I travel a lot. Over the last few years I have lost track of the air miles I have clocked up while travelling long haul between hemispheres. And I have flown most of the airlines flying the various routes down under to topside, and back.

After a while I settled on one airline. When you do that you start to move up the loyalty ladder of the scheme that they run, which usually gets you benefits and privileges. But then they all do that, so that isn’t what I want to talk about.

The airline I chose has very good food and an excellent inflight entertainment system, which they don’t all have by the way. But that isn’t what I tell my friends about when we are sharing travel stories over the dinner table.

I tell them about two things, a one-off and an interesting lesson.

The one-off involved the early days when liquids had just started to be limited for carry-on luggage. For those that know me they will not be surprised that I had spent considerable time and money selecting two bottles of fine NZ wine to take as gifts to one of our international partners. I had forgotten about the carry-on liquids limit and so they were confiscated at security, as they should have been. All my fault, but I was pretty grizzly about it at the time. And it had nothing to do with the airline, they weren’t even involved at that stage.

I was travelling economy (have you seen our prices?!) and as we were preparing to land a steward came down the aisle. I didn’t pay him any attention until he stopped by my seat and handed me a bag with two bottles of wine from the first-class selection. “We heard about what happened while you were boarding and thought you might like these for your friends”. Wow.

While that was exceptional service, the enduring lesson has come from another experience. I had literally travelled my way up to the top band of their loyalty programme, and was sitting one day in economy (still) and as the crew were preparing for take-off the purser came along the aisle with a printout list in his hand looking for a seat number. He stopped at my row and said “Mr Caldwell?” Yes. He then crouched down and earnestly looked me in the eyes and said “Welcome back”. Wow, again. So simple and yet so effective.

The airline’s product is very good, and I always get where I am wanting to go, but these are the things that I recalled and told others about, as this happened each time I embarked on a long haul journey with them.

The overwhelming feeling for me was that I was special, valued and recognised.

After a while the airline expanded and even though I was still a top level member, the personalised welcome started to drop off. To the point that I no longer expected it, and no longer told my friends about my great airline experiences.

The lessons? The power of recognising your customers is out of proportion to the cost. The feeling that they have towards your organisation is out of proportion to any tangible value that they can point to. But what was a delight became expected and when it stopped it meant I wasn’t as special as they had lead me to believe.

You know who your most valued customers are, but do they experience that recognition?

Do they get to feel it?

And if you tell them, never stop. No matter how good your product is.

They will tell their friends.