Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Everyone's venal, right?

We all love free, we all have a price and we all want to believe we're getting the better end of the deal.

This is America. Frankly, we're all about the Franklins.

Yet a fascinating new piece of research by Google's Think With Google team suggests many businesses just don't understand their customers anymore.

You see, so many businesses -- especially in the travel arena -- believe there's no point getting to a customer's heart when you can constantly appeal to their wallet.

So priority is given to loyalty programs over, say, the essential elements of service.

Bribe them and you've got them is the general marketing motto.

Oddly, customers are (still) human.

So when the large brains from Google and research consultancy Greenberg asked frequent travelers what was the most important thing when booking travel, respondents didn't answer loyalty programs.

60 percent said customer service.

You know, the truly basic essence of being able to find help, guidance and, dare I even mention it, humanity.

Loyalty programs didn't even come among the top three.

Second, at 55 percent, was an easy-to-use website. Third, at 50 percent, was a quite staggering response: online reviews.

The mere thought that people go by the questionable witterings of someone on TripAdvisor makes me shudder to the point of my top teeth attacking the ones beneath.

Loyalty programs staggered in a pitiful fourth, with a mere 46 percent believing they're so important.

The researchers dug deeper. 

They concluded that there are two sorts of loyalty.

One, they call attitudinal loyalty. This encapsulates the sort of loyalty people claim to feel.

Then there's behavioral loyalty. 

Now that's the sort that shows whether they really act on their alleged feelings.

You know, the type felt by Apple fanpersons who'll buy any product Cupertino emits, regardless of its actual worth to them.

The type felt by those who'll go out of their way to find a Wendy's rather than a McDonald's. 

The type that make you avoid a certain airline because, well, you hear they call law enforcement a little too enthusiastically.

When it comes to travel brands, there's a troubling twist. 

Humans behave more loyally toward airlines than toward hotels.

Of course they do.

The joyous cartel that allows more than 80 percent of all airline seats to be owned by just four airlines means that passengers don't have remotely the sort of choice they do with hotels.

And it's not as if there's an AIRbnb. If you catch my (continental) drift.

Google's findings are a lesson especially for United Airlines and American Airlines

The former has begun to address the very notion of customer service. It had to after it was seen on almost everyone's phone and laptop dragging a paying customer down the aisle and messing up his face.

American, on the other hand, has recently been teaching its staff -- and perhaps re-teaching -- some of the basic tenets of customer service.

Both airlines have a reputation for not offering much customer service at all. 

This is in contrast to the other two big airlines -- Delta and Southwest -- which breed more lasting loyalty. They're known for a more pronounced customer service bent.

Though this research was specifically targeted toward the travel industry, its learnings are surely applicable to most businesses.

Too many think they can compete on price and efficiency.

Too few stop to think about how it feels to interact with the brand.

Then they look around at the likes of Apple and accuse it of reality distortion, instead of understanding that Apple stops to think about human feelings before doing anything. 

I can't help thinking about American Airlines' entertainingly myopic CEO Doug Parker.

He made sure the airline crammed as many seats as possible into its planes. He started with the newest ones.

Then he couldn't understand why anyone would care that he himself hadn't ever flown in one of those cramped seats with insultingly tiny bathrooms.

How are American's financials currently? Not so good, I understand.

Published on: Aug 19, 2018