The famous Israeli diplomat, Abba Eban, once quipped that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Politics aside, how often do you miss opportunities to make an impact, to make a statement, or more importantly to convert your customers from simply clients to raving fans who bring you more business?
I have spent the past 3 days at a large conference of volunteer and professional leaders of the organized Jewish community. Four thousand people at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville. I came to shmooze, to reconnect with colleagues I have not seen in 4 years since I left my position as chief fundraiser for the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, to raise funds for one of my clients, and to troll for new clients.
El Al, Israel Airlines was one of the major sponsors and they had a booth in the exhibit hall. I thought I would stop by and ask a question. For those of you with businesses, you know that any prospect or customer who is asking you a question is giving you an opportunity. People who don’t care about what you do, don’t ask questions. Only people who want to be engaged either complain or ask questions.
I had the opportunity to not only ask a top manager, but today I met the CEO and asked him the same question.
Two years ago my mother won a contest for a free trip to Israel on El Al. She entered the contest in the spring and was told in October that she won and she had a year to take the trip. A month later, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. A few months later I called El Al and told them the situation. One of the top managers in the New York office, her name is not important so we will call her Sheryl Stein, told me, “don’t worry, just tell your mother to get better.”
I did just that and we spent the next year or so fighting cancer. Mom passed away last March. I had forgotten about the El Al trip until I saw the booth at the conference yesterday. Sheryl happened to be there, and she said she remembered our conversation but unfortunately the trip was non-transferable and no, neither I nor my sister could take the trip.
Later in the day, I happened to be walking by and saw the North American CEO in the booth. I simply introduced myself and said hello. This morning I again walked by and he was sitting with the CEO of the Airline. I thought I would ask the two top officials of El Al their opinion of the situation.
The CEO from Israel asked me what I do. I told him I was a fundraiser and he asked me for $2000. I was curious. He said that was what I was asking him to do, give me $2,000. He explained that the business assumed that a certain percentage of promotions will never get used and that my mom’s ticket fell into that class. Fascinating I thought.
Now, I’m not angry with El Al. I understand that businesses often do promotions and hope and plan for the winners not to collect. In fact, that is the power of most rebate campaigns. You get to advertise the lower price knowing that many people will never apply for the rebate. So I get. But I do have a question.
Is it a good way to do business? On one extreme, you could argue that it is not ethical. I’d have to disagree. In my book, it is not about ethics, it’s about how you treat your customers and how you market your business.
I’ve noted in an earlier post that I when i was in the ice cream business I once paid a $15 parking ticket for a customer who bought a 90 cent cone.Â I know that I got my money’s worth as I heard from all that customer’s friends how they wouldn’t dream of patronizing my competition.
Let’s face it, El Al does not fly full planes every trip. they easily could have offered me a standby ticket all the while letting me know that they don’t ordinarily do such a thing. My mom won the contest and didn’t collect in time. Clearly it would have been going above and beyond to offer me the ticket. And how much would it really have cost them to fly me in an empty seat? Perhaps it might have cost them $1500 in revenue that I might otherwise have spent with them. But what would their cost have been?
And how much did they spend to sponsor the GA anyway? How much do they spend on marketing each year? And how much might they have made by treating me as a client who can and will influence others to fly on their airline? I’m flying to Israel in January and then bringing a dozen people on a return trip in February. Should we fly El Al, or Continental? Please comment and let me know what you think.