Companies have shown their thanks to customers through loyalty plans longer than Thanksgiving has been an official holiday. And while Thanksgiving hasn’t evolved much — we still eat turkey and pumpkin — loyalty plans have.
Some companies have added unique elements to their plans — a far cry from the first known programs in the late 1700s, when general store owners would give customers copper tokens with purchases to be redeemed for a product the next time they shopped. (For the record, Thanksgiving wasn’t officially named an American holiday until 1863.)
The speed of technology and availability of more brands makes it tougher than ever to build and maintain customer loyalty like an 18th century general store. Yet, some companies make it happen.
The following brands have launched new plans, updated features and become more inclusive to win loyalty and be nominated for Loyalty360 CX Awards, which will be announced at the 2016 Engagement & Experience Expo in Denver December 5 to 7.
Here’s what they’ve done and how you might be able to incorporate their ideas:
1. Be more inclusive
Loyalty plans and their rewards have traditionally been geared toward “elite” customers — those who buy, use or visit a lot more than the average person.
At Choice Hotels, that’s changed. “What’s been setting us apart is really designing much more for that casual guest. It’s not just for the elite customer,” said Jamie Russo, head of loyalty and customer engagement at Choice Hotels International.
Customers get something valuable the minute they sign up. Choice asked customers what would add value to the relationship at every phase of their experience. The results helped them change their plan so points never expired and they lowered the threshold for redeeming points. Customers can cash in when it’s good for them, not just good for the company.
Tip: Lower thresholds so you can help more customers reach rewards.
2. Make it immediate
Customers often forget about or bemoan loyalty programs because it takes too long to earn and redeem rewards. That’s why Choice Hotels also added an immediate element to it’s loyalty plan.
With “Extras,” customers get a small reward every time they use the brand. For instance, they might get to choose from a Starbucks gift card or credit with Amazon, Uber or Shell gasoline (welcomed prizes for business travelers). They get it when they check in, so it’s an immediate pay out.
Tip: You might be able to give small discounts or similar credits when customers buy. The amount would need to be based on the value of their purchase.
3. Get employees involved
Some customers consider the opportunity to interact with the people behind the products and services they purchase a reward. Perhaps customers want to understand a product better, or get answers to technical questions, so access to an engineer would be helpful. Or maybe they want to know how to get more out of a subscription service, so talking with other users or plan designers would be a bonus to them.
Or, in the case of Harlequin Book readers, connecting with authors is a priceless reward. That’s why Harlequin added that reward to Harlequin My Rewards.
Customers can earn points by watching online videos and engaging with the brand via social media — not just by purchasing books. Then they can redeem points for books or a Skype call with a favorite author.
Tip: Reward customers with access to people and resources within your organization they would find valuable.
4. Keep it consistent
Loyalty plans touch customers in many ways these days. You can connect with them online, in person, on their smartphones and through advertising.
That’s a lot of contact — and the message can get muddled in all of it.
That’s why Ulta Beauty balanced mass loyalty messages to build awareness with targeted messages to already loyal customers. It’s more personalized, and it recognizes that their loyal customers are important to Ulta.
Across all messages, Ulta uses customers’ feedback on what they want to know and create an emotional connection that says, “You spoke, and we listened. Here’s what we have for you.”
Tip: Loyalty plans work best when the rewards and messages reflect what customers want. Ask yours what would make them buy again, then make their requests part of your messages and rewards.