This is a story about how a few weeks ago, a cup of tea, some very basic number crunching and good training enabled BA to make my day. But the story really starts over ten years ago.

Back then, I found myself working for an airline widely known for its low prices. And its lack of service. It seemed a pretty straightforward deal, and most customers had no difficulty understanding the what-you-pay-is-what-you-get approach. Which translated to “you pay next to nothing, so you should expect next to nothing.” Follow the rules, however ridiculous they are, and we’ll let you fly with us.

Things got interesting when everything didn’t go to plan. Suitcase too heavy? You pay extra. Not checked in? You pay extra. Misspelled your name? You pay extra. (You all, sadly, know the drill). Drama after drama unfolded on a regular basis but no one from said airline really cared. Not one penny too much was spent on training staff how to treat customers nicely because “they always come back”. And indeed they did, because back then, there simply were no alternatives in that price bracket. Flights were full and that was all that mattered. Why spend money on being nice? If you wanted that, go next door and spend your hundreds with the fancy airlines.

Marketers should never underestimate the power of kindness

That was over 10 years ago and things have changed: service on the low-price end of the spectrum has improved, but a recent episode with Spain’s flagship carrier leaves me in doubt if the same is true for the rest.

But I digress, and it’s probably telling that we’ve got so used to bad service experiences that they are now the norm, rather than the exception. All the more memorable are those moments, then, when you do experience genuinely good customer service.

This is where the cup of tea comes in. On a recent flight, I had just about managed to find a comfortable position in my seat when the head flight attendant walked down the aisle and stopped next to me. And addressed me. By name! I was puzzled. What was going on? What did she want from me? Did I do something wrong? We were cruising at 38,000 feet so the likelihood of me being escorted off the plane was slim. I was also sat solidly in the middle of economy class - so why was I getting the business class treatment? By the purser - the undisputed champions of flight attendants on that flight, no less?

“Yes?” I responded, still unsure as to what might happen next.

“I’m not sure if you’re aware, but it’s been 10 years since you joined BA’s Executive Club”, she responded. “And I just wanted to thank you for your loyalty all those years and invite you to a hot drink.”

I was puzzled, and certainly did not remember that it had been a decade since I signed up to their frequent flyers programme. But the gesture left me stunned, and feeling both impressed, valued and appreciated as a customer. How much work had gone into figuring out that I’d be on that programme for 10 years?

In my mind, I pictured a board meeting a decade earlier with the assembled BA brass signing off a project to make sure they’d be ready once I hit my date. I imagined hours and hours spent on me personally, just to deliver that moment.

Obviously, in reality it’s quite a bit simpler. All it cost them was someone to programme their systems to call out people with anniversaries, a bit of training for their staff - and a cup of tea.

Yet the results would rank highly on any marketers wish list. It tuned a pretty basic transaction, (get me from A to B), into a proper brand experience, driving emotional connection, consideration, awareness and probably half a dozen other things up and down the funnel. Talk about effective ROI.

If anything, this is a reminder that marketers should take more time to remember that value is relative: something that does not have high value to you, because it does not cost a lot, might have very high value to whoever receives it. If done right, finding something that elevates the perception of your product or service – your brand, ultimately – at low or zero cost can literally become marketing magic - Building equity at low cost. Now who wouldn’t like that.

Or, as an old boss of mine used to say: “it’s the small things that matter”.

How very true.

Christian will be writing a regular column for MAD//Insight throughout the year.