2024 Trends: Kobie on Breaking Down Silos To Build Better Customer Loyalty Programs and Managing Data

In business for more than 30 years, Kobie delivers loyalty services and technology for some of the world’s most successful brands. With a mission to grow enterprise value through loyalty, Kobie partners with clients in retail, FI, travel, hospitality, and more.  

Kobie’s end-to-end loyalty solutions are strategy-led and technology-enabled. The company uses a proprietary Triple Play Data™ framework, taking transactional, behavioral, and emotional data to fuel growth at the enterprise level, as loyalty is critical to a brand’s total value. Kobie Alchemy® Loyalty Cloud is a configurable, extensible, and scalable technology platform, while Kobie Loyalty Services encompasses strategy, design, planning, and insights. 

The company is privately held, debt-free, and profitable — something the team at Kobie calls out as a means for making agile decisions in the marketplace alongside clients without answering to a governing board.  

Mark Johnson, CEO of Loyalty360, spoke with Laura Miller, SVP of Strategic Services, and Martha Cohen, Vice President, Client Services at Kobie, about leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce pain points, breaking down organizational silos to build better programs, and challenges in customer loyalty.  


 

Top Metrics Brands Consider 

A top question for many marketing professionals seeking to improve their brand’s customer loyalty program is, “What top metrics should we be focusing on?”   

Kobie’s Miller sees an interplay between metrics. Historically, brands might look at acquisition and engagement numbers and then consider the cost per point. Today, Kobie observes that brands are studying how those metrics connect to better measure the overall customer experience.   

Many brands are taking more time to evaluate their Net Promoter Score (NPS) or customer satisfaction score (CSAT) — or even some of the emotions around the connectivity if it comes from social or sentiment or even surveys. 

“We have our triple play data with emotional, behavioral, and transactional. It’s really the interplay between them,” explains Miller. “We’re also getting more questions about loyalty members versus non-members — how they’re using an app or how they’re engaging with the brand on social.”  

Those comparisons help elevate the conversation across C-suites and allow the brand to look at data differently than solely through the silo of a loyalty program. Metrics evolve, and it’s critical for brands to understand why they do. Looking at data from metrics that have evolved over time versus looking at data at a point in time is crucial.  

“You have your dashboard, and it’s great at showing you what that metric is that month — for example, cost-per-point,” says Miller. “Obviously, that is important because that’s how you drive your financials. But how it looks over time and how it’s evolved based on the strategy of your program is important to understand.”  

If brands have a strong acquisition push for a period of time and gain a large number of new people (program members), there are times when decisions made are not in the best interest of the brand for the long term. This can lead to adding a significant amount of liability that will not fall off because people are not engaging in the program. Brands then must decide what kind of engagement strategies must be put into place for that population.  

“Metrics across the journey and not just single points in time — that’s where clients are pushing us,” says Miller. “While it’s great to have tools, reporting, and dashboards, understanding how a decision can cause a potential problem or opportunity down the line is vital. This can help brands determine if they need to do something differently.”  

 

Opportunities for Leveraging AI 

Brands can struggle to define AI. Is it a virtual neural network? An algorithm that’s been refined around a large language model? Or is it something that’s evolving?  

Miller sees it as the latter. “I think it’s evolving, but it’s still going to be human-guided.” 

While data might point to disparate behaviors being related, and AI might interpret those behaviors as causation, it’s necessary for a human perspective to truly understand the data points and what they reveal. Otherwise, it can be misleading. Most brands see AI as a tool to be used to benefit customer loyalty strategies, but many struggle to leverage it. Miller agrees it’s at the forefront of many a brand marketer’s mind.  

“AI is definitely a hot topic,” she affirms. “Kobie uses machine learning (ML) in terms of our models to effectively drive personalized offers. It can consume tons of data and analyze it to predict something like churn.”  

On the generative AI side, there are use cases that Kobie’s clients can start leaning into to help people across the journey. Miller offers the example of a rental car company. If one of their customers lands at an airport, instead of allowing them to try to decipher how to get to the rental counter, it’s more efficient to proactively help them find out where they need to go than to wait for them to figure it out on their own.  

“It’s almost like a chatbot on steroids,” says Miller. “Using the example of the car rental company and the customer in the airport, imagine if that helpful information on where to go could be served up through an app as the customer was landing. There are many ways AI can help alleviate pain points in the customer journey.”  

Miller believes the loyalty industry will see more use cases focusing on proactivity to better understand pain points and what customers are looking for — especially in the travel industry.  

 

Break Down Silos, Keep Things Simple 

On the client services side, the team at Kobie encourages brands to focus on breaking down the silos in their organizations so that dialogue around the program can happen, providing perspectives from inside and outside of the program.  

“The best marketing is consumer-focused, and that means that it’s integrated,” says Cohen. “Not understanding the two-way dynamic of how loyalty serves the business or how the business can have an input into loyalty is a big mistake.”  

Whether it’s change management or creating governance structures, it’s something Kobie works with clients to overcome so that teams can look to their counterparts across the marketing organization and make bigger and better decisions. Cohen advises against teams working inside a “bubble.” 

“If there’s a bad product design or a bad experience in a store, no amount of great loyalty construct is going to overcome that,” warns Cohen. “Taking the learnings from the program and sharing that out across the organization to make broader improvements is key.”  

Often, the more a brand knows about its customers and the differences in what they want, the more potential there is to complicate programs. Instead, brands should endeavor to keep things simple. Technology needs to be leveraged to achieve that simplicity. Serving the same things differently to individual customers is possible, and technology should power that in order for customers to get what they want out of the program. 

 

Customers Want More Personalization 

The overall interest in rewards is changing, and customers expect more personalization, whether it’s in content, offers, or incentives. Brands are also looking to provide special experiences and other “surprise and delight” items, not only freebies and discounts based on frequency.  

“This landscape has been changing for quite some time,” says Cohen. “Whether we’re looking at all the portfolios that Kobie serves — or more specifically, travel and hospitality — COVID was such a huge disruptor.”  

From Cohen’s perspective, the who and the why of travel has changed significantly. She sees a lot of younger travelers and a correlation: Many younger people coming into programs and people who care less about cashback. In fact, Cohen believes cashback has been problematic for some programs for quite some time. It’s expensive and transactional.  

“We’re seeing people who want experiences, and they want them tailored to them,” says Cohen. “Kobie is building in optionality within our programs so that we allow our customers to define what matters most to them.”  

Using the data brands provide, Kobie makes sure brands aren’t choosing a wide variety of options that customers cannot navigate. Additionally, from the experiential perspective, a brand might be hyper-focused on one specific consumer offer, but a partner ecosystem might be able to tap into it more efficiently. There may be something adjacent to the brand’s vertical that adds value — perhaps even a lower-cost item as compared to the cashback route. 

Some of Kobie’s clients are tapping into what Cohen calls “cultural zeitgeist.”  

“It’s been a big year for Taylor Swift and Beyonce,” says Cohen. “There’s a bit of a coattail there to ride where we can create customer experiences that are less expensive and at scale —  whether it’s a partnership to see a free Swift or Beyonce concert or a super ticket drop that we do for one of our clients. We only invest money in a couple of experiences, but it gets a broad net of excitement around it.”  

A partner network ensures people are provided ways to have experiences “with a brand” that attaches emotional feeling to it. Memorable experiences allow customers to see a brand as enabling them to feel a certain way about a moment — maybe it was an experience shared with family or friends.  
 

 

 

Prioritizing a Strong Collaboration Between Teams 

Kobie believes there needs to be a strong collaboration across analytics (data) and creative teams. Data should inform marketing in terms of truly understanding the brand’s customer base — who they are, what they are looking for, and who is the ideal customer.  

“It comes down to that data and collaborating across teams to truly know what your KPIs and goals are,” says Miller. “It makes Kobie’s job even easier when we have that alignment across the C-suite — when marketing is in alignment with the CFO and even the CEO — enabled by technology teams.”  

Kobie looks at learning agendas to develop good test-and-learn plans that can drive that alignment. Brands don’t need to make big wholesale changes immediately. The team at Kobie looks at the different elements of a program and tests them to see the overall impact. Kobie can test adding new redemption options, offering a different way to earn, or providing experiential opportunities to learn how the customer base reacts. This can be evolved over time in a way that supports the business case across the entire C-suite.  

“If you’re thinking more from a mass media perspective,” begins Cohen, “you’re trying to get your message down to the lowest common denominator. As brands collect more data, it makes things more complicated. They still have large channels that they’re pumping information into, and now there is so much data, how can they decipher which is the most important?”  

For Cohen and Kobie, it goes back to technology. Technology and data are setting creative free because brands know who they’re sending messaging to. This allows for meaningful content to be created and for outcomes in business objectives to be more readily achieved.  

 

Managing Data  

Kobie prioritizes the data points they ask for when working with clients. Not all data points are created equal, and not all are going to provide actionable insights from a marketing perspective. There is also a consumer expectation. For example, if a brand asks for a customer’s birthday, the customer is going to expect to get something on their birthday — a reward or a message.   

“We want to make sure that when we are asking consumers to share that data point, they understand why and that they’re seeing a benefit to it,” finishes Cohen.  

“We like to think of it as building a progressive profile on somebody,” adds Miller. “It doesn’t have to be everything day one. Let’s learn over time. Let’s gather information and then evolve our messaging and our story.”  

In other words, brands don’t need to collect hundreds of customer data points immediately. The brand should take the time to learn what customers are responding to and how they are interacting with the brand, and then the brand can adjust how it responds. 

 

Challenges in Customer Loyalty  

The challenges facing brands and customer loyalty professionals are many. From determining the best program strategies to leveraging new technologies to cultivating organizational buy-in, marketers often bump up against tough hurdles.  

For Miller, it’s proving the enterprise value of the program. How can it be measured? Are teams within the organization in alignment with the program — do they believe in it?  

“Sometimes the team managing the loyalty program thinks that they’re crushing it and it’s doing great,” says Miller. “And then another team within the same organization doesn’t feel the same way. How you make sure you have that alignment across teams is important.”  

Marketers and those in loyalty need to share metrics on how loyalty members are performing against non-members — this is part of a value chain of what’s important to move people from a retention standpoint into a repurchase standpoint.  

“Another challenge we see as we elevate the conversation of loyalty is getting the loyalty program to be more tied to CRM and the customer experience to ensure that the data is connected,” finishes Miller. “Data needs to be connected across the organization so there’s a cohesive customer experience. It’s always going to be a challenge, especially for those brands that have a lot of legacy data.”   
 

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Quick-fire Questions with Martha Cohen 

What is your favorite word?  

Onomatopoeia.   
 

What is your least favorite word?    

Very, every, always — just hyperbole.  
 

What excites you?  

Problem solving. 
 

What do you find tiresome?  

Swirl.   
 

What brand does customer loyalty well?  

Spotify. 
 

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?     

Woodworking. 
 

What book do you like to recommend to colleagues?  

The Coaching Habit (Michael Stanier Bungay) 
 

Who inspired you to become the person you are today?    

I’m not going to say a person; I’m going to say “failure.” 
 

What do you typically think about at the end of the day?    

I think about if I showed up the way that I wanted to. 
 

How do you want to be remembered by your friends and family?   

Being caring, and that I always tried.  

 

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Quick-fire Questions with Laura Miller 

What is your favorite word?  

Joy. 
 

What is your least favorite word?    

Fine.  
 

What excites you?  

Collaboration. 
 

What do you find tiresome?  

Back-to-back meetings all day.   
 

What brand does customer loyalty well?  

Minions. 
 

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?     

Professional surfer. 
 

What book do you like to recommend to colleagues?  

Atomic Habits (James Clear). 
 

Who inspired you to become the person you are today?    

A lot of times, I get inspired by people that I know I don’t want to be like. 
 

What do you typically think about at the end of the day?    

I have a gratitude journal that I write in every night. I try to end the day with positivity. 
 

How do you want to be remembered by your friends and family?   

That I brought a little joy to their life. 

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