3 ways to ensure a loyalty program pays off

3 ways to ensure a loyalty program pays off

By Jess Mizerak

Retailers need to be convenient, responsive and memorable. At every touch point, we should strive to answer the question "how is this helping shoppers out?”

A loyalty program, when executed well, helps brands connect with customers better. That doesn't mean just throwing points at customers every time they make a purchase. It means the program should help companies identify brand advocates, reward them, increase engagement and actually make the web store experience more fun.

So here are three ways a loyalty program can actually improve the shopping experience—making it about value, memorable moments, and not just a simple transaction:

Make your site about more than just the shopping transaction

A loyalty program should be able to reward purchase, but it should also reward other brand engagements. Why? Think about your favorite stores. The feeling you have toward the store probably has little to do with the 30 points you earned after your most recent purchase.

That's why really building loyalty, which is what boosts customer retention and gives customers good feelings, requires something more emotional. When it comes to your program, focus on the rewards customers can get for their points later. Are you providing a true experience? Are you offering opportunities? Are you connecting with charity or other social causes?

Also, consider the actions that you're rewarding. Rewarding purchase only is dangerous territory and is worth little more than a random promotion or coupon. That's why I recommend rewarding other interactions, such as social media sharing, referrals, or sharing of their reviews of your products, for example.

Third-party loyalty software providers allow companies to capitalize on both spend and engagement of all kinds. Once you're offering a range of actions to incentivize with points, put the loyalty cherry on top by providing enticing rewards that create positive associations with your brand, for all of your customer segments.

Give some incentive to write reviews and share in social

A loyalty program provides some great ways to ask your customers to share their experiences with your products. I'm talking user-generated content, a powerful tool in marketing. Well, of course, you could just come out and ask, but giving loyalty points for their efforts may just make it worth their time, helping them get closer to that valuable reward or experience that you’ve put on offer.

So how does it work? Loyalty programs can incentivize user ratings and reviews. That's a great type of content to inspire, because that helps future customers make their decision.

And it fosters trust, too. Econsultancy wrote recently about reviews and ratings on their blog, revealing "61 percent of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision." And, according to Search Engine Land, reviews and ratings online help local stores, too. They report 88 percent have read reviews in order to find out about the quality of local businesses.

What else can you do to build social proof? If you have a loyalty program that allows you to incentivize Instagram hashtags, you can also ask customers to post their photos and videos on Instagram, using one of your brand's hashtags, which keeps everything nicely organized, also getting your brand seen by your customers’ friends.

Finally, run occasional contests to get people talking about your brand on social media channels, and build excitement around your projects. If you base the contest on the week's best photograph, description, or video, for example, you've just set yourself up to get some great content that you can use in marketing later on.

Get relevant info and make your email communication shine

Automated email has made a huge difference in e-commerce, but now that everybody's doing it, it's essential for companies to send content and offers that really resonate with recipients. If you don't, you risk unsubscribes or — even worse — being totally ignored.

What is one of the main reasons that people unsubscribe and or ignore emails? According to a CIO article on the topic, irrelevant emails makes their top seven list. Here's an excerpt from the article:

"It seems so simple and straightforward: Understand your target audience and provide content that is relevant for them,” says Linda Pophal, owner/founder, Strategic Communications. “But, despite the fact that we all know this to be true, too often we fail to deliver. Why? Because we are, by nature, internally focused. We understand us more than we understand them. And, as a result, we lose them."

Powerful! And it presents retailers a great opportunity, if they're up to the challenge. By using a loyalty program to help generate more data, such as user preferences and interests, you can apply that to newsletter campaigns and set yourself up for way more success.

What’s in it for the customer? Well, more relevant offers and a more pleasant inbox. That's something we all should strive for.

Segment your loyalty program members by specific interests and make offers that appeal directly to that interest, and you've got a way greater chance of both encouraging more engagement and more purchase.

So there you have it. A loyalty program has the power to make the customer experience in-webstore and in-inbox a much more pleasant and memorable one. The three main takeaways for making sure your loyalty program is striking the right chord are:

1. Make sure you’re rewarding a variety of engagements and offer rewards that leave a great impression — not just a forgettable discount

2. Build social proof by encouraging loyalty program members to leave more ratings, reviews, as well as photo and video with your products

3. Get the right info from your customer base and use that to make truly relevant offers and better communication.

Here's to a fantastic customer experience!

Jess Mizerak is customer loyalty strategist with Antavo Loyalty Software, helping e-commerce brands build rewards programs that increase returning customers.

Topics: Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, Loyalty Programs

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