Paddy Long    |     +44 (0)7835684851
Customer experience design
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6 ways to foster genuine loyalty

I often do my supermarket shop at Union Coop and have found myself proudly telling others this. I mention the excellent value, the freshness of the fruit and veg, and the fact they’ll grill lamb kofta for you right there in-store. They also sell the muesli brand I like most and this is enough to keep me coming back regularly. But every time I get to the check-out and recognise my friends at the till, they ask me if I have my loyalty card. I still haven’t got round to joining, so each time they ask if I have my card, I feel a little more embarrassed that I’m not living up to the expected loyalty standards.

I’m loyal already, man!
I understand Union Coop’s loyalty scheme is meant to benefit me and I know it benefits them, but the truth is, I don’t want to be part of it. Like many others I am a bit lazy and dread filling out any kind of form unless I have to. The idea of carrying an extra card around, learning how a points system works and going through an additional card swipe at check-out just really doesn’t appeal. But also, I’m very particular about the brands I like (especially muesli) and I don’t want to feel guilty for not making the most of the other random products which might be on offer to loyalty card holders. The thing is, I’m already loyal without any of these things – they’ve got me.

Sure - some people love the rewards
I’ve interviewed customers who love loyalty programs and, as a matter of fact, any other service where they can collect vouchers and exchange them for rewards. I’ve even spoken to people who admit they over-shop just to earn extra points and reap rewards including weekends away. Despite the irony, loyalty program aficionados aren’t really that loyal because they buy into the rewards and less so the brand it tries to promote. Chances are, these people would gladly switch brand to benefit from a better loyalty scheme given half a chance.

Loyalty programs aren’t even that profitable
Brand aside, evidence suggests that loyalty programs have a weak impact on profitability. Moreover, if they do have little impact, they’re extremely hard for a company to exit once up and running. Byron Sharp - How Brands Grow, Chpt 11 - Why Loyalty Programs don’t work

There is a sense that because loyalty programs are commonplace everyone must have one, though I would encourage you to think differently.

6 ways to foster genuine loyalty

1.  Keep your eye on the ball
Focus on your product, be it a physical good, service or both. It’s simple. It’s the number one reason people spend money with you and if you get it right you’ll build a loyal customer base quickly. So if you’re an airline, make sure that your journey experience is second to none and exactly in line with what the brand represents and customers want. If you’re a café, work out how your core experience is different from and better than anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling; it’s an age-old approach and it works.

2.  Increase Accessibility
Enhance the core product you offer through the channels available. Online, in-store, post, phone and other channels will all allow you to build extra capability into your product and distribute it more widely to more customers  simultaneously. For example, IKEA’s main feature is its furniture stores, but if I want to buy a bed, I can browse through the catalogue left on my doorstep, see if the bed I want is in stock at my local store online, buy it in store and have it delivered straight to my home. If you’re buying a kitchen, IKEA will even send a team of people round to your home to help you install it. By maximising the number of ways people can interact with your product, you’ll make it easier for them to find the experience that suit them the best.

3. Get to know the customer
Every business wants to know how to keep its customers engaged over time, so it makes good sense to get hold of their contact details. Often loyalty programs are seen to be the best way to capture these, but if the business need is to capture customer details rather than reward loyalty, the loyalty program becomes a bit disingenuous. However, if customers understand that your having their details will add direct value to their experience with your product, then they’ll be more forthcoming with the information you need. If they can learn how to get the most from your product in a way that is relevant to them, the individual, an ongoing relationship with your brand suddenly seems a whole lot more appealing. Easyjet personalise emails with a customer’s own travel history and specific destinations which are likely to interest them next. I wouldn’t mind my supermarket acknowledging they know my favourite muesli brand because they do watch me walk out the store with the same product every single week! The trick is, not to contact customers too regularly and make the interaction count.

4.  Put your staff first
Look after your staff and hold them in the highest esteem, even higher than your customers. If you do this you’ll automatically find your customers are happy too. Human interaction is key to the successful delivery of many products and the tiniest nuance in gesture can make or break it. If each employee can truly be themselves, has the discretion to make decisions (In Pret A Manger, all staff can give a free cup of coffee away if it looks like the customer is in need of a treat) and have the variety in their work to stop them getting bored, they will be visibly optimistic about your company in front of customers. They are also likely to stay with your company longer which significantly increases the possibility they’ll develop genuine relationships with loyal customers. I know places that I will go out of my way to return to just because I know the staff are passionate and buzzing with enthusiasm…..and well, I just know them.

5.  Quality over quantity
Companies often measure their success by the rate of sales. However, staff speed through every customer, there is little emphasis placed on getting to know the individual. Customers can be left feeling that the company values itself more than them. An alternative is to give each customer as much time and attention as they need. It may take a little longer but will ensure they get what’s right for them and that the subsequent use of the product gives them the best experience. The value these quality interactions have in terms of loyalty and repeat custom over time are significant. Zappos shoes call- centres famously go for quality over quantity and will help customers in anyway they can, even if it’s not even about shoes, because being helpful is core to their brand. If a Zappos long-term customer only calls-in once, the experience has such a positive impact on them that they will return to the site time and time again to keep buying more shoes.

6.  Actually be genuine
A few weeks ago a charming staff member at an aquarium chatted to me for five minutes about an albino alligator. I felt valued and was very pleased with what I learned about an extraordinary animal I had no idea even existed. After the explanation, she gave me a card with her name on it and asked me to give her feedback through their website. I suddenly felt a bit disappointed. In this situation it can seem that the staff care less about the customer and more about their own personal gain. I’ve also seen this model used in cafes and after interacting with the friendliest of staff was again rather discouraged to think their warmth had been contrived. If a company hires a passionate workforce and trusts them absolutely, they are more likely to see customer satisfaction soar than if they expect customers to monitor their staff. It’s this genuine kind of a relationship that encourages customers to keep returning time and time again to spend their hard-earned cash.      |      Telephone:   +971 (0)552 665 794