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Loyalty Methods CEO Emil Sarkissian pares down the process of customer engagement to a single thought and purpose, albeit one that offers many challenges.
“Loyalty is just a way to get the behavioral data,” he says. “But once you have that data, you have a lot of power to create the right customer experience.”
In a video interview with Loyalty360 CEO Mark Johnson, Sarkissian says that the physical world will get more digitized in the coming years so that even the smartphone — the gamechanger for collecting data and enabling a closer connection to customers through apps and loyalty programs — might become an antiquated way of doing business.
“You might someday even see smartphones the way we see manual credit card carbon slider machines today,” Sarkissian says. “The physical mechanics of things are always going to be changing and becoming more digitized.”
Loyalty Methods saw in 2020 that many of their top clients saw a transformation in the way they did business during the pandemic. Starbucks, 7-Eleven, and many of their transportation clients had to pivot — and pivot on a dime in a matter of days and weeks — in order to survive and maintain customer engagement.
“We saw a lot of our customers — especially with airlines and travel — go from normal to -80% in what seemed like overnight,” Sarkissian says. “And we had to be right there with them. We tried to help — and be creative about how to help them — to provide additional services. It was really crazy how hard it hit them.”
For Loyalty Methods, it was important to continue helping their clients take a step back and make sure they had all the basics covered, which included making sure that they were using the new data they were receiving from customers in a correct way.
“You have got to cover the basics,” Sarkissian says. “In other words, get the channel delivery and the technology hooked up well, get everything working smoothly, but then at the same time know to use the data that’s been generated in a creative way that actually drives the real benefits of that program.”
Before the pandemic hit, Loyalty Methods was seeing a sea of change in the way their clients were connecting with customers, and Sarkissian says they were already working on projects that would help those clients maintain and thrive in those changing times.
“Key demand we see from clients is to enable speed and real-time delivery,” he says. “That comes in two dimensions: speed for the end retail consumer out there holding an app and wanting things to happen quickly, and at the same time speed for marketers inside of the organization that want to roll out initiatives very fast and want to react to market conditions almost in real-time.”
Sarkissian says Loyalty Methods always reverts to making sure the basics are covered but then aggressively tackles the new set of problems on how to drive experiences by mining data and understanding the data properly.
“Brands need to learn to learn,” he says. “They need to build systems that help them learn from their customers and — especially in times like this when things are changing dramatically — to having the touchpoints be well connected and delivering the data that they need.”
Sarkissian says having everything well connected helps brands make the right decisions about what’s really on customers minds right now and how they’re responding today.
“Yesterday was a completely different day,” he says. “This sea change that happened in attitudes in people’s perceptions of things is a key example of how validated learning can quickly adapt to this by simply looking at the data that’s been generated by channels that are well connected together and delivering this data to a central spot where brands can make decisions. It’s all about learning to learn in a validated way.”
Sarkissian points to how Loyalty Methods partnered with Starbucks to launch its unique rewards program that allowed the customer to use a store value card as a loyalty ID and a payment method simultaneously.
“I’ve seen it where people have to first scan their app and then they have to separately pull out a credit card or do Apple pay,” he says. “I think Starbucks got that so right in the first go, and the program just grew so fast because of that. It was a great combination of technology, and that makes it frictionless at the store for a retail channel.”
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