Scan the headlines today or perform a Google News search and you’ll find thousands of references to the increasing importance of rewards programs in driving customer loyalty.
No matter the industry, customers crave genuine experiences that engage them on their channels of choice. More than that, consumers, whether they are moviegoers, shoppers, hotel guests or air travelers, also want their loyalty program benefits delivered efficiently and seamlessly.
One way to achieve that goal is through the convergence of loyalty program software systems and customer relationship management software, or CRM. It’s a topic we’ve covered repeatedly over the last few months – not out of redundancy but because it’s so vitally important for brands to better engage their customers while maximizing ROI. Placing these two metrics-gathering engines under one roof helps de-silo Big Data and makes for an enhanced customer experience.
Recently, members of the Kobie team attended the 6th annual Loyalty Expo where we discussed this topic and its related issues in an interactive panel session. What follows are snippets from that discussion, including several key points made by Bram Hechtkopf, Kobie’s Vice President of Business Development & Marketing and Joe Easley, Kobie’s Director of Global Product Strategy.
Chief among those: technological convergence begins not by signing off on a document or recruiting an outside “expert,” but by bringing your team together in ways that foster a common sense of purpose. Once that support is realized, loyalty and CRM can be better fused.
Q. If you look at customer engagement or experience management, you can look at its value under three lenses to pull CRM off and do it well: the economics of it, execution of it or enabling of it – the technology needed to make it happen. What do you think is most important?
Bram: If you’re trying to engineer and design your CRM customer experience, you start by defining what experiences you want to deliver to your customer. That’s how you build the business case for the financial wisdom of your CRM initiative. You also must ask yourself, are there any benefits for branding and customer experience perspectives that would drive additional behavior? Above all, operational excellence is key. You must have the whole team behind you in order to pull CRM off and execute it well. Oftentimes, that’s where loyalty programs, CRM initiatives and customer experience campaigns fail.
Q. How important is CEO and senior management buy-in for making your loyalty program successful?
Joe: From my perspective it’s one of the most important aspects of launching a loyalty program and a customer experience initiative. Top-down support is critical because loyalty programs touch so many different parts of the organization. In the case of airlines and hotels, these programs have been around for 30 years. In airlines’ case a loyalty program is often the most profitable part of their business. Hotel programs are different in that they run and break even in a way that drives engagement with the franchisees or company-owned properties.
Q. Can you give some examples where technology changes the human element of experience delivery?
Bram: One of our clients is BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. When you walk through their doors, you check in with your mobile device or at the hostess stand, where they have a table management system that pulls up your customer profile. That way the restaurant will know your personal preferences in advance – let’s say, if you have a gluten allergy or if your child really likes orange soda. You can even instruct a waiter or waitress to compliment your wife’s hair just by informing the table management system of your request. Little things like that go a long way to foster loyalty. It’s also a really good example of information, technology and people (the waiters and waitresses) working together seamlessly.
Q. Of the loyalty platforms a third party vendor can offer, how many offer true social integration?
Joe: Social media is often a one-way street. And, as marketers, we want it to be a two-way street; you want to be able to get data back from the customer. When you look at sites like Facebook, from our perspective, it’s easy to read and track behaviors. The same goes for Google +, Pinterest, Foursquare, Twitter and many other social media sites. But I haven’t seen a lot of third-party vendors successfully getting information back out and integrating ROI into that.. I have seen, however, several marketing presentations driving home the point that measuring tweets and re-tweets is one thing, but what’s the downstream impact on the customer and the business? I think that’s the more challenging question.
The Genuine Customer Experience in Context
Ultimately, true customer loyalty isn’t only about a loyalty program, but about the organic interrelationships among program offerings, genuine brick-and-mortar experiences, overall corporate culture and C-level buy-in. Social media is a vital tool in gathering customer metrics, but sometimes a casual conversation and the information gathered from it can go just as far in getting to know your customers.
So, how else can your brand enhance its customer experience and how far along are your CRM and loyalty convergence efforts? Share your insights and thoughts in the space below and continue the conversation.