Anyone paying attention realizes we’ve “discovered” loyalty programs all over again over the past several years. Once the stuff of hotels, airlines, and some retailers, loyalty seems to have no boundaries today as everyone gets into the game. But like many things that become ubiquitous, the original meaning and value gets lost in the rush to look like everyone else.
To meet the real goals of customer loyalty, brands need a few things that are a bit more nuanced than punch cards and points. Loyalty is about delivering more contextual and relevant engagement to customers, more consistent messaging across multiple channels, and providing greater control or convenience to the customer.
Before we talk about those three concepts, what’s really changed in the loyalty game is the use of technology to understand the customer enough to relevant, to be ‘always-on’ and consistent and to allow customers to manage their own preferences 24 x 7 x 365.
Few things catch the customer’s attention more than relevance.
I take that back … nothing catches the customer’s attention more than relevance. There are two halves to being relevant: cutting through the noise in the marketplace to deliver what matters in a clear voice, and helping your customer discover information and choices they weren’t aware they wanted.
If your efforts are lost in the background noise, the relevance of your message doesn’t matter. Likewise, if your only goal is to ask the customer what they want, you’ve brought nothing but subservience. Successful relevance comes from helping the customer discover their own preferences and anticipating what they’ll need.
A well-designed program has consistency and a good measure of predictability. That doesn’t mean that an occasional surprise and delight isn’t a great idea, but the day-to-day experience of the customer should create a trust in the brand’s ability to deliver and a sense that the brand has a well-thought-out strategy.
Web apps that constantly shift, choices that appear and then are gone, and other quick changes convey a lack of respect for the customer’s expectations. Dependable, well-crafted interfaces to your brand, whether Web, mobile or your people, are the delivery tools for consistency.
Customers become loyal when they have great experiences with a brand that bonds with them on an emotional level. A big part of that positive experience comes from the feeling that the brand understands their needs, and respects their right to choose things like the type, channel, and timing of communication, and even the reward they receive.
Allowing customers to express preferences and participate in the structure of the loyalty program is the easiest way to offer meaningful control; while 99% may choose a discount or a freebie as their reward, the simple fact of offering choices is as important as the choices themselves.
These three concepts — relevancy, consistency, and customer control — form the basis for great loyalty programs because together they create the twin bonds of trust and emotional attachment.