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What expiring Air Miles can teach us about customer service

Air Miles is racking up customer complaints with news of its five-year expiry policy resurfacing for the first time since 2011. Any miles collected before 2012 are set to disappear January 1, 2017, leaving collectors just a few short months to put those points to good use.

Since news of the policy entered the mainstream, consumers — some standing to lose thousands of miles — have been vocal about feeling duped by the brand. Stories like these can cause major damage to a brand’s image, and it’s something business owners should go to great lengths to avoid.

Here’s what the Air Miles debacle can teach your business about customer reward programs:

Don’t be sneaky

Air Miles made a one-time announcement about its changed policy in 2011 with no reminders since. While the company claims the five-year-old announcement gave people plenty of time to prepare for the shift, it’s clear that angry cardholders don’t feel the same way.

Because customer loyalty is such an integral part of growing and maintaining a business, anything that feels shady or untrustworthy will make the consumer rethink their relationship with your product. Keep everything transparent and you’ll avoid the public backlash Air Miles is currently experiencing.

Make your policies clear and easy to understand

Information regarding the expired miles policy was available on the company’s website through the FAQ page, but for those — let’s face it, most of us —  who don’t revisit terms of service, the information feels difficult to dig up.

And the details presented don’t tell the whole story. What’s missing from the FAQ is the fact that the Air Miles collected prior to 2012 can’t be redeemed for cash rewards. Clear communication of these policies could have saved the company a major headache.

Make it simple for customers to adapt

If you’re going to make a change that will affect your customers, it’s on you to make that transition as smooth as possible. Customer service for Air Miles has been predictably flooded, resulting in hours-long phone wait times for frustrated collectors. And while the company created options to help customers avoid sitting on the phone all day — like a call-back service and an online chat — those, too, are failing to provide timely service.

If you can’t put your customers first by helping them in their hour of need, they won’t forget it.

Respond quickly and kindly to customer frustration and own your mistakes

If the sneakiness and technical difficulties weren’t enough, the response from Air Miles’ team on social media has also fallen short. When the site crashed, defeated consumers took to the company’s Facebook page, only to be met with the response from the company’s official account that the website was not, in fact, down. They suggested users clear their cache or change browsers.

This messaging further enraged customers when the site remained out of service. It also made the company look like it wasn’t interested in owning its mistakes.

Lesson: Be honest and humble when dealing with your mistakes online. The old adage “the customer is always right” applies more than ever when you’re the one who’s causing the inconvenience.