Customer loyalty as an outcome, not just a program

Truly progressive brands have evolved to look at ALL of their existing customers and new customers through a loyalty lens; not only those who are enrolled in their customer loyalty program. These innovators practice Big "L” loyalty, using their loyalty strategies and tactics to create exceptional customer experiences, inspire passion and trust and engender long-term relationships to keep repeat customers. These emotional connections then serve as the steppingstone to matriculate customers into a permission-based customer loyalty program. From there the brand can glean the data and insights to deepen the relationship and deliver more personalized experiences. And the customer can feel confident that their privacy and preferences are being respected. 

In The Forrester Wave™: Loyalty Service Providers, Q3 2019, Forrester found that “…the best loyalty service providers help clients set an enterprise strategy that reimagines loyalty as the outcome of all the experiences a customer has with a brand and reframes programs as the source of customer insight needed to fuel those experiences.” This finding reinforces my philosophy that customer loyalty should be cultivated holistically, over time and brands must adapt, or risk failure.

Examples of two brands who are setting the gold standard for reimagining loyalty as the outcome of all customer experiences. Two brands delivering different products and services, both keeping loyal customers coming back every time: Amazon and Delta.

Amazon: Primed for long-term engagement

The world’s largest online retailer took its core value propositions for all consumers—wide selection, competitive pricing and convenient shopping—and spun them into a customer loyalty program for which a large subset of customers is willing to pay more than $150 per year. (And let’s face it—do their customers even know it’s a customer loyalty program? There are no points, rewards, redemptions, dashboards or tier structures. Yet they continue to build a strong connection with their customers and increase customer retention.)

Launched in 2005, Amazon Prime was founded on the customers’ simple desire for fast, free shipping. Since then, subscriptions have expanded to include: streaming of movies, TV shows and music, exclusive shopping deals and selection, unlimited reading and even discounts at Whole Foods stores. According to Statista, the loyalty program now has 103 million members, approximately 62% of all Amazon customers–more loyalty members than not. Amazon Prime members spend 2x+ more than non-members and 85% visit at least once a week, and the company continually scores high in retail customer experience rankings.




Delta SkyMiles®: Raising the stakes

Recently I blogged about the future of travel loyalty and the importance of experiential rewards. We all know airline travel can be a highly emotional experience—particularly when something goes wrong. When it’s good (on-time flight, no lost luggage, empty middle seat), it’s table stakes. No big pats on the back. When it’s bad (unforeseen weather, mechanical delays, schedule changes), it’s awful. Cue the irate customers, social media rants and viral videos. Delta Airlines has reset the bar on the emotional side of flying, winning several awards and accolades for their customer experience. And its SkyMiles program is making the good even better for its best customers and continues to keep their repeat customers coming back.

Like many airline loyalty programs, members earn miles for flying and everyday activities then use them toward travel on any Delta Air Lines flight or toward a Delta Vacations® package. Members can also redeem for rewards like upgrades, premium drinks at Delta Sky Club® and once in a lifetime experiences. Along with the benefit of no black-out dates, Delta has upped the ante with their technology.

Delta’s customer-friendly app is a must for frequent travelers to find, compare and book flights, manage your trips, profile and customize your travel preferences, check in, view your boarding pass and add it to Apple Wallet. The “Today” feature gathers everything you need for your day of travel into one convenient place, while “Feed” ensures you always have the latest flight updates, gate changes and more. You can even save a photo to remember your parking spot. This product delivers new and existing customers the opportunity to seamlessly manage their next trip. The app provides amazing customer service that keeps customers coming back to the app.




Meeting the needs of modern customer loyalty

Aligning your strategy, technology and people with your product or services to create differentiated, 1:You customer experiences like Amazon and Delta can be challenging. Especially, if like most brands, you’re focused on your core line of business. That’s why it’s important to partner with a customer loyalty provider who has:

  • A robust technology platform. Find a provider with technology that allows you to personalize at scale, connect with loyal customers in real-time and support your programs with no downtime. Your customer loyalty program is a solution you use to curate the relationship with your loyal customers—technical failure is not an option.
  • A seasoned team of experts. Seek a partner with a deep bench of loyalty strategy experience; one who has worked with multiple clients and can bring you trends, best practices, strategy, analytics and creative.
  • A proven track record. While many customer loyalty providers may be well-versed in the latest trends and consumer expectations, the trick is to be able to execute on them. You don’t want to put your loyal customers at risk.

Focusing on all customers through a loyalty lens is a smart way to increase engagement and customer acquisition, drive brand preference and ultimately higher business performance. When done well, the resulting brand loyalty will deliver results far beyond just a points-based loyalty program and keep customers coming back every time, increase customers spend, and make happy customers willing to share their great customer experience.

**This post first appeared on L360.