Airline Travel LessonsMore than just about anything, customer loyalty and return business is the key taking your small business to the next level. Those two things build consistency, focus, income streams, and word of mouth marketing. And if it’s true for small business, it has to be true for big business too, right? (Or at least these are the idealistic assumptions we make when we live and love entrepreneurship…)

So I’m always amazed how many times I hear/read comments from my friends after a recent trip that echo something like “I’m never flying with that airline again” or “I can’t believe how horrible that was.”

They make me think about what small business owners should keep in mind when it comes to building customer loyalty and return business.

1)   Baggage Fees

I think the kick in the pants about Baggage Fees is that baggage is inherent to the experience of traveling. We don’t travel without at least a bit of baggage… That’s why we feel so very violated when those baggage fees kick in. It feels like a bait and switch.

As small business owners, let’s try our best to anticipate the complete experience with our clients and be two steps ahead of later fees. Work them into the overall price so customers can feel comfortable with the cost upfront.

Examples: Does your product require accessories? Consider Bundling. Does your service require follow up or additional services? Put together levels or packages.

2)   First Class Curtains

We all understand that some are willing to pay more for larger seats or more legroom. Still, the moment the shut those curtains, the majority of customers are sent a message of exclusivity and hierarchy. We get that we didn’t pay a few hundred dollars more for the cookies that we can clearly smell wafting through those curtains, but sometimes brand experiences are about emotions. And sometimes emotions don’t jive with reality.

Don’t alienate the majority of your clients or customers, by making them feel of less value to your brand, just because they bring less cash flow individually – especially when on the whole they bring in more than a small number of high rollers.One caveat – we all know the Night Club phenomenon. I’m not saying we shouldn’t create limited or exclusive experiences, but all our customers should fee valued, always.

Examples: Don’t send a mass email to everyone on your mailing list letting them know that only some can get in on a sale. Don’t ignore some clients, while announcing how busy you are with your other clients, via social media and the like.

3)   Can’ts over Cans

Does airline travel ever make you feel like a toddler? Is No all you hear? There are certain restrictions we all need to abide by for the sake of the group, but on an especially exhausting day, it seems you spend so much to be afforded so few comforts. I’ve found that the slightest kindness from a crew member – or really anyone involved – can lighten such a load. Little things like delivering water before beverage service has started or taking the time to seat families together. We feel enough sardines already in these small seats that we can’t often get up from – a bit of humanizing in the experience is wonderful.

In small business, our margins are tight and we can’t accommodate every request. Sometimes we can’t deliver fast enough. Sometimes we don’t have something in stock. Sometimes we just can’t. But when we can, it matters. And taking the time to help customers through the process can mean all the difference.

Examples: Can you ship it faster so it gets there in time? Can you throw in an extra goodie into the box? Can you add an extra service for free, just this time? Can you cover the cost of customization, because they didn’t know it was extra, at least for the first order? I’m not saying we should put the business at risk with every venture – but a little Can in a world of Can’t might make you a customer for life.