Love Thy Customer: April Is Customer Loyalty Month

By | Small Business

So a kid walks into a hotel room kitchen, where he finds broken eggs and sour milk…

No, it’s not the beginning of a joke. It’s the beginning of a customer experience nightmare. A family had requested in advance that a Ritz-Carlton have available specific food for their son, who had special dietary needs. Although the hotel had the requested items, when the family arrived the products were spoiled.

This month is Customer Loyalty Month, which seems as good a time as any to ask: How far does your organization go to serve your customers?

In the case of the Ritz-Carlton, the hotel’s executive chef couldn’t find the specific food products anywhere in Bali where the hotel was located, but he knew the products were available in Singapore. His solution? He called his mother-in-law in Singapore, who went out to buy more of the specialized eggs and milk. She then flew to Bali to hand deliver the items. Yes, really. Suffice it to say the family was likely duly impressed and their particular CX was saved.

The Mutual Benefits of Long-Term Relationships
Moments of great CX may leave a positive impression on customers, but their real value lies in their ability to help you build deeper long-lasting relationships with customers. This becomes part of a conscious and orchestrated journey management process. Once you begin to see each customer engagement as another meaningful step in an overall customer journey, it’s just like any other long-term investment. You’ll start to prioritize the health and continuity of the relationship itself, seeing it as the thread on which otherwise random touchpoints and interactions are strung.

Now, while you might not be able to persuade relatives to board planes whenever you have an unhappy customer, there are ways to deepen customer relationships through more traditional loyalty programs. Loyalty punch cards remain a popular favorite, especially among small businesses like nail salons and independent coffee shops. Frequent flier air miles, of course, began in the early 1980s, and are part of a general genre of loyalty membership programs that offer special incentives to participants. But with each American adult now estimated to belong, on average, to 23 different customer loyalty programs, which programs are really expressing loyalty to customers by offering benefits that go above and beyond expectations?

Learning from the Best
It’s always worth taking a page from the masters’ playbooks. Among those loyalty programs widely considered to hit—and even exceed—the mark is Amazon Prime. Prime, as most consumers know, is a club model that costs $99 per year. For that price, members get unlimited free two-day shipping and discounted next-day shipping. Plus, in recent years Amazon has sweetened their Prime deal by offering free streaming from Amazon’s Instant Video service, which actively competes with Netflix, as well as Amazon’s music-streaming service, Kindle ebook lending library, and unlimited online photo storage. Even though Prime is a paid loyalty program, most members would agree it’s more than worth the price, and the steady addition of free new incremental benefits makes customers feel even more valued and appreciated over time.

Some of the best loyalty programs are not just what they offer but how they offer it, especially if it comes in the form of a handy mobile app. One of the most popular, by far, is from Starbucks. What makes the Starbucks program so appealing? For one, customers get something for nothing—merely signing up for the program gains you a free coffee on your birthday. Beyond that freebie is a system of free refills, food, and drinks that accrue through regular purchases. But because it’s an app, there’s no concern raised by Starbucks customers about leaving their punch card at home or having to fish it out of their wallet. Best of all, the Starbucks app allows members to load and consolidate gift cards and make purchases just by swiping their phone.

But Wait, There’s More
Another customer loyalty option: Join forces with others. The Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program is touted by many not only for its rewards for frequent stays, but also for the ability to use those Starwood points with a multitude of other airline and hotel partners. This means that even if you’re not a regular patron of Starwoods, which includes the W Hotel, Westin, Sheraton, and Le Méridian chains, you can leverage your stay at any of the Starwood properties and just convert your points to, say, Delta miles.

But perhaps the best customer loyalty programs of all are not programs, per se, but a state of mind—creating a culture of CX, where those responsible for your customer experience aim to make every customer engagement count. For Virgin, it’s all about creating long-term relationships by providing a superior customer experience from beginning to end.

Consider the case of a Virgin America airline customer who worked all night preparing for the big event of his new company’s launch in San Francisco, only to wake up 11 minutes before the airline’s only flight from Portland to SF. When he arrived at the Portland airport in a panic over his missed flight, Virgin employees rushed to get him on the next available flight to San Francisco—albeit via Los Angeles. But being routed through LAX was going to make it tight. Thinking two steps ahead, the Portland flight crew seated him in the front near the door of the plane, then told the pilots about his dilemma, who worked to land in LA seven minutes ahead of time and radioed the crew of the connecting flight to SF to wait for him. As the customer concludes the tale in his own words, “I slumped down into my seat, and exhaled a huge sigh of relief. I had made it. But not without the help of a rockstar group of Virgin Airline’s employees. They had gone above and beyond that day.”

And displaying that degree of loyalty to your customers beats an 11th free sandwich every time.

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: Love Thy Customer: April Is Customer Loyalty Month

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