Audrey Sianko
Audrey Sianko / Digital Strategy / January 21st, 2016

Shifting Customer Loyalty from a Program to a Strategy

Today’s loyalty programs are not creating the advocates brands yearn for – sorry, but nobody is jazzed to get another punch card. Consider all of the expensive programs brands invest in. Rather than inspiring loyalty, most merely tout a tired message: “Buy more from us!”

Your customers are literally not buying it. Despite our best (or bare minimum) efforts, loyalty programs don’t inspire loyalty.

Even the stock photos for customer loyalty are terrible.
Even the stock photos for customer loyalty are terrible.

These false attempts at meaningful relationships aren’t delivering the community of passionate followers every brand envisions. Consumers can’t feel the love because another email with coupons isn’t a sign of love. It’s a cry for attention.

Expensive loyalty programs are built on the right idea, but for the wrong reasons. Yes, you need loyal advocates to grow your brand. Yes, you need to reward your most passionate customers for their patronage. But no, consumer spending should not be the only meaningful way for those customers to prove their loyalty.

Loyalty is more than that. It goes beyond spending. Loyalty is about advocacy. It’s about being excited about the brand even when they’re not wearing it, eating it or using it.

Stop Forcing Fun

Let me offer a different path to brand loyalty – stop trying to force customers to have a good time. Rather than forcing people to count points and print coupons, brands should focus on building loyalty through improved customer experiences, engaging content and meaningful support.

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Through digital, brands sit on mountains of invaluable customer data and insights. Most companies use that data to stalk customers with ads and coupons. Yet that model is clearly failing. Only 47% of consumers are still willing to trade personal information for a deal, and that will surely continue to drop.

Smart brands can do more: they can deliver tailored experiences and show customers they truly matter. It’s rethinking loyalty as a brand-based strategy, not a customer-driven program.

Even Illusions Can Be Powerful

Those of you passionate about psychological studies may be familiar with the Hawthorne Effect. In the study that later spawned the effect, a company ran an experiment in their office to determine how certain lighting might affect employee productivity. And guess what? Productivity skyrocketed, and not because employees enjoyed the warm glow of new halogen bulbs.

The type of lighting used had no effect. The employees saw the workmen frequently changing out the lights in the office and believed managers cared for their well-being. When the employees believed their managers cared, they responded in kind.

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So how can you show your customers that you care? You can make customer experiences smoother and more intuitive, solving their wants and needs. Discovering these vital improvements requires asking yourself hard questions:

  • Ask yourself, when’s the last time you updated your checkout process? Is it as easy to use as your customers would like?
  • When did you last survey your customers?
  • Do you even know what they want?
  • When’s the last time you reviewed user flows to ensure fluidity?
  • Are customers hitting roadblocks when trying to find certain pages?
  • Have you looked at your analytics to learn more about your customers’ behavior?
  • Are your salespeople swamped with new customer service calls?
  • What have you done recently for your customers without asking for something in return?
  • Do you know how they want to communicate with you?
  • When’s the last time you just listened to what your customers are saying online?
  • How do you feel like you offer value beyond just “being there”?

User insights are fundamental to any strategy, but loyalty requires a deeper examination. You can’t deliver real value to customers if you don’t know who they are, how they think and how they behave on a daily basis. Too often, stakeholders answer the questions above as if they are their audience, and it’s a losing proposition.

Modern brand loyalty requires a shift in mentality. If you show genuine loyalty to customers, they’ll feel it. In time, they might even love you for it.

It’s not just about changing the lights on a regular basis – it’s about delivering consistently delightful customer experiences, every time.

  • Kate Griggs

    Great post, Audrey! All too often my email inbox is flooded with less-than-stellar offers from companies I’d much rather learn from instead: 20% off a handbag vs. learning how to properly deep clean one… customer engagement! There’s a better way!

    • Audrey Sianko

      Thanks Kate! I agree. A little bit of research into what your customers really want can go a long way. Value doesn’t need to always translate into a discount.

  • Kate Griggs

    Great post, Audrey! All too often my email inbox is flooded with less-than-stellar offers from companies I’d much rather learn from instead: 20% off a handbag vs. learning how to properly deep clean one… customer engagement! There’s a better way!

    • Audrey Sianko

      Thanks Kate! I agree. A little bit of research into what your customers really want can go a long way. Value doesn’t need to always translate into a discount.

  • Christopher Burns

    I couldn’t agree more. I think the story from Zappos about reaching out to a customer who was affected by the California wildfires. They earned one extremely loyal customer and probably many more from those who read the story: http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/12/25/free-shoes-and-christmas-trees-valley-fire-victims-touched-by-unexpected-generosity

    • Audrey Sianko

      That’s a really good example Chris! Genuine care for others can really impact a brands image.

  • Christopher Burns

    I couldn’t agree more. I think the story from Zappos about reaching out to a customer who was affected by the California wildfires. They earned one extremely loyal customer and probably many more from those who read the story: http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/12/25/free-shoes-and-christmas-trees-valley-fire-victims-touched-by-unexpected-generosity

    • Audrey Sianko

      That’s a really good example Chris! Genuine care for others can really impact a brands image.