As the airport gate attendant called people to board a flight, he ran through the litany of people who could board first: Executive Platinum, One World Emerald, One World Sapphire, One World Ruby, Advantage Platinum, Advantage Gold, Priority Access, Priority Gold and Active Duty Military.

When the nine groups with premium boarding finished, about 25% of the plane was seated. Airlines shower perks on this group, often at the expense of the other 75% who fill their planes. And once you are on board, American is now introducing “premium economy” seats, adding one more way to make the non-premium flyer feel like one step above cargo.

I know that the elite classifications are designed to engender loyalty among the most frequent travelers, and in many cases it works. But the programs highlight the challenge of how to make a large group feel important without making the remaining group feel unimportant. 

In addition to thinking about the ways you can provide recognition to your best clients, frame that against how it makes your majority feel. Those not in the upper echelon may not have earned all the perks of the elite, but it will serve you well to provide an occasional acknowledgement to the ordinary folks whose influence and impact do matter.

beth triplett

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