I’ve been a member of the Red River Co-op gas loyalty program for over a decade, and I was excited to see my local Safeway grocery store converted to a Co-op a few years ago because this meant I’d earn on my food purchases too. Those who know me well know I’m quite ‘cheap’ – some like to say frugal, but I wear cheap as a badge of honor!
Co-op’s program seemed great to me way back when I got my membership because it was purely a monetary play – I will get a certain % cash back from them annually based on a combination of how much I spent with them and how their business performed that year. But one day earlier this year, when I received my annual check in the mail, I finally questioned whether the cost-saving made possible by the Co-op was more valuable to me than other gas saving programs – and not just from a monetary standpoint but what other value I could get from competitor’s programs.
The answer was “I don’t know.”
I don’t mean “do other programs have more value.” I mean “does Co-op’s program have enough value for me.” So the answer is “I don’t know” because the only reward and communication from the brand to me was my annual mailed check. And the communication that the brand solicited from me … well, that was non-existent. In more than a decade of being a loyal member, I had never given them my opinion on anything, and if I had ever been asked for it, I can’t recall the interaction in any way. In fact, I just went to their website while writing this blog, logged into my profile, and found nothing of value to engage me. Zero.
Essentially, after thousands of dollars invested from a loyal customer to the brand – and, naturally, to their program – I find myself at a crossroads.
As The Clash said:
Should I stay or should I go?
This experience has highlighted in my mind the importance for businesses to understand what their customers value. I doubt the Co-op have any idea that I’m considering leaving, and, if I did leave, they likely wouldn’t know why because their lack of communication strategy wouldn’t have allowed them to be in the loop. Their data shows that I buy gas … and then a get an annual check. Thrilling, ain’t it!? If they had spoken to me more, they might have offered me (and others that share my wants and needs) an incentive to truly stay—ideally, something that aligned with my values.
But without knowing what I value, they had no way of knowing how to give me what I need.
To try and show just how important this is, in the U.S., 89% of consumers say they are loyal to brands that share their values … that’s a huge number. Yet all too often businesses don’t ask the right questions to find what those values are. Or even worse, they don’t ask any questions about customer values at all.
How can you help your customers have an active voice?
1. Provide customers with a CHOICE of rewards. There’s hardly a better way to know what people like than to allow them to pick and choose how they are rewarded. For example, maybe Co-op calculates that I’ve earned $150 worth of rewards last year, but they could offer me another option of a $165 Co-op gift card. Wait. What!?
And don’t forget that this makes me spend my reward BACK in THEIR store.
2. Once you have provided choice in rewards, analyze engagement metrics to see which rewards are scoring at, above or below expectations.
Those that perform well, keep them. Those that underperform, consider pulling them out of the mix, tweaking them, or pushing some marketing support behind them as a last chance.
3. Ask ‘snackable’ survey questions. IC Group leverages this tactic in many of our loyalty programs as a way for customers to earn additional points, for example, in Dial Rewards.
Brands can learn simple insights about anything from customer preference … to rewards they like … to what they’d like to see introduced into the program … and all the way up to core brand insights such as product opinions and net promoter score.
4. Monitor customer support systems (phone, online, email) … but take this with a grain of salt. Look for trends in customer feedback, not the one outlier out there complaining about everything under the sun, but then asking for a box of your product for free!
5. Watch social media postings. Sometimes there is more conversation – positive or negative – on a brand’s Facebook page about the loyalty program than all other topics combined.
6. If you sell your products through retailers, listen to them. Ask your Shopper Marketing Team what customers are saying about your products and loyalty program. Your retail client will be more than honest to tell you what you could be doing better. Hopefully, you have a thick skin.
Watch what the competition does. Seriously.
You probably monitor your competition’s sales, market share and product innovation; but do you pay attention to what customers are saying about their loyalty program?
Fuel for thought
So make sure you’re talking to your customers. But more importantly, ENGAGE with them through as many avenues as you can, and LISTEN to what they have to say. Do this, and you’ll have the gas in the tank you need to last the journey on the long, winding road that is loyalty! My puns are awful … awfully good!
Did I … ?
As for my Co-op decision … It’s been 3 months since I received my check and, no, I’ve not left the program yet or stopped getting gas (I was there last night!) or groceries at their stores; and that’s purely due to inertia and convenience of location and proximity to my home and work. I’m habitual like most people; it’s easier to stay and not take action. Unfortunately, that’s undoubtedly one of the other biggest problems in loyalty today…
To be continued.
I’m Director of Client Success at IC Group and a loyalty program strategist.
To talk more, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org