Customers in Captivity: Debunking the Loyalty Program Fluke

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
It is just plain too much work to reap the benefits of a 'loyalty program.' Here are the classic experiences customers have with loyalty programs. It's time to take action.

Let's hold a mirror to ourselves people!The gig is up.Customers have our number and they've had it.It is just plain too much work to reap the benefits of a 'loyalty program.' So, check it out. Here are the classic experiences customers have with loyalty programs. It's time to take action.

1. The Complexity Rigmarole
You may find it great that there are 1,500 partners you've gotten free stuff out of that you can pass on to customers when they meet the massive requirements for their redemption but who cares?

Customers receive the glossy packages and they figure you spent a fortune on printing. They start reading and almost immediately hit information overload.Their eyes roll into the back of their head before it's all deciphered. Your program materials are tossed aside to read another day and that day never comes.

Take Action: Think 'Pearl' Theory
Pick out one great pearl of an offer.

Something really special you can do for a customer you treasure and let them know what it is.Then deliver it.Customers will remember that 'pearl' and act on it because it's simple and memorable.

2. Seen OneSeen Them All
Loyalty programs are so much alike. The plethora of stuff being dumped on customers has the smell of promotion and the impact of ho-hum. A bunch of money-off coupons doesn't cut it anymore. Everyone's been there and done that. It's not different enough to say, "Choose me," "Love me."

Take Action: Find Something Special
Brainstorm something special and unique that speaks your corporate personality (something no one else would do but you).

One spa company I worked with established a personalized relaxation plan and custom blended aromatherapy for their clients.Truth be told, they could establish five to seven blends that fit the majority of their clients by cluster, but the messages and follow-up were personalized.The allure of the personal touch pulled customers back into the spa where their treatments were customized and continued the experience with the aromatherapy scent.

3. You Don't Know Me?
I had to remind a company where I've spent more money than I can even tally that it was my birthday.Not because I'm an egomaniac or need to be stroked on my birthday, but because they made a big deal about asking the date of my birthday and told me it was special to them.

My birthday day came and went and I didn't hear a peep from them.It was disappointing.When I reminded them (and you bet I did), they sent me a coupon code for free shipping.But the bloom was off the rose.The notion that I believed-that I was special to them-withered considerably.

Take Action: Know Your Customer
More importantly than the special days, know who your best customers are on the regular days.Make sure that you're building in the corporate memory to welcome them back, acknowledge their preferences, and ask how things are going.

You need to be constantly trolling your database to see what's happening with important customers, and then step up to help when necessary.

Remember the countless stories about the Ritz Carlton? At check in, they remember if a guest prefers a feather pillow.Although the information is in the database, flagged on the customer file so the desk clerk remembers to bring it up, the gesture says, "We know you." (You're not a number to us.You're a person worth remembering and we care enough to remember it.) Pow! Now, that's loyalty creation.

4. Gotchya!
Rules and regulations for loyalty programs are simply on overdrive. There's way too much fine print lurking at the bottom of the great programs we're promising to our customers.

It's like making your best customers sign a pre-nup once they become worthy enough to be offered your hand in a loyalty program. "Yes, we'll be good to you and treat you special. (But only when it's good for us, when you comply with our rules, when it won't inconvenience us too much, or when it won't cost us too much money.)" Yuck. Not sure I'd want to enter into that union. Would you?

5. Captivate Me Don't Hold Me Captive
Customers are now so tied down to programs because of the work that it takes to stay in, comply, and actually reap the rewards, that they feel more like the captured than the captivated. is one of the greats out there (in my book) delivering a captivating experience to their throngs of loyal shopaholic customers. Now that I am considered a "superstar" by them (a corny moniker I must admit, but one that I weirdly like), they make it worth my while in a number of ways.

Codes come my way regularly for percentage off my order or free shipping.But I also get interesting magazines about style, notes when a new load of my favorite designer duds hits their warehouse. And they actually want to know my superstar number when I call so they take extra-special care. They've got me over a barrel they definitely have my number and my money.

If we want to keep luring our loyal customers back again and again, we need to keep captivating them with the touches. Dare I say the "pixie dust" that will make customers want to continue throwing their cash our way?

6. Reinforce My Good Decision to Buy from You
First of all, if you're not recognizing the longevity of a customers' relationship with you, you've missed a major opportunity. does something simple and nifty.On their website they actually keep score of my longevity as their customer.Just knowing they know this feels right. When I log in to my account it says:Jeanne Bliss - fly since: 2000.I like thatand I even like the little "fly" connotation making me a part of the Bluefly community. This is a touch of corporate whimsy that's a welcome diversion to the rules and regulations.

The personality part-what they call the "circuses" in restaurant reviews-is sorely lacking in customer relationships with companies.It's about the relationship. It's still about the personal connection that's felt with a company that keeps customers loyal to them. Reinforcing a customers' patronage with a simple thank-you and recognizing how long they've stuck with you is so simple.

Shame on you if don't regularly thank loyal customers for doing business with you.

7. Tie it with a Bow
One business-to-business company I know does an annual review with their best customers to learn:

  • What the customer needed
  • What the customer wanted
  • What was delivered to him/her
  • How it was delivered

They do this for several reasons: 1) to reinforce the strength and bonds of the relationship, 2) to summarize what they did well and to promise to do better where improvement is required, and 3) to work with customers to define their needs for the future.

They then use this knowledge to establish a customized 'touch point' plan for their most fiercely loyal and profitable customers.

There's nothing more important to good customers than asking for their feedback, doing something about it and then telling them what you did for them. But most companies don't close the loop. We ask, and we ask, and we ask with no follow-through.

Secure the relationship when you ask about how to improve by actually doing something about it and marketing it back to your best and most loyal customers. They'll be glad they stay with a company who cares so much.

8. Emotions Not Stuff!
We really have missed the boat with the prevalent loyalty program mentality. It's not about the 'stuff' we give more importantly it's about the way we make our best customers feel about doing business with us and about how important they are to us.

Building loyalty and earning continued loyalty with our best customers is about managing relationships and emotions, not program components, fulfillment houses and the amount of logoed stuff we can get on their desks. See if you can't instill that in your corporation so you can add this critical and sorely missing dimension into the way that we 'manage' customer loyalty.

After reading this, how much of this stuff would make you feel loyal? Scratch that. After reading this, how much of this makes you downright exhausted and inclined not to buy from a company that makes you jump through these hoops?

Next time a meeting is called to discuss loyalty 'programs,' get people to kick around how to increase the emotional standing with your customers in addition to adding the newest whiz-bang feature to the loyalty points program. Customers will notice and you'll find that it opens a flood-gate of creative opportunity in what you can and should do for your best customers to keep them that way.