You may be bigger and more well-funded, but I will out-love you. Customer experience rules.

Up until last October I was traveling north of 100k+ miles a year on United alone. I’m a United 1K and would re-make that status by the end of April each year for the past four years. And I’d do much of it with the cadence of a Swiss clock, commuting BOS-SFO to my office in Palo Alto twice a month with other trips in between. Plenty of people out there travel a lot more, but on United and based on my position on the gate upgrade monitors, I’m assuming I was in their top 15% or so. I wasn’t waiting for my name to be painted on the side of a plane, but you’d think they’d like to retain someone like me, right? 

Well, in October my United world ground to a complete stop. With a new venture came a new travel pattern and I haven’t stepped foot on United plane, logged onto their website, or called the 1K desk in months. If anyone, or anything, was watching they would have thought I fell off the face of the earth.

But I continued to receive the same, standard promotional emails from United without any communication acknowledging the very significant change in my fairly predictable pattern. A month or so back I logged onto to explore flights for a family trip we are planning. Without luck on the site, I called the 1K desk. Not a peep from the website or agent acknowledging my hiatus.

I don't want my comments above to sound like a rant, as that's not what I intend. I happen to like the airline and they've generally treated me quite well. But they did miss opportunities to surprise me and make me feel that they really care. I just assume that I slipped through their cracks. They have plenty of data and there are readily available analytics and event-processing tools that could have applied business rules that sensed a change in my patterns or perhaps caught me re-engaging last month. I suppose it’s possible that they do know about me and have decided that I’m not that special, but it seems unlikely (at least that what I keep telling myself.)

I’m a marketing and growth guy, so maybe I focus on this more than the average person would. But I actually want companies to use my data to improve the experience I have with their products.

This observation has had me thinking a lot about customer experience lately. Which of my customers are slipping through the cracks? What patterns exist –with data we’re collecting or not— about customers we are delighting or frustrating? I believe we know a lot about our customers, but then again, I bet United thinks they know a lot about me.

It’s really hard for startups and early-stage companies to grow from product superiority alone. And it's unlikely that we can out-spend the competition. We have to "out-love" them. We can use data, process and design to show our customers more attention, more care, and more service than they can get from lumbering competitors. To deliver something unexpected. That’s a huge driver of customer loyalty. And with today's technology, we don't need to delight only our top customers. We can make everyone feel special, because they are special if they're giving us their time and/or budget.

This experience has reignited my desire to understand and love our customers. So we recently launched a new satisfaction survey and administered a good many with live phone calls for an extra-special touch and to gain more texture. It was quite eye-opening. We’re now instrumenting our website to collect more data. And we’re starting to plan some cool new features for our hosted product that will better serve customers. In addition to surprising and delighting customers, this closeness will help us design better products and processes for them.

This may all seem pretty straightforward, but it surprises me how few companies really strive for this and engrain it into their processes and culture. Business is conducted by humans and humans like to do business with people and companies they like. I plan to make mine one they love ;)