If Your Loyalty Program Isn’t Inspiring Loyalty, Why Should Your Customers Stick Around?

I belong to a lot of customer loyalty programs.

In fact, you might say that when it comes to loyalty programs, I’m a “frequent flier.” if there’s a program to belong to, tell me where to sign. My wallet is a veritable rainbow of cards I’ve collected. Walgreens, Sephora, my local grocery store, etc.

At this point, you might be asking yourself how I became so obsessed with collecting drugstore coupons and supermarket discounts and air miles . . . but the answer isn’t as straightforward as a desire to cash in on “2 for 1” preferred customer specials.

I’m actually doing research.

In my role as Vice President of Product Marketing at Teradata Applications, it’s part of my job to understand how today’s businesses are gathering and using customer data to deliver enhanced service in the marketplace. I put my personal information into many, many different hands to get a sense of who is doing what, who is doing well and who could use some fresh ideas or strategies.

If the thought of receiving emails, fliers and app updates from every place you shop gives you a cold shiver, I’ve got something even more disturbing to share:

Of all the programs I’ve signed up for, the vast majority are failing to inspire any kind of loyalty in me.

Baby wipe coupons? Well, my children are well beyond diapers now. A deal on a 12-pack of energy drinks? I don’t think I’ve ever bought them, and I sure don’t drink them. A BOGO offer for men’s dress shoes? Um, the last ten pairs I bought from you were sneakers. Bright Neon Blue ones. And I won’t even start on the coupons for iced tea when all I’ve ever ordered is black coffee.

Why aren’t these businesses taking advantage of the information I’ve willingly handed over? Why aren’t they targeting me based on my buying habits — and even the boxes I checked when I signed up for the program? What’s the point of opening a line of communication with me if they’re not saying anything I value?

It’s all a bit disheartening . . . until you find yourself engaging with a company that does it right.

Recently, I wanted to buy a new MacBook, and so I made my way to my local Apple store in Raleigh. I was looking for a particular set of specs; between technology and travel, my work puts plenty of demands on my hardware.

Unfortunately, the first store I visited didn’t have what I was looking for, so the Apple Store employee who was helping me went online to check inventory in other locations. He discovered that the right specs were waiting in another store a few miles away, so I headed out to make my purchase there.

After fighting my way through Saturday afternoon shopping traffic, and then circling the mall parking lot for almost 15 minutes, I finally ended up with a spot halfway across the universe. I told myself it would all be worth it when I had my MacBook in hand.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I struck out, again. The staff looked high and low on the back shelves, but the device I wanted couldn’t be found. They offered to go online to see if it was available somewhere else, but by this point, I my patience was wearing thin.

If I’m going to give companies access to my valuable data — companies like Apple, that know every item I’ve bought from them, time and time again — then I feel they’re entitled to receive some less cheery data when they drop the ball, too. And this time, they were going to get some words of frustration.

I headed to Facebook and posted an update that went something like:

Frustrated after standing in line way too long at the Apple store to find out that they didn’t have the Macbook they told me on the phone they have, now they have sent me to Southpoint Apple store, and now it looks like they don’t have it either … we’ll see.

What happened next was somewhat amazing.

A smiling Apple employee appeared before me, eager to help me out. It was the store manager, in fact. She was actively monitoring Twitter and Facebook for mentions of her store, and she had seen my post go by just a moment ago. She wanted to know what she could do to keep my business.

I explained the circumstances, and she deftly countered my annoyance with “an offer I couldn’t refuse.” The right deal on the right machine, right now – along with support to help me up to speed. Naturally, I said yes, and Apple got the sale.

What’s the lesson here?

In our fast-paced, increasingly digital world, companies have challenges and opportunities in equal amounts. They have more information in their hands than ever before to provide customers with targeted service and promotions — but unless they’re actively using all the resources at hand, all that information turns into noise. There’s simply no excuse for bad targeting, for sloppy offers, for irrelevant pitches that have nothing to do with what I like or buy. Yes, big data can seem overwhelming, but the tools are there to make sense of it . . . if you’re committed to doing better.

There’s also no excuse for missing what your customers are saying about you, especially when conversations that happen on social media offer you daily opportunities to provide more or better service, or even to resolve a negative situation—publicly.

I know that for certain. After all, because the Apple store manager was paying attention, Apple made a successful sale.

And you know what? I want that 12-pack of energy drinks even less now.

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