Customer Loyalty Starts in the Back Office

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
A back-office perspective on loyalty program implementation and operations

As a fifteen year veteran of the loyalty marketing industry I can assure you that when loyalty program operations are less than optimal, the customer experience suffers.

Optimal loyalty program execution demands enhanced communication and collaboration between client and service partners to ensure the program launches as designed, on time, and on budget, with maximum delight delivered to those members who engage. Sounds obvious?

Well, consider for a moment the implications if client and provider lack clarity during the operational and technical requirements phase of program development. What if the program strategy as designed can't be enabled by supporting systems, or design elements are change pre-launch without any corresponding documentation or the lack of formal change request processes? Timelines will be stretched, costs may be modified, changes may require new technologies. Delays waste precious time getting to the ultimate goal: building customer loyalty.

As decisions are made and deliverables completed, a mutual review process is required to confirm that the loyalty initiative is on track. Yet there is often a lack of sensibility involving reviews, taking either too much time or requiring too many modifications because of unclear requirements, lack of prior involvement in the program by key stakeholders, or shifts in strategy. It all adds up to potential disappointment-and potential missed opportunity to capture the loyalty of at-risk customers.

Here are 12 guidelines to help mitigate these types of issues before they surface:

  1. Bring the technical side of both houses in early. Design teams and marketing stewards must recognize that it's a waste of time to design loyalty programs and rules that their company or service provide can't support via existing systems. As the program planning takes shape (targeted segments, components, rules, rewards, member care, etc) it's essential to develop a living/breathing/changing set of requirements documents, with considerable technical input and review.
  2. Map the information flow from the member's perspective. From beginning to end-enrollment, member care, data capture and earning, POS, web, mobile, kiosk/tablet, social media, statements/communications, redemption, partnership interactions, and all fulfillment needs-keep everybody on the map in order to ensure they all arrive at the same place.
  3. Include the information flow needed to facilitate reporting and analysis. Reporting needs should be an outgrowth of the design and program objectives, not a pre-launch afterthought. Determine what success looks like, the measurement plan, and who owns it. What does the loyalty dashboard need and how often will it be refreshed to determine if the program is achieving what it intended to achieve?
  4. A final requirements document, with supporting exhibits, ensures project success. It will change as the days and weeks go forward, but at least everyone starts on the exact same page.
  5. Use collaboration tools to enhance understanding, communications. Frequent conference calls, online meetings, shared document repositories, and any other readily accessible project mapping or collaborative tools will pay huge dividend during implementation. Meet frequently in the beginning and determine if meetings can be scaled back without risking synchronicity.
  6. Don't forget the power of the status report. All important discussions need to be documented, even if the format is brief. Include all meeting outcomes and decisions/changes: Who agreed to do what, by when?
  7. Have a formal change management process. Best practices in change management suggest formal procedures that include multi-functional alerts, revised cost and timing implications, assignment and tracking logs, and a clear approval process.
  8. Keep timelines in relative days, not absolute fixed launch dates. If it's a
    30-, 60-, or 90-day process to launch, that means that every deliverable along the implementation path has to developed, received, communicated, and approved on time. When a delay occurs, on whichever side, for whatever reason, the absolute date originally envisioned will likely be jeopardized.
  9. Assign dedicated resources. A part-time, "I have other roles and responsibilities" approach will not work for the key players. There's nothing more important than building the loyalty of your best customers.
  10. Be agile and nimble, yet disciplined and rigorous. Things will change and that's often good. However, change without a disciplined approach can easily lead to chaos.
  11. Don't forget the training elements and the call center operations. You can't launch without properly preparing frontline associates in the call center, in store, in the reservations center, and anyone else who impacts the customer experience. And remember, measurement and incentives serve to heighten everyone's enthusiastic participation.
  12. Communication and collaboration are essential. No matter what you're cooking up, the recipe starts with a fundamental, bidirectional belief that talking with each other always tops talking at each other; that solving problems and issues together, takes precedence over flying solo. Maintaining the lines and frequency of communications leads to a more engaged and unified team.

With the increased need to go faster to keep pace with changing customer expectations, it's more critical than ever to have and use a proven implementation methodology for a customer loyalty program. Heavily financed customer experience strategies are too mission critical to risk on hopes, prayers, and chances. A well-implemented and smoothly operated loyalty program that has organizational support will be the foundation for ensuring a positive and beneficial customer experience.