Loyalty and Perspective: Communication is Key

Oct 2, 2012

In life, as in loyalty, perspective is one of the most important qualities.

Perspective is what gives events and happenings relative value. Saying “Company X has enjoyed 10% growth” means nothing until you understand what that number means in the context of previous growth or competitor accomplishments.

Taking this sentiment to heart, a dose of perspective was what I got from the Loyalty Americas conference taking place in Chicago last month. For me, perspective came in the form of a presentation given by Atique Shah, Vice President of Global Guest & Campaign Marketing for Intercontinental Hotels Group. His talk, Rethinking Consumer Communication Strategies, got me thinking about loyalty, loyalty programs and how there really are only two types. Program-based loyalty – think of a typical points/rewards program, and innate loyalty – brand allegiance driven by customer interactions, transparency and follow through. The question I was left with though, was how can these two ideas become one?

As the presentation’s title implies, the answer begins with rethinking consumer communications. For instance, in the last few years the Chinese shopper/traveler has emerged from a cultural cocoon to become a critical global economic force, making over 30 million overseas trips in the first half of 2011 alone. Catering to this economic powerhouse, Harrods of London hired 70 Mandarin-speaking staff members. The luxe department store also added 75 China UnionPay credit card payment points, which are Chinese citizens’ only form of “allowed” electronic transaction. Similarly, Paris department store Printemps dedicated a special entrance for Chinese tour groups while offering store maps in Chinese. Consumer communication was also highlighted by the EU’s “Parlamentarium” – the largest visitor center in Europe and capable of delivering information in 23 languages via iPod Touches; a universal experience tailored to the breadth of unique visitors.

Loyalty Americas may have driven home the fact that there are 51 airline loyalty programs in the Americas today. And the conference may have also emphasized that airline loyalty programs need diversity and uniqueness now more than ever. But in some way, Atique’s talk was one of the more compelling. Loyalty must always be twofold: program based, yes, but the basics of “loyalty 1.0” must also be secure. And that begins with proper communication, and doing the little things like the addition of language-appropriate maps.

Equally compelling was the presentation given by Matt Hood, BJ’s Chief Marketing Officer, and one of Kobie’s clients. Driving home the importance of communication, Matt talked about BJ’s succinct tagline: “Delivering ‘Wow’ Customer Experience Since 1978.” While Matt’s presentation focused on their specific loyalty rewards program, (the one we helped launch), intrinsic in his slides, and evident in the importance of website communication, was that delivering rewards just for the sake of earning points without proper messaging would be a waste.

The fact is loyalty begins with quality customer service and creating a quality consumer experience – a reality that Kobie continues to drive home through its omnichannel loyalty approach. Customers, be they retail shoppers, restaurant patrons or airline passengers, seek engagement throughout their brand interaction. In that respect, American Airlines is no different than American Eagle.

Speaking of airlines, a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that business travelers would be willing to pay 18% more in fares if those fares were fully refundable. Perks like this don’t require new loyalty programs per se. They require a new way to communicate value.

So thank you to Atique Shah and Matt Hood, along with my fellow panel speakers – Jonathan Clarkson of Southwest, Ian Di Tulio of Air Canada, and Ross Christie of Loyalty Edge and all the speakers at Loyalty Americas. I appreciate the dialog and the opportunity to share ideas and industry trends. Education is key and broadening ones horizons is the ultimate perspective.