Loyalty Lessons

Every once in a blue moon, I’m asked to speak on marketing, communications, or something closely related. I’m never quite sure why people would want to hear my ramblings, but if it involves a trip out of town I’ll usually accept with the proviso if anyone falls asleep while I’m speaking, he’ll be nudged back to consciousness.

The Indiana Healthcare Marketing and Public Relations Society invited me to speak this month. As a healthcare marketer, I felt good being among my own. I talked about a topic I’ve learned a lot about over the past years: creating loyalty.

Bear with me. I’ll get to Web site content. First, here’s a story I told the healthcare marketers:

Several years ago, my organization developed a “smart card” for healthcare consumers. We planned to fill its little silicon chip with all kinds of critical personal healthcare information — until we heard what focus groups said.

The folks we surveyed said, “Hold on. Keep your high technology. We don’t want all that information on a chip where we can’t see it. Print the data right there on the card.”

So that’s exactly what we did. The card is on our site. All the consumer-supplied data is right on its face. A magnetic strip unlocks a database of the very same information when swiped at a physician’s office or one of our hospitals.

There you have it. Low tech and practicality won out. Today, we have 500,000 card-carrying members and work to maintain their loyalty.

This lesson applies to Web sites. Sometimes, high technology isn’t the best technology. Sometimes, people just want to read an informative block of text. Sometimes, they want to view a picture that doesn’t hop around like a hummingbird on amphetamines.

There are other loyalty marketing lessons. Check out the insights below. Some are gleaned from my organization’s trial and error, some from the top marketing researchers.

  • Listen to your most valuable customers. Once, healthcare organizations thought consumers wanted healthcare sites to provide all kinds of toys: health risk assessments; personal health accounts, and interactive tours reminiscent of “Fantastic Voyage.” They found all consumers want is an easier way to access information that makes their healthcare experience more bearable. Online registration for procedures and quick and secure access to test results continue to top consumers’ lists of “must haves.” Let interest build. You’re in this long term to build that sought-after thing called “lifetime loyalty.” Create wonderful content. Build on the “wonderful” theme. Sometimes, anticipation of what’s next is more enticing than a full-to-bursting site.

  • The pursuit of loyalty goes hand in hand with branding. You can’t build loyalty unless people have something to be loyal to. Let me rephrase that (without the preposition at the end of the sentence): The best loyalty programs are backed by a brand-building effort in interactive or traditional media.
  • Loyalty is rarely permanent. I love Hilton Hotels (mainly because I’m building points for a free stay in New York). And, yes, its Web site is very nifty because it lets me access rates and make reservations. But what happens if my free stay in New York turns out to be a nightmare? What if my room smells like a tobacco plantation and the staff received customer training from Oscar the Grouch? I’ll cash in those points and fly into the arms of Marriott. Rarely is a consumer so enamored of an organization the relationship is “my brand, right or wrong.”

That said, I’ll add my return to California was with an airline rated very high in customer loyalty, primarily because it’s known as the “fun” airline. It has a nifty Web site, too. I ordered my tickets on it. Suffice it to say the ride was not so “fun.” I was told I was in the wrong “herd” for unassigned seating and was tossed one box of cheese crackers for a five-hour flight. I ended up bolt upright in a rear-facing chair, knee to knee with some party animals who made ample use of those bags provided for “flight relief.” Forget the Web site. Forget loyalty. Big lesson learned.

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