Monday, June 11, 2007

Frequent Flyers

Frequent flyers is the name we give to boaters who keep breaking down; repeat customers. I remember one guy in Marina Del Rey who had so many services that I had his boat registration numbers memorized. Frequent flyers are not a huge issue for the industry, but a guy who needs 3 jump starts in 4weeks is really abusing the membership, and I think it should be addressed within the framework of the membership policies.

Perhaps it is time that the membership networks consider updating their service policies. I think that a boater who needs a second, or maybe a third service within a certain time frame, should be charged a "co-pay"; say $50 for a jump start.

I have had this discussion before, and the most common objection I hear is that it "would be too complicated. We need to keep these memberships simple," to which I reply: NONSENSE! Adding an extra service fee for abusing a towing membership is not complicated at all.

Furthermore, the current membership policies are not all that simple. There are the membership products, which have different coverages for distance depending on where the membership was purchased. Boat/US has about 5 levels of coverage already. SeaTow offers at least 5 different membership programs. Then there are the partially covered services, sometimes called "elective" service, like dock-dock tows, or rules about different coverage within the first 30 days of membership activation. And don't get me started about what a "coverage area" is....

Then, we have non-member rates, member's discount rates, commercial rates, and extra fees for nighttime operation and SCA. There are charges to supply a deck hand, a diver, pumps or 'soft aground'. Gee, this is all so simple, right?

Gold Card, Lake Card, Corporate Card, Professional Mariner, Premier, Platinum, Bay, SS90, Skipper, Captain's Card, the famous $50 card, the $500 limit, the Unlimited Card...every one of these memberships will have different coverage limits and rules.

So, where is all the simplicity that a co-pay policy will complicate? I mean, what is the big deal with adding a policy for "repeat service within 90 days (or one year or whatever) requires a $50 co-pay paid at the time of service"? And, how hard a sell will this be: "Roger skipper, our records show this is your third service this year, so we are sending a boat as usual, but we will have to charge you a small co-pay of $50 to offset the costs of repeat service. Okay?" Like this guy is gonna make a stink and burn his membership card in protest? I don't think so.

I also argue that the concept of a co-pay is universally understood. Anyone who has ever had health insurance understands this concept. Don't boaters go to dentists? I'm guessing that the dentist has already prepared them for the sticker shock of a $25 or $50 co-pay for a $300-400 dollar office visit. Is a 2 hour tow any different?

For a boater that doesn't use the service much, this concept will be welcome because they will see it as an effort to keep the cost of membership renewal under control. A co-pay policy might also limit the member churning, as abusive members are dropped by one network and join another, only to be passed back a few years later.

Rather than looking for ways to get frequent flyers off the roles, the membership networks should be looking for ways to make those guys into profit centers.