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According to a study by Colloquy, there are 3.3 billion loyalty program memberships in the United States, which averages 29 per household. Yes, loyalty programs are everywhere. From grocery stores, to gas stations and fast food restaurants, chances are high that a store you’re about to enter for the first time has a loyalty program. And the one thing that most of these programs have in common -- they are based on transactions. In fact, a study by Cap Gemini found that 97 percent of loyalty programs are transaction based – meaning a customer earns points or rewards based on spending money with the store. But what is loyalty, really?
At its most basic, customer loyalty could perhaps be summed up as follows:
Given the choice to go to any retailer which offers the same product or services, the customer would choose your store over your competition.
Then comes the much broader question:
Why would they choose you?
The growing sentiment is that customer experience is the next battleground for businesses. Customers like to feel appreciated. And, with so many loyalty programs, it seems as if every retailer is – in a sense – incenting a customer to spend money with them.
However, simply spending money with a retailer – even if they choose the same retailer every time – does not a loyal customer make. True loyalty is really reflected in how the customer feels about the company and how they chose to describe the company to their family and friends.
And, to help develop this loyal customer, wouldn’t you agree that there are some things a customer could do besides spend money that deserve to be rewarded? For example, rewarding a customer for a referral. Whether that reward is straight cash (as it is in most cases), or some quantity of reward points, the fact is that the customer behaved in a way you wanted them to – and so you rewarded them.
According to the Cap Gemini study, only 25 percent of loyalty programs reward customer for any form of engagement.
One company that has great success at rewarding customer engagement, not just transactions, is the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Their loyalty program rewards members for almost every type of engagement – transactional or otherwise. Follow them on Twitter, post a tweet that mentions their account, like them on Facebook, subscribe to their newsletter, visit their website, subscribe to their online services, and, of course, buy their fights, and you will be rewarded. This list is far from all-inclusive. But their fans love the program and the UFC.
Another example is the pharmacy chain Walgreens, which offers the Balance Rewards program. In addition to rewarding customers for transactions, Walgreens encourages customers to live healthier lifestyles with integrated options that allow customers to connect fitness trackers to their Balance Rewards accounts and actually earn points by exercising. According to Walgreens, 80 million of their 103 million members participate in this offer. How is that for loyalty program engagement?
Those are only a couple of examples of how businesses can become more innovative with their loyalty programs. Rather than having “just another loyalty program” like everyone else, figure out what behaviors you want your customers to show.
In the case of car dealerships, that could include referrals for sales and service, posting online reviews, social media interaction and engagement, attending dealership sponsored events such as owner’s clinics… the list is never ending.
The point is that true loyalty lies in customers that choose you over your competitor AND who are engaged with your business at the same time. Accomplish that and you won’t have to worry about your customer bailing to your competitor because they offer a $19.95 oil change special.
In addition, the more engaged the customer is with you, the more they’ll visit, the more they’ll talk about you to their friends and families and the more they’ll spend. And that’s exactly what a loyalty program is supposed to accomplish.