, while simultaneously burning the maximum miles possible, says Trant. Although the actual variables that an airline may factor into the final pricing may vary greatly (flight demand, elite status, past purchase history, propensity to purchase add-ons etc), the end goal is to optimize the revenue gained and/or mileage burned on every flight.

Writing on the wall

It is clear that how much a passenger spends is now having a big impact on the future of FFPs. 

With the growth of low cost and ultra-low cost carriers, legacy carriers have found themselves having to offer deeply discounted fares during times of low demand in order to achieve their target load factors.  These low fares, while good for stimulating demand, are also prime targets for a practice called mileage runs, where a customer takes a flight with no other intention other than earning the maximum number of miles for spending the least amount of money in order to obtain elite status, explains Trant. He adds: Another less nefarious example, but one that can happen under a mileage based program is the case of where one customer who flies from North America to Asia and can earn the top tier in as little as 4 or 5 roundtrips, while a customer that commutes domestically every week 1K miles each way, but takes off 4 weeks for vacation and holidays, comes just short of the threshold necessary. 

“A revenue based program would hope to correct both of these situations by removing the incentive to take mileage runs, giving an opportunity for the Asian flier to still achieve elite status provided he or she is buying full fare or business fare tickets, and reward the almost weekly flier who would certainly make the threshold due to the sheer volume of their purchases,” says Trant.

He also asserts that switching to a revenue based system is not a panacea however.

“By tying points to a specific spend, it becomes an easy equation to determine the value of those points.  Consumers can then easily make all sorts of calculations as to whether the value received is worth the value spent.  In addition, FFP partners know that same equation, so it will be much harder to negotiate premiums for the perceived value of points that the partner is purchasing from the airline when they are publicly pegged to a specific value.”

As for consolidation in the U. S. industry impacting FFPs  and redemption, the jury is still out as to the complete impact this will have on FFPs. 

“In some cases the changes are almost immediate – for instance I was able to shop an award itinerary last week that had a connection in Charlotte in one direction and one in Chicago in the other (thanks to the AA-US merger), but many other impacts could take years to develop,” shared Trant. For instance, airline co-brand credit card programs are highly sought after by banks due to the fact the customers typically spend far more on the airline card than on a typical credit card.  Now through consolidation there are less of the programs available to bid on, and the programs are much larger so this puts extra negotiating power into the hands of the airline. As Trant says, only time will tell if this results in better product offerings for the customer, or if the airlines will focus solely on getting better financials for themselves.

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Ai Editorial: The FFP Model - The SAA Approach

Embracing a full-fledged revenue-based FFP - assessing how SAA did it

Suretha Cruse, South African Airways (SAA) Executive: Customer Loyalty talks to Ai’s Ritesh Gupta about how the airline moved from a mileage-based FFP to a full-fledged revenue-based FFP.

What would it take to come up with a relevant and engaging loyalty proposition? This is one question airlines across the globe are trying to answer as they continue to remodel their respective frequent flyer programmes (FFPs). 

FFPs continue to face capacity, regulatory, accounting and liability pressures, notwithstanding the fact that we compete for “share of mind” in an over-crowded loyalty environment whilst weathering the storm of a highly competitive and technology-smart era, says Suretha Cruse, South African Airways Executive: Customer Loyalty.

Cruse there is a growing awareness of the limitations of the legacy FFP models [mileage-based] due to an increase in the line-up of partners for greater customer participation which continue to put more pressure on the limited award seat inventory of airlines that was initially intended and often priced to fill empty seats.

“It is therefore no surprise that the widening of the target audience to include low and medium frequency travellers, primarily to generate more third party revenues for the FFP, undoubtedly provoked the evolution of FFPs from mileage-based to revenue-based models to fully leverage the interests of members, partners and shareholders. Monetizing the value of a mile /point with appropriate mobility for personalised customer convenience is a core challenge for any FFP from a customer loyalty perspective,” explains Cruse.

Embracing change

From a customer perspective, the SAA Voyager programme changed from a mileage-based FFP to a full-fledged revenue-based FFP effective February this year. Cruse says, “The move was singularly aimed at becoming more generous and by instilling transparency and fairness in the accumulation of Miles (1 Mile for every ZAR 1.60 spend) for the primary brand [SAA] with our most valuable customers; hence ensuring more efficiency in terms of customer retention.”

It furthermore enabled SAA Voyager to attach a transparent economic value to the mile for SAA exclusive support (accruals and redemptions) with its 5% return commitment; 5% of ZAR 1.60 = 8 ZAR cents. In other words, ZAR 10,000 spend on an SAA-operated flight will give a member ZAR 500 (6,250 miles) to spend on a future SAA-operated flight and the same amount of miles will count towards tier status within SAA Voyager. 

SAA Voyager has furthermore implemented a dual approach for flight redemptions:

  • Revenue-based Dynamic Awards (exclusively to SAA-operated flights) are dynamically priced based with the economic value of a mile and based on the going price of any available seat, inclusive of fuel levy and therefore there are no capacity constraints – thus offering complete availability to all seats in SAA’s inventory; and
  • Classic flat-rate mileage-based Awards; known as Star Alliance Awards (remained status quo), Upgrade Awards (mileage thresholds were lowered) and JourneyBlitz Awards (newly introduced and exclusively to SAA-operated flights), have set mileage thresholds, but are capacity controlled and are exclusive of fuel levy.

Cruse also shared that from a commercial perspective; the SAA Voyager programme changes were aimed to unlock asset (customer and financial) value by changing to a full-fledged revenue-based FFP.

“This intervention was furthermore a step-change towards commercialisation of the division and formed part of the first stage of reform to improve the efficiency, alongside the implementation of required administrative changes to the operation and management of the programme as a division of the airline [SAA],” shared Cruse. “The commercialisation of SAA Voyager enabled us to capture opportunities for greater efficiency and optimum service delivery, in addition to ensuring a clear business definition for future commercial sustainability, to the benefit of all stakeholders.”  

Overcoming challenges

So what are the major challenges that airlines need to face while embracing revenue-based FFP?

Reflecting upon the experience, Cruse says there are a few hurdles, but with a diligent approach, solutions will come at the speed of light to mitigate reputational risk.  

  • Do communicate - “Foremost, do not underestimate the power of communication during the transition from a mileage-based to a revenue-based FFP model,” she says. Cruse stressed that although rewarding customers based on monetary value spend is well accepted and understood in all other industries, this concept is not synonymous to the airline industry and habits die hard even though FFPs have evolved since the launch of the first one in 1981.

“Moving from an “instant gratification” model (accruing of miles/ points based on distance travelled with %-based accrual calculation rules engine) to a “delayed gratification” model (accruing of miles/ points based on uplifted pro-rated sectors flown) is a significant mind-set change for mileage junkies,” she says.  

  • Don’t copy: Secondly, FFPs should not react by copying a revenue-based accrual/ earning structure of another FFP. Cruse says FFPs must fully comprehend their own business model in respect of their revenue and cost structures, as evolving to a full-fledged revenue-based model (accrual and redemption) requires monetizing the value of a mile/ point – a critical success factor to maintain commercial sustainability of the FFP, which by default will impact all rates negotiated with long-standing accrual and redemption programme partners as a result of a previous calculated cost of a mile/ point.
  • Lastly, be prepared to be the whistle blower for peculiar revenue proration activities which stems from unfavourable interline pricing agreements in place, where some fares collected will be shared between the carriers participating on the ticket/ itinerary and the full fare collected does not necessarily belong to the long haul operating carrier. In addition, corporate and IT fares needs special consideration for the accrual of Miles / Points in a revenue-based FFP. From a customer perspective; they quite frankly don’t care about the “oneness” amongst airlines’ interline pricing and special agreements between airlines and service providers. The monetary part in a customer’s mind is predominantly spend on their most preferred long haul carrier of choice and this must make sense in terms of their perceived support towards the airline.      

There are other areas, too, where one needs to focus.

For instance, the role of the revenue accounting system while switching over to revenue-based FFP shouldn’t be underestimated at any cost.

Cruse says it’s a critical success factor for this journey.

The role of revenue accounting’s processes and their feeding systems are measured as a critical stakeholder in this transition to achieve the desired outcome. “The migration of our revenue accounting system to a new system (a major migration for any airline) was scheduled for implementation five months prior to the FFP re-launch. However, due to unforeseen challenges on their side, their migration took place after we re-launched our FFP model. We in the end offered a “delayed gratification” of between 15 to sometime 60 days in lieu of a maximum of 4 days,” shared Cruse.

What to expect

The industry is referring to revenue-based FFP as a major development.

This trend will continue and eventually evolve to a full-fledged FFP model, asserts Cruse. “The most frequently asked question is if customers are benefiting from a revenue-based FFP model. The mere fact that the short answer is “yes and no”, should put into perspective the disparity of the legacy model [mileage-based] over time,” says Cruse. “High yield customers will praise you for rewarding them equitably, whereas low yield customers will feel deprived – sometimes through no fault of their own, but rather due to competitive pricing amongst airlines on selected long haul routes. “Taking away” from loyal customers, even if relatively minor, can ignite a firestorm of opinions on social media platforms.”

The premise of rewarding your best customers based on monetary value spend, has worked well for other industries’ loyalty programmes (financial, hospitality, retail, etc.) and members alike and therefore FFPs should be no different.Suretha

Suretha will be speaking on this topic at Mega Event in San Diego which is taking place on the 4/5th of November.  More information at

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Ai Editorial: Big Data = Good Data?

Combining all valuable data sources into one customer hub – how to make it work?

What’s impeding the effort of airlines to fully capitalize on the prowess of personalization? Ai assesses the same, featuring recommendations from Boxever and OpenJaw

Advancements in data analytics and how the same paves way for understanding the intent of the customer is one area that is being followed closely.

As Datalex’s CEO Aidan Brogan puts it, the effort is in combining all valuable data sources into one customer hub and ensuring that the commerce system can turn an insight into an offer.

It is also vital to ensure that passengers are duly recognized across every digital touch point. In this context, it becomes imperative to have a single view of the customer. But then there are still hurdles in attaining the same.

Ai’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to senior industry executives about some of the crucial areas related to personalisation and analytics: 

  • Being data-driven

Boxever’s CEO Dave O’Flanagan explains there are several key points to being data-driven:

1) Understand why you’re doing it. There’s no point in building a large repository of data unless you’re clear on the RoI and can clearly demonstrate the business value to your organisation, which can be direct revenue, says O’Flanagan.

2) Start small. Deploy the solution in your digital channels first, focusing on minimizing integration while and maximising impact. “We find that web, email and mobile are great places to start then expand to call centre, operations, in-flight and beyond. This allows you to build the business case to deploy the solution across your organization,” says O’Flanagan.

3) Hire the best talent. O’Flanagan says data is useless without people to help you understand it and translate the insights into personalized customer experiences. 

4) Align your organization. Omni-channel can mean omni-department for your organization and key functions will need to work together to make it a reality. “We’ve found that the organisational challenges in achieving true omni-channel are every bit as difficult as the technical ones,” says O’Flanagan.

  • Single customer view – dealing with silos

O’Flanagan says, “In our experience the toughest part of creating a single view of the customer is that it requires many departments to work together for a common purpose.”

He says coordinating this against other priorities, aligning on common goals, allocating resources, defining ownership of the new SCV (single customer view) - these are all new efforts for many of these departments, who have traditionally worked within their own silo. “Orienting around the customer really means transforming how the company thinks about its data, resources, and operations. Part of Boxever’s approach to addressing this challenge is helping companies understand the organisational as well as the technical challenges to doing this,” says O’Flanagan.

Mark Lenahan, VP of Product Strategy at OpenJaw says the biggest barrier to a single customer view is the persistence of technology and corporate silos, per customer touch point, as opposed to the creation of a single platform for retailing.

According to him, a single platform is one where the airline can leverage its buying power to present any product in any channel. “For example, contracting a hotel takes effort (direct connect or channel manager integration takes a different kind of effort), but why repeat it for every airline brand and again for the holidays company and again for the loyalty program?” questions Lenahan. He further probes and says: from the customer’s point of view, why are they seeing entirely different hotel products on the website than they see on the website, or the website, and again on board the plane? Why are they seeing different offers in-line, before they ticket, than post sale, after they ticket, pre-departure and on-board? 

“I'm not saying every product must be visible in every channel. What I do believe is that the decision of what products to offer where should be a business decision, not a technical one,” he says.

At this point, not only do very few airlines have a true multi-channel single-platform approach to travel retailing, they also don’t have corporate structure to support retailing. There isn’t a single person who can own the business case for a product across all channels - direct/ indirect, web/ mobile, holidays, loyalty, on-board, at destination etc., added Lenahan.

  • Identifying a customer

Technology is making progress when it comes to identifying a customer in the multi-device environment.

“My view on this is that the suitability of probabilistic methods depends on what you are going to subsequently do with that assumption of identity,” says Lenahan. He says if you are using aggregate data to discover patterns in consumer behavior, probabilistic is probably fine within error bars that your data scientists and analysts will understand. “Likewise if you are targeting advertising, you only need a good percentage of hits, and even the misses are quite likely to be similar people,” he says. “Although it is based on cookies, I like Amazon’s multiple levels of authentication. They welcome you back with an assumption, but you still need to deterministically “log in” to view account details or complete an order.”

Lenahan says he also thinks customers have a right to some transparency here. If a consumer has a reasonable expectation of anonymity and they are not in fact anonymous, the airline risks some reputation damage “if they abuse that and get caught,” warned Lenahan. “There should be a way for any consumer to see the standard, anonymous market price for example. I think common sense will prevail, and no matter how clever you think you are as a retailer, you can't outsmart a market (in the long run) and you shouldn't try. Ultimately, retailers work for the customer not against them and they mustn’t forget that,” he said.

O’Flanagan says right now the strike rates for generic matching based on cookies, IP and other environmental factors are pretty unimpressive but if you can look at booking information, search behavior and other travel-specific factors the match rate increase significantly and this is where travel-specific solutions have the edge.

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Ai Editorial: Do you know what your FFP member is looking for?

The onus is on airlines to make the most of customer data and information they have, and integrate it with every aspect of their FFPs. We find out more in our chat with Deborah Merrens, head of marketing, Global Blue

From A Traveller’s Lens

A disjointed experience or even letting loyal customers question the prowess of airlines in recognizing them are some of the bigger issues that FFPs are facing today. The game has moved on from just worrying about redemption or chasing a particular status.

Loyalty programs need to come across as our able ally. Just the way we expect simplification and automation in the most of tasks we are doing today, one would expect airlines to churn out “surprise and delight” experiences driven by their data infrastructure. So say as you access your next flight schedule on your preferred mobile app, a link pops up that ends up offering you a deal for a hotel room that you had searched for 24 hours ago! Yes, today’s travellers love surprises, don’t like to go through mundane routine associated with a trip etc.  

Airlines need to spot ways how to do so and if it can be monetized then it can lend a new dimension to the concept of loyalty.

Here we hear from Merrens about how according to her loyalty is evolving. Excerpts:

Ai: If you were to assess loyalty as air passenger, what makes you happy?  

Increasingly it’s about personalising the experience for me rather than collecting more miles or chasing status. (So be it for) making it easy to check in, get the seat I want, board when I want, or get the baggage allowance I want/ need - take the stress and hassle and I’ll be happy.

Ai: So how is it shaping up?

This is probably already happening in premium cabins, but the traveller expects the same when he is down at the back. This suggests - custom benefits, custom propositions and custom interpretation of the rules are going to be important and true drivers of loyalty.

Ai: Can you share your loyalty/ reward program disappointments? What’s your biggest pain-point till date?

There are two areas of disappointment:

  • The first one is when the programmes does not deliver on its promise, that’s usually around a benefit delivery/ failure. And it is usually in mileage redemption.
  • When things go wrong the airline / programme not helping you with your problems and staff not appearing to be empowered.

Ai: What would you count on as the biggest development as well as the challenge in loyalty today?

The first one would be the shift from miles to revenue / quasi-revenue based – and it’s going to shake the whole industry and potentially cast a lot of “Y” travellers down to the purely price based world.

Also, it need to be noticed that ancillary benefits / sales are overlapping with loyalty benefits and the airline trying to sell you something you previously ‘earned’ for free, potentially negates long term loyalty in favour of short term benefit / service bidding. he net result of this is that the “Economy” space ends up looking like a low cost carrier.

Ai: How is data helping in understanding the motivations travellers may have to enrol in a loyalty program?

At the moment not many people are doing this well - usually using data for offer targeting and little predictive or real time use of data. Where this needs to go is to move to custom pricing where you will get flight and benefit package pricing based on an intimate understanding of your behaviour, needs and capacity to buy. This sort of custom proposition could be the new loyalty. No one is really there yet.

In addition to pricing, custom benefit serving and delivery would be something that they can do for the member to keep them happy.

Where the smart data and ancillary sales do come together is where the FFP becomes a big affiliate platform making targeted sales offers (and a margin) from a myriad of different journey vendors (cars, parking, stores, duty free etc.) eager to sell the traveller something. In this context, trust, respect for privacy and preference are critical. If the FFP is going to offer you less but sell to you more, you had better have a pretty strong relationship to stop people heading for the door.    

Ai: What role do you think data analytics is playing in the arena of loyalty – for instance in improving upon merchandising redemption and the overall experience of flyers?

Most programs are talking the talk on analytics but not delivering. On the non-air redemption side the big question is can the advanced analytics become like Amazon for targeting content and offers.

Ai: What should be the major priority of airlines today especially when airlines are not only expected to recognise a loyal flyer, but achieve top-notch personalization? So it would be offering what a loyal customer is looking for during his or her journey.

  • Recognize and rewards revenue value
  • Demonstrate to members that you genuinely care about them (not easy for the ops driven airline culture)
  • Offer greater customization of benefits and rewards

Ai: What do you make of mistakes that airlines can commit when it comes to redeeming miles for merchandise? For instance, critics often talk about relatively lower cents per mile for non-travel products offered?

It’s not lower really, it’s just that flights were always priced too cheaply, so that the insiders who could play the system got all the seats, but everyone else got a raw deal. The internally charged cost of flights needs to rise to reflect a more commercial value. This may feel like a bad deal for members and it might even spell the end of some weak FFPs. The smart ones will find more ways to put more miles in peoples accounts and increase the overall value of the member. With higher value members delivering more revenue, the FFP can find a way to subsidize that seat. Eventually it goes the way of Amex.

Deborah Merrens, head of marketing, Global Blue, spoke at the FFP Loyalty Conference, a part of the 2nd Annual Mega Event Asia-Pacific in Singpoare on the 1st and 2nd of September. Similar issues will be covered at the global Mega Event in San Diego this 4th and 5th of November.

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Executive Interview: Nik Laming, Cebu Pacific Air

Our chat with Nik Laming, General Manager – Loyalty Division at Philippines’ leading carrier Cebu Pacific Air, who spoke at the FFP Loyalty Conference, a part of 2nd Annual Mega Event Asia-Pacific (held in Singapore, 31st Aug 2015 – 2nd September 2015).

From a Traveller's Lens

From A Traveller’s Lens

Airlines today are not only expected to recognize a loyal flyer, but achieve top-notch personalization, too.

If one has to deliver a consistent and yet tailored experience to members then it is imperative to clearly define processes and execute flawlessly, asserts Laming. Laming says there are many moving parts in the airline business and the loyalty program is a tool that helps to identify customers and customise offerings to their needs but only if the organisation can operationalize the good intentions.

For its part, Cebu Pacific launched its GetGo lifestyle rewards program for frequent fliers (over 1.4m) in March this year. It allows members to accumulate points on everyday spending (on groceries, utilities, gasoline, etc.) and redeem those points for a free flight. Laming spoke in detail about what needs to be done to ensure a loyal passenger gets his or her due in an interview with Ai Correspondent Ritesh Gupta.

Ai: If you were to assess loyalty as an air passenger, what makes you happy?  

As a loyalty member I am happy when the core benefits are done well – don’t give me non-air rewards and frilly extra’s to paper over the cracks of a fundamentally flawed program.  Make sure I can get redemption flights when I want them albeit at variable rates.  Tier qualification is poorly done sometimes – for example only business or first contributing to top status is too restrictive and just isn’t viable in this day and age.

Ai: What would you count on as the biggest development as well as the challenge in loyalty marketing today?

(It would be) The member revolution powered by smartphones and social media. People are more connected, more vocal and more demanding than ever before.  A small issue coupled with a canny member can result in wide spread social media unrest if not managed carefully.  And the speed of change and reduction in reaction times required to manage this new world are a big challenge.

Ai: The onus is on marketers to serve the customers in the best possible manner by being data-driven. What does it means to you, and how actually do you think one can excel in an omni-channel environment?

Getting the basics right is vital.  There is effectively an agreement between the program and a member whereby data is exchanged for rewards.  Using the data with respect and to improve customer experience is the key.  We currently operate across multiple channels including web, mobile, call center, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – monitoring all the channels and having the tools in place to enable a single view of customer communication and respond is critical.

Identifying customers across proliferating social platforms, devices and channels is difficult and becoming more difficult every year. Having the right technology in place to knit together the different streams of data is a good start but there are often gaps. These gaps mean that customers do get frustrated as they are not addressed as one individual. It is an area of focus for every organization to solve in the near future.

Ai: Can you cite examples where you feel you have excelled in offering what customers expect from loyalty?

GetGo is a very new program so the best is yet to come.  However we have built in some best-in-class features to deliver above and beyond expectations from launch.  These include any seat redemption, points pooling, dynamic top up and an expanding range of earning opportunities.

Ai: Where do you think airline loyalty programs generally are going wrong – from both technology and operations perspective?  

There are inherent issues with airline loyalty programs with broken commercial models, complex technology and omnichannel customer service.  Most programs from legacy carriers suffer from a lack of award seat availability due to the underlying business model and conflict with revenue management. 

At Cebu Pacific, we did not originally anticipate the need to view Instagram as an inbound customer service channel.  But we had to adapt our process to accommodate it after we received a complaint as a comment under a photo we had posted. 

Ai: What role data analytics is playing in the arena of loyalty – for instance in improving upon merchandising redemption and the overall experience of flyers?

Data analytics underpins the ability to deliver a tailored experience and appropriate offers in the most efficient way.  Applied correctly the insights derived from analytics are the most powerful aspect of loyalty marketing.  Simple profiling and targeting remain very effective.

The ability to deliver real time and highly targeting messages has finally enabled marketers to answer the conundrum of right customer, right place, right time with the right offer. Predictive modeling adds another dimension to aid targeting and improve marketing efficiency. Differentiated service and offers are only made possible with data analysis. So the role of data analytics is simply huge.

Ai: What would you term as major priority today especially when airlines are not only expected to recognize a loyal flyer, but also achieve top-notch personalization?  

Process and operationalization do not tend to be viewed as a major priority for marketers.  However if you are going to deliver a consistent and yet tailored experience to members you have to be able to both clearly define processes and execute flawlessly. 

Delivering benefits such as priority boarding or baggage handling requires consistent process across wide networks. As campaigns become more complex and multi-dimensional the need to manage them efficiently relies on process. Points programs are essentially mini banks but managed by marketers. Without well defined processes to award and redeem points and secure data programs are frustrating for members best case and worse they are open to fraud and abuse.

Ai: What’s on your agenda for Cebu Pacific Air in the next year or so?

A major focus on the basics. Make the program attractive and efficient to attract members and keep the current ones engaged and excited.  We are adding new partners and ensuring we serve current ones well.  We have a roadmap of exciting developments in the coming 12 months but these need to be built on a solid foundation.

(The airline has a 55-strong fleet, and it carried 16.9m  passengers in 2014, 17.5% more than flown in 2013. Ancillary revenue grew 29% to P8.7 billion last year. It posted a core net income of P 3.3 billion, up 77% compared to the previous year, on the back of notable improvement in both revenues and operating expenses).

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Executive Interview: Mark Mullinix, Loyalty Advantage

Our chat with Mark Mullinix, MD, Loyalty Advantage and conference chair of the FFP Loyalty Conference, a part of 2nd Annual Mega Event Asia-Pacific (held in Singapore, 31st Aug 2015 – 2nd September 2015.)

From A Traveller’s Lens

Airline loyalty programs are evolving. There is plenty at stake, and carrier can’t afford to slip. For instance, revenue-based earning approach has a huge number of complexities in implementation for legacy carriers. Also, airlines still struggle with consistency in service delivery and with recovery from irregular operations, says Mullinix.

Mullinix believes airlines need to ensure the overall travel experience is sublime, and a traveller should feel “I have received something that I value in exchange for my loyalty”.  Excerpts from an interview with Ai’s Ritesh Gupta:

Ai: If you were to assess loyalty as an air passenger, what makes you happy?  

There are really two different ways to assess loyalty here—one is the loyalty to the travel experience provided by the airline, and the other is the loyalty to the rewards received. Airlines are trying to use their loyalty programs as differentiators, but if the basic service promise of the airline isn’t being met, the majority of travellers will have no true loyalty to the airline—only loyalty to the rewards.

For me, the most important factor in loyalty to an airline’s travel experience is that it delivers what it promises. I fly low-cost carriers and full service carriers, and in each case I come away happy, as long as I received what I paid for. It’s when the airlines don’t manage to deliver what they promise that a traveller’s loyalty to an airline gets questioned, and my decision to remain a customer of the airline may be more due to the loyalty rewards rather than due to my intrinsic happiness with the airline. In Net Promoter Score terms, I become a detractor while remaining active and flying regularly.

On the rewards front, what makes me happiest is the perception of value—feeling that I’ve received something that I value in exchange for my loyalty. This value driver will be different for each passenger, which is the challenge for loyalty program managers trying to build a one-size-fits-all program.

Airlines still struggle with consistency in service delivery and with recovery from irregular operations. It’s not easy, but these are definitely the areas that can make the most difference in a customer’s experience.

Ai: What would you count on as the biggest development as well as the challenge in loyalty today?

The biggest trend we’ve seen in the past few years, and certainly the most hotly debated, has been the shift towards explicitly revenue-based programs where the number of points earned is a direct function of the number of dollars spent.

After Delta announced their shift, United followed quickly, and the industry consensus seems to be that American will do the same as soon as they finish the final merger details.

While it’s made big news, using revenue as a basis for mileage earning is hardly new. Airlines around the world have been differentiating mileage earning by fare class (as a proxy for yield) for a long time, but few had removed the “miles flown” entirely from the earning equation as Delta and United have.

This revenue-based earning approach has a huge number of complexities in implementation for legacy carriers: foreign currency effects, interline/ alliance codeshare tickets, and the multipliers for elite tier status are just three that have already become clear. More importantly, the publicity around these program changes has sparked a debate among frequent flyers as to whether loyalty is even worthwhile any more.

I would challenge airlines to think carefully about what they are trying to achieve with their loyalty programs, and to redevelop not based on the latest me-too trend, but in a way that will drive towards those objectives. I think there is an opportunity for smart airlines to capitalize on the growing disillusionment from consumers with a “back to basics” program while still preserving the balance sheet.

Ai: Can you cite examples where you feel airlines have excelled in offering what you expect from loyalty?

This is a very personal question as each customer will expect something different for their loyalty. I think Cathay Pacific have done an excellent job of providing that “little extra” for their loyal customers, through on-board recognition, a yield management strategy that allows for relatively generous operational upgrades, and decent availability of awards in a traditional miles-based program.

In the major alliances, oneworld has excelled in creating loyalty to the alliance in general through unified policies. One of my favorites is that on a codeshare flight, the earning rules of the marketing carrier apply, rather than the operating carrier. This makes it much easier for the consumer to know what they will earn, as compared to Star Alliance where the fare class of the operating carrier dictates the mileage earned.

On the other end of the spectrum, Southwest have done an excellent job of communicating a simple value proposition and fulfilling that promise. Each booking shows the number of points that can be earned, or the number of points required to redeem, as an integral part of the booking process, ensuring that the loyalty program is top of mind even though the actual points value may not be transparent to the average consumer.

Ai: Where do you think airline loyalty programs generally are going wrong – from both technology and operations perspective?  

I don’t see programs as going wrong from a technology or operations perspective. Generally, the loyalty program management technologies are among the most up-to-date systems the airline employs, given the long history of mainframe-based technology and legacy systems in other areas of operations!

Where the programs are suffering is in their overall strategy.

The reliance on external partners and the creation of a miles ecosystem where the majority of miles are no longer earned through flight behaviour have pushed the airlines into a difficult strategic position—consumers still want to redeem miles for flights, but there are no seats and far too many miles.

The revenue from partners has become so massive that the airline’s loyalty program becomes more a facilitator of partner transactions than a true driver of loyalty to the airline.

Ai: What should be the major priority of airlines today especially when airlines are not only expected to recognise a loyal flyer, but achieve top-notch personalization?  

So much of loyalty is really about customer experience. I think this is a huge opportunity area for airlines.

Hotels have learned these lessons very well and now when you check in, many of them have a completely personalised experience available to you. I believe the opportunity is there for the airlines to do similar—moving beyond “window or aisle” to “he prefers window on long-haul but aisle on short-haul, and we know he usually takes a soda with no ice, so let’s confirm that when doing beverage service rather than asking him as if we’d never seen him before.”

This relies on both technology and staff, with staff being the more difficult part of the equation. And of course the most important question still remains — would this level of service really drive increased loyalty and profitability?

Ai: What do you make of mistakes that airlines can commit when it comes to redeeming miles for merchandise? For instance, critics often talk about relatively lower cents per mile for non-travel products offered?

What critics are missing in their analysis of low-value rewards is that there’s a market for those rewards. Consumers aren’t always motivated by the highest cash value equivalent for a reward—if they were, everybody would be saving for first class long-haul travel.

Convenience, the feeling of instant gratification, burning points prior to their expiration, or the ability to “monetise” points into a gift card are all valued by the consumer in their overall decision, and in many cases these very rational criteria lead to seemingly irrational decisions regarding redemption of points.


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Are retail co-brands relevant?

April 11, 2015

Point of View Editorial

Marc Berman

Executive Chairman Co-Brand Conference

CEO and Managing Partner, The Mallett Group


Are retail co-brands relevant?

Over the past 10 years we have seen a shifting environment for cards that have been brought to market.  The omnipresent travel cobrands in air and hospitality continue to create an aspirational goal for those frequent travelers and frequent buyers.  These cards are the largest partner of any travel company;  the purchase of their loyalty currency by issuers can run into the billions of dollars per year.

Additionally many bank issuer cards have an attached loyalty scheme that supports customers’ travel desires through earn and conversion to either their desired FFP or direct redemption for tickets, and of course merchandise.  We have seen the big issuers expanding their reach into the consumer base with large bonus promotions to drive spend and share of wallet.  Soon we will see the launch of a “coalition” program here in the US.  Coalition programs have never succeeded here as they have in Canada, the UK, and other geographies.  We will watch with interest.

Also, in the past few years we have seen a sizable decrease in pure affinity cards.  These portfolios have grown smaller, and sponsoring institutions have struggled to retain their base.   Not to be forgotten is the formidable size of the customer base that enjoys pure cash rebates of 1-2% for spend.  The cash-back segment is huge and tailored to the needs of this population.


So where does this leave retail co-brands?  In this highly competitive environment, affected by all of the above, retailers position themselves directly to their customer base to drive spend to their stores by offering promotions, discounts and other benefits that a truly loyal shopper appreciates.  However, keeping these programs and the portfolios healthy, relevant and compelling is an increasing challenge.  One needs to think outside the box to target, engage and reward so that retailers enjoy the same ROI as other types of cards in market.


At the stand-alone Co-brand Event hosted by AI Connect on May 27/28 in Chicago, retailers will learn about emerging engagement strategies from cutting edge companies, will be exposed to the competition and will hear directly from issuers, networks and industry consultants on new ways to harness “Interaction to Transaction”, the theme of the conference.  Come join us!

Ai Editorial: Travel Experience - who will help you?

Who will a traveller go to seek help - are you sure it’s going to be a human? Connected app experiences, wearables, facial recognition all of this is going to lend a new dimension to a traveller’s entire trip? Ritesh Gupta, Airline Information Correspondent finds out

If ever direct communication were to stand the test of time, be it for travel planning, booking or the sheer joy of taking a journey, then that moment is about to happen in the near future.

The question is who will a traveller go to seek help?

As it turned out during our annual Mega Event 2014 held in New Orleans in late 2014, a survey indicated that around 1/5th of travellers in the U. S. expect to talk to a robot (that will be more helpful than a person) in 2020. As indicated by Switchfly, 1/3rd believe that no one will call hotels or airlines directly by then, and that all communications will be done electronically.

So are travel shoppers going to avoid human interactions altogether or is just that the connection between services, devices and location is going to mark a new chapter in the commerce and customer service arena?  Let’s explore some of the new developments that may take us to the point where we don’t end up interacting with anyone for our travel-related requirements.

So what’s happening as of today that indicates travellers can do a number of things independently.

Let’s start with smartphones. Say you own one, and there are apps in it. As a traveller, you tend to go through different apps for probably one journey of yours. But this world of friction in the disconnected app world is slowly disappearing. And this is being made possible deep linking technology. It essentially means that one’s intent is going to be figured “intelligently”, and he or she is going to be driven to the desired service. Today technology has reached a point where a consumer is being enticed to reach a specific page inside the app, no matter whether the app is already installed or not (you may read about Branch Metrics).  One of the emerging players in this arena, NYC-based start-up Button analyzes a consumer’s intent on activity, historical data, context, time, and location.  So it could be that you are using an airline app, checking in for your next flight and you end up seamlessly booking a reservation for a restaurant for your next destination.

This also means that our preferences and behavior is up for grabs, and we are sharing relevant data. But let’s not just restrict it to mobile apps. For instance, beacons can pave way for personalized communications and calls to action. If one acts on such technology, there is a footprint to be followed. There already has been a lot of buzz around our place getting sensorized, with almost everything out there gaining an IP address. This would result in exchange of data and the Internet of Things (IoT) will become a reality.   

I came across an interesting observation highlighted by consultant Jeff Rubingh, who underlines that there could be an “API of You, of all of your own data”.  

There could be a possibility of you, as a consumer, making data available as an API. Who is going to facilitate this is yet to clear up, but Rubingh has a point when he says your data is reflection of your being, your identity. How much you share is going to be under your control, and of course, this is going to be driven by upcoming devices, and we all already aware of wearables.

Cognitive computing and the IoT

Overall, a lot is being expected from the blend of cognitive computing and the IoT phenomenon.

As a specialist in this arena, Saffron Technology says the future is about spotting connections among data across varied sources, doing away with modeling, while learning incrementally and working on results based on patterns identified in the data. It does get complicated for one who doesn’t know much about these concepts. But to put in Saffron’s words – the entity formulates a “real-time adaptive model of “your” world as we continuously learn about every “thing” in your data and its connections in context with every other thing”. Clearly the term “big data” wouldn’t sound as big as it did over the past few years!

For consumers, this will have direct impact on the level of personalization as well as fraud detection.

Moving on, one last topic that is surely going to garner attention this year is the world of payments. Whether Apple Pay gains traction or not would decide the fate of NFC payments. On the positive side, the industry is already expecting smartphones to play their part in boarding via contactless smart cards.  All of this means that touchpoints where human beings generally used to serve travellers wouldn’t be needed if all of this goes mass.

The world is getting definitely getting smarter, and it all boils down to offering travellers new ways to do less of what they used to do earlier. And at the same time, the entire trip would be much smoother than ever before. Whether human interaction would really count or not, it hardly would make any difference as long as customer service is catapulted to a newer level.

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