Flyers should worry about “customer lifetime value” scores

Flyers should worry about “customer lifetime value” scores

ONE OF the parts of air travel that is hardest to understand is the system by which some passengers get seat upgrades or better service on board for free, while others are left to languish. It is an urban legend that wearing a suit or asking really nicely is the magic way to bag a seat at the front of the plane. But there is a secret score that can affect the chances of doing so.

Many airlines assign passengers a “customer lifetime value”, or CLV, score. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, carriers work out this number for each of their customers to measure their potential financial benefits to the company. They then use it to make all sorts of decisions, such as how sympathetically to handle a customer’s complaints.

When it comes to flying, a CLV score takes into account information such as how frequently a customer makes complaints and how often they are affected by flight delays and lost luggage. Companies do not perceive much value in retaining the business of customers who complain all the time, so regular whiners get bad scores. Conversely, frequent flyers in business class who rarely moan get some of the best. Sometimes these scores are transmitted to flight attendants, many of whom are now issued with handheld digital devices on which they can read about passengers. Cabin crew can use this information to wish flyers a happy birthday or decide whether they are worth compensating for inconveniences such as a spilled coffee or broken screens.

Some airlines have held back on supplying too much information to flight attendants for fear of overstepping privacy laws. “There’s a point where you don’t want to make people feel like, ‘Gee they know everything about me and they’re tracking everything I do’”, John Slater, senior vice president of inflight services at United Airlines, told the Wall Street Journal.

To some travellers, the existence of CLV scores might be reassuring. To them, they are a sign that airline customer-service decisions are not entirely arbitrary. But to others, they are a reminder that airlines with access to digital technology are able to monitor their customers with ever closer scrutiny. Travellers who are aware of the system are likely to think twice before they call an airline to complain about lousy service, lest it come back to bite them.

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