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With each passing day, customers’ relationships with brands are tested in new ways in the light of the new Coronavirus (COVID-19). The Coronavirus epidemic has changed day to day life for most everyone, and brands everywhere are feeling the impact. Across the country—retailers, hotels, grocery stores, and airlines of every shape and size have had to adapt. As customers are understandably face unprecedented confusion and fast-moving changes, their relationships with brands are being tested in unfamiliar ways.
Some brands are already seeing the effects as people adapt their lifestyles in response to the virus. Similarly, brands have changed their business models to provide “indoor alternatives” as individuals stay home, such as Netflix and Disney+. Additionally, third-party delivery options such as Postmates and GrubHub now offer “no contact” options or are waiving delivery fees to help local restaurants through this tough time.
Amid all of the commotion, brands are being judged on their response to the virus and how it is impacting customers - which could prove to have long-term effects on customer loyalty. As professional and college sports games and tournaments were canceled around the world, many wonder when and if games will resume. With airlines slashing flights, groceries bracing for a flood of customers, casinos closing, and restaurants forced to close in some states, many brands have sent communications to their customers including reminders of cleaning policies and details of employee sick leave, but also how individuals will still be able to connect with the brand (if at all) and how their loyalty program status may be impacted.
The agility and deftness of a brand’s response to its customers, employees, and suppliers could translate into long-term brand loyalty. Similarly, any fumble or insensitivity could have dire repercussions.
Just over the past week, several hotel and airline companies—Accor, Best Western, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, Marriott, Shangri-La, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, and United Airlines—have chosen to offer members elite status and benefits extensions proactively.
With one of the most generous policies to date, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, is helping its loyalty members retain their elite status with Best Western Rewards (BWR). Effective immediately, all BWR members globally will maintain their current status through January 31, 2022, without needing to fulfill the necessary qualifications.
IHG announced that it would waive all cancellation fees for new and existing bookings worldwide, starting immediately up through April 30, and Marriott announced that it will extend the elite membership stats for all its tiers from February 2020 to February 2021.
As for airlines, Delta was one of the first U.S. airlines to respond to the Coronavirus, canceling all flights to China through the end of April. In addition to significantly reducing the number of flights offered daily and travel numbers dwindle, the airline announced that all tickets issued between March 1 and March 31 are not subject to change fees.
Many airlines are still evaluating options for members’ status. United has not announced any changes so far to its 2021 Premier program, but for those who are participating in the Mileage Plus 2020 Premier Match Challenge promotion, they have granted those passengers an extra 30 days to complete the challenge.
Many expect that the Coronavirus will be felt across the airline industry for a long time to come, especially as flights are reduced and airline stock prices continue to drop.
During this trying time, we expect many brands to continue outreach to their customers to keep engagement and best support their customers despite any restrictions that may arise. As the world works through many changes and temporary hurdles, we expect customer loyalty to become more critical than ever in the months ahead.
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