Loyalty Works Both Ways

Customer loyalty is one of those elusive qualities that every company strives to achieve. While many companies have repeat customers, very few attain the goal of having customers that rave about their products and services.

One reason companies have a hard time achieving a high degree of customer loyalty is that they misunderstand why customers are loyal. And they use incentives and promotions in ways that don’t actually motivate customers to be loyal.

Many times, marketers think loyalty programs and incentive programs are synonymous, but giving customers a discount or gift is just one way we can earn their loyalty. Understanding your customers’ various buying motives allows you to tailor a loyalty program so it’s a win-win.

Many marketers and salespeople are quick to cut prices to win customers because it’s quick and easy. Who wouldn’t like a price cut? However, savvy managers know it’s best to hold off lowering the price to ensure that a discount is actually required to motivate customers to make a purchase.

Salespeople have done this on a case-by-case basis since salesmanship was born. Retailers started using one of the best-known incentive programs in 1896 when S&H Green Stamps became available.

When American Airlines started the first frequent flyer program in the 1970s, the premise was “If you like flying for business, then you’ll love flying for fun.” Times have changed, and today it’s common for frequent flyers to be members of several programs. In fact, the business travel portal site from SkyMall, skymalltravel.com, helps flyers manage their miles, points, and other travel rewards.

So, how much loyalty do these frequent flyer programs generate if it takes a special web site or software just to manage the reward? It depends on how much traveling you do, which cities you frequent, and a number of other factors.

On the web, incentive programs such as MyPoints and Netcentives have become popular with some consumers because rewards can be earned quickly through multiple merchants. In addition, the S&H Green Points program will offer web merchants and consumers the familiar S&H Green Stamp brand of incentives.

But instead of offering incentives to every customer without regard to their profile, look at your marketing objectives and then use these tools to motivate customers to help you achieve your objectives.

For instance, take two components of a customer’s profile: how often they purchase and the size of their order. It’s easy to identify customers who place small orders often and customers who make occasional large purchases. Both groups can be motivated to shift their purchases from a competitor to you by providing incentives based on their profile.

Trying to get customers who make frequent purchases to buy even more frequently is probably not possible. So, the objective for this group would be to increase the size of their orders.

Likewise, trying to get customers who make large purchases occasionally to increase the size of their orders would be out of the question. Instead, the objective would be to motivate them to buy more frequently.

A generic discount or points reward system is not necessarily the best way to achieve these objectives because it doesn’t reward the customer for taking the desired action.

It doesn’t take a complex personalization system to make this work. First, segment customers who should receive different incentives. Then, email the different groups and track their click-through back to the site and their purchases.

For customers who make large but infrequent purchases, you might offer a discount on any size purchase made within, say, 60 days. Customers who make small purchases about once a month could be offered a discount on any order that amounts to several percentage points over their largest order.

While these promotions are aimed at most repeat customers, there is another group that deserves special attention. So, what do we do for those customers who make frequent and large purchases? Thank them!

It’s customers like these who buy frequently and bring up the average order size. And, it’s customers like these who you want to feel special about your company because they are your loyal fans.

These people will go out of their way to tell others about your products. Would an ordinary incentive program motivate these people to spend more? Yes, but there is more potential in recognizing that these customers may be more motivated by non-monetary rewards. Try including their testimonial on your web site or inviting them to be part of a customer advisory council.

These fans treat their relationship with the company in a special way. They demonstrate their loyalty with their money, their mouths, and their email.

You’ve probably had the same experience that I had recently when a friend raved about a particular web site. During lunch he told me about how great SmarterKids.com is.

He mentioned their referral program, where by having their site send me a $10 discount coupon, he also received a $10 discount coupon. After lunch, I received a personalized email he initiated on their site which included a special URL that would give me a discount, and I knew he would soon be making another purchase to save $10.

While this particular program isn’t aimed at specific customer segments, it does provide customers with a way to share their enthusiasm for the company and receive a benefit at the same time.

Many times marketers talk about one-to-one marketing as if it were just segmenting a market into very small groups, then tailoring the marketing communications to those groups.

True one-to-one marketing goes beyond that by recognizing that we’re building a relationship with individuals. These are people who deserve our loyalty by our listening to their needs and desires, then looking for special ways to treat these loyal customers.

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