The Pet Peeve: Official Mascot of the Business Traveler

by , May 14, 2012, 6:49 AM
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If you’re a travel marketer on the hunt for an incredible sponsorship opportunity, have I got a great one for you! For years, business travelers have been a disorganized bunch with little collective voice. But now, thanks to the amplified magic of social media, they have a mascot to call their very own—The Pet Peeve®! 

Whereas other mascots settle for furry and cuddly, The Pet Peeve® is hairy, rough, and ready to rumble. Better yet, they reproduce like wet gremlins under the proper circumstances—a boon for any sponsor looking to maximize brand exposure. Just take the short fuse of a tired business traveler and light it with poor communications, inattentive staff, and unwarranted delays and POOF!—you’ll be up to your eardrums in Pet Peeves®. Frankly, with selling points like that, who wouldn’t want to own one? Heck, I know business travelers today who already own hundreds, including some of these fabulous collectibles:

  1. The Additional Bag Fee Pet Peeve® 
  2. The Power Tripping TSA Agent Pet Peeve® 
  3. The Lack of Power Outlets Pet Peeve® 
  4. The Silent Gate Agent Pet Peeve® 
  5. The Stand-Up Comedy Flight Attendant Pet Peeve® 
  6. The Delayed Check-In Pet Peeve® 
  7. The $15.95 In-Room Wi-Fi Pet Peeve® 
  8. The Delayed Flight Home Pet Peeve®

I kid, of course, but what business traveler today doesn’t carry a sack of pet peeves with them on every trip away from home? What may be small annoyances to infrequent travelers can easily induce insanity in business travelers who have to face such annoyances over and over again. Worse yet, if those annoyances come from a single brand, it may die “a death of a thousand cuts” where constant exposure to the pet peeve diminishes the brand in the traveler’s mind while never quite reaching the point that the traveler ever submits a formal complaint. 

So how can brands surface and address these pet peeves in order to improve the travel experience? There are several steps:

  1. Walk in their shoes. As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. As a marketer, if you don’t familiarize yourself with every step of your customer’s journey, you’re missing the rough edges with the greatest propensity to frustrate and annoy. Conduct regular visits to your properties as a customer rather than employee, and the opportunities to knock off some pet peeves will appear. 
  2. More Them, Less You. While United and Continental Airlines were in the throes of their merger in 2011, every flyer was greeted with a video message from United CEO Jeff Smisek in which he touted that the merger was on track and that a sign of its progress was how many flights had been repainted with the new United logo. Every time that video played, the frequent flyers around me laughed. They didn’t care about how many planes United painted—they wanted to hear specifics of how the merger would improve their travel experience. To its credit, United must have gotten the message as Smisek’s is far more customer-centric. When it comes to your brand communications, ask if they’re more for your customers or about you. If it’s the latter, you may have some pet peeves lurking in your copy. 
  3. Address Social Body Language. In the past, body language was something used to communicate feelings to those in physical proximity. Today, however, thanks to social media and smartphones, aggravated travelers can convey their frustration to larger networks of friends and followers thousands of miles away. As a result, brands need to train gate agents, desk agents, and other customer-facing staff to interpret social body language—frustrated customer, head down, smartphone engaged—in hopes of resolving what ails them. Yes, you can and should also monitor and respond in kind on Twitter and Facebook, but don’t miss out on the opportunity to knock out a pet peeve with attentive, in-person staff.
  4. Tout Your Pet Peeve-Free Efforts. While I don’t fly Southwest Airlines often (see The Stand-Up Comedy Flight Attendant Pet Peeve® above), it’s clear that it is having a ton of fun rubbing its “Bags Fly Free” policy in the face of other airlines. In fact, I recently saw one of its planes with a giant arrow pointing to the luggage compartment accompanied by the words “Free Bags Go Here.” Now that’s a customer-centric paint job. 
  5. Turn Fees Into Frees. As the Southwest campaign showcases, the travel industry’s move to à la carte fees has turned off a lot of frequent travelers. For that reason, I have to wonder if there isn’t an opportunity for more companies to sponsor not The Pet Peeve® but the elimination of fee-based pet peeves. Google tried it a couple of years ago with free wi-fi at select U.S. airports during the December travel season, but I’m at a loss to think of any other travel-related marketing programs that turned pet peeves into marketing opportunities—and that seems like a missed opportunity. 

While we’ll never root out all of the business traveler’s pet peeves (a guy has to have some crosses to bear), smart travel brands should certainly consider the effort not just part of customer service but as part of marketing. After all, thanks to social media, The Pet Peeve® may just have its own, adoring fan base. 

POSTSCRIPT: So now it’s your time to question, share or vent! Add a comment with your business travel pet peeve as well as any ways you think it could be remedied. We business travelers may not have a union, but at least we have comment sections. Safe travels! 

2 comments on "The Pet Peeve: Official Mascot of the Business Traveler ".

  1. Henry Harteveldt from Hudson Crossing
    commented on: May 14, 2012 at 11 a.m.
    Two of the items mentioned, TSA agent behavior and lack of airport power outlets, are beyond the control of the airline. Airlines do not control airport security screening, so there's nothing they can do when a screening agent behaves badly. Airports are beginning to take steps to add more power outlets (sometimes sponsored by firms like Samsung) in passenger waiting areas. Some airlines, including Delta, Southwest, United, and Virgin America, are doing this in their gate areas at some of their busier airports. The author's point about turning "fees into frees" is partially addressed through loyalty and co-branded credit card programs. Starwood Hotels & Resorts, for example, just announced that Gold as well as Platinum members of its SPG loyalty program would receive free Wi-Fi (that began March 1, 2012). Fairmont Hotels, Kimpton Hotels, and Omni Hotels also offer free Wi-Fi to their loyalty members. Airlines, of course, provide benefits such as priority boarding, preferred seating, and complimentary checked baggage to "elite tier" members of their loyalty programs to encourage and reward loyalty. With base airfares remaining low -- thus resulting in some of the least expensive fares being either "break even" or money-losing products -- sales of optional products are where airlines earn their profits. Certainly, sponsorship and promotional marketing opportunities exist so that some optional products can be offered on a complimentary basis, even if just for a limited time, as we've seen when firms have sponsored in-flight Wi-Fi.
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: May 14, 2012 at 11:04 a.m.
    Filthy, unmaintained bathrooms especially on longer flights increase travel carry-ons and disgust.

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