When Loyalty Dies

Yes, I’m talking about Rogers and Air Canada here. So let me say at the outset that I’ve been a customer of both organizations for more than 30 years, with friends and former colleagues at both companies – so this post doesn’t come lightly.  But really what’s worse… being told you stink by a friend, or someone else?

Let’s start with this week’s circus at Rogers. 11 million wireless users, including hospitals, government services, bank machines, interac and credit card payments – all incapacitated. 

Without warning on Friday, Canada’s largest and ‘most reliable’ network wasn’t. And for the second time in fifteen months, our dependence upon Rogers for technology and connectivity became painfully apparent. 

Marketers may remember Rogers 2015 brand refresh that saw the Rogers hallmark red tweaked to Pantone 485C to align it to the red in Canada’s flag. Sounds like the emperor’s clothes to me, but the point is, Canada’s reliance on its oligopoly of telecommunications suppliers is a dangerous model when things go wrong, highlighting the fragility of the network and a lack of fail-safe back-up systems that clearly don’t work.

Whether the logo is the same colour as the Canadian flag or not, and whether or not our government wakes up to the inevitability of the risk this absurd oligopoly model poses, I’ll now be hedging my own business connectivity risk by splitting internet and cellular usage between different suppliers. 

Bearing mind this is the second major failure in just 15 months, nothing Mr. Staffieri and his executive team could say will change my mind, although I will say that Rogers CEO did a significantly better job (unless of course you needed an ambulance…) with his three-point action plan summarized in his 320 word apology letter than the tripe spewed out by Air Canada’s CEO two weeks ago.

Air Canada

In sharp contrast to Rogers, Air Canada’s CEO, Mike Rousseau, sent an excruciatingly long 660 word letter to customers outlining disruption to their summer schedule.  But in one paragraph Rousseau says, “at Air Canada, we anticipated many of these factors and began taking tangible action during the depth of the pandemic to be ready for a rapid restart” and concludes with “the result has been flight cancellations and customer service shortfalls on our part that we would never have intended for our customers….” which doesn’t particularly inspire confidence.

Read another way, this letter essentially says, ‘we can’t cope’.  But as Canada’s national flag carrier (here we go again with the Canadian flags…) carrying 100,000 passengers a day you have to cope.  You can’t cancel flights at short notice like we’ve seen, misplace thousands of bags, fail to answer phones or provide mechanisms for prompt resolution. 

The golden rule in a crisis (and yes this is a crisis), is to communicate – but the silence from Air Canada on what’s happening, progress made and how they’re helping customers is deafening. Who the heck is advising Air Canada on their communications strategy?  And why isn’t there a daily update? Given the resources at their disposal, it’s utterly pathetic.

This.  From me!  A fiercely loyal Super Elite customer for the past 20 years.  In my own example I have a quick trip to Dublin next week and have been watching the daily delays to the flight which have all mysteriously been categorized as ‘maintenance’ issues.  Really?  All ‘maintenance’ delays – presumably to avoid issuing any sort of compensation?

Perhaps the only thing worse than not communicating at all, is not communicating the truth.  Since I personally don’t believe these maintenance excuses for a moment, this raises a trust question – and suddenly loyalty dies.  And now you have a 20 year, top-tier customer booking his next three international trips this year on Emirates. Does Air Canada even care? Doesn’t exactly feel like it.  

Call the army in.  Ask the government for help.  Ban checked luggage for the next 30 days.  Cancel flights at least 7 days out.  Do anything.  But above all:

  1. Don’t go silent. Communicate quickly and often.
  2. Don’t obfuscate the truth – customers have long memories
  3. Have a clear, tangible plan that alleviates customer pain immediately

Loyalty is the most fragile cargo of all and whether you’re a national wireless carrier, or our national airline, both have a responsibility to Canadians to do better than either have done lately.

And until things change, I’m calling it like it is: A failure in leadership. And a national disgrace.

Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else.

Photo: Nick Amoscato

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