2024 Trends: Mastercard on Improving the Customer Experience with Choice

One could argue that a best-kept secret is how Mastercard has become a global leader in loyalty, its scope extending far beyond traditional transaction processing. From a scale perspective, Mastercard manages over 1.5T points, 1,100+ loyalty programs, 750M+ customer profiles, 43M merchant offers redeemed annually, and 150M issuer reward accounts. This management spans across verticals ranging from financial institutions to retailers to quick service restaurants to airlines and more. The diversity of experiences and global perspective allow Mastercard to deliver expertise and experience across all those sectors, which, ultimately, helps the entire loyalty ecosystem grow overall.
 
Mark Johnson, CEO of Loyalty360, spoke with Jill Moser, SVP of Global Offers at Mastercard, about what will impact loyalty in 2024, how brands should approach building relationships, and why offering customers choice is imperative to remain competitive in the loyalty space.


 
AI Can Unlock Predictive Engagement
As 2023 closed and the new year began, the interest in artificial intelligence (AI)/generative AI and its potential to enhance marketing and customer loyalty programs has only increased. There are opportunities for brands to leverage the technology to strengthen customer loyalty strategies. At Mastercard, data is at its core. Managing data is a daily practice, and how Mastercard protects that data makes the company a trusted choice for brands around the globe. AI, used wisely, can unlock predictive engagement, allowing brands to dynamically curate relevant offers for customers based on what they observe to ensure they’re delivering the right products and meaningful content at scale.
 
“Customers expect a personalized experience,” says Moser. “The more you can deliver on that expectation, the stronger your relationship becomes with the customer, which impacts longer-term loyalty.”
 
Moser sees loyalty as an “after effect” — a halo formed as a result of building relationships with customers. Loyalty is the desired outcome after many right moves are made along the way. She acknowledges that people have concerns about AI, so it’s imperative to have the right internal governance in place — designed to protect customer privacy and to ensure that data is being used in responsible ways.
 
“Protecting our client’s data is of the utmost importance for Mastercard,” affirms Moser. “We want to make sure anything we’re doing with AI should help give customers the expected personalized experience that they desire and demand.”
 
Aligning Data Science with Strategy and Execution
Loyalty360 has witnessed a convergence of the CMO role and the COO suite, as both are integral in program design and management. There is also a need to implement the current analytics to measure effectiveness. Brands seek to better align data science with strategy and execution, especially as customer demands shift.
 
Moreover, today’s customers want companies to show they care about them, and brands need to go beyond providing products (or services). For example, customers may be concerned about a brand’s carbon footprint and what the company is doing to create a better world.  
 
Moser points to the data — how it’s being collected and how brands are activating it.
 
“Data helps us better understand customers — what’s driving spend and customers to do the things that they do from a behavioral standpoint. Our understanding enables us to respond to those needs,” says Moser.
 
For Mastercard, it starts with having a 360-degree view of a customer, using zero-party data as well as first-party data to enable that engagement. The loyalty data gained from a brand’s efforts is good for loyalty metrics as well as ensuring the return on ad spend is high and that efforts are driving customer engagement. The data also keeps the CMO happy.
 
“Once you have the loyalty set of customers, it becomes a group of people that you can do even more testing with to better understand what types of tailoring of products, services, and offers you would need to do to continue to have that desired spend lift,” explains Moser.
 
Leveraging Data To Build Better Relationships
There is certainly brand interest in optimizing zero- and first-party data, and that data can be used to develop better relationships between brands and their customers. And yet, brands can struggle to manage “too much data” or to gain insights from small amounts. Some brands question if they have the right amount to guide them in their loyalty program strategies
 
“From a relationship standpoint, all data is valuable in some way, but there’s a cost to having data — especially if you’re not sure that you can protect it,” says Moser. “Protecting data is number one in terms of how you build customer relationships.”
 
Ensuring that the data is collected and that it is accessible for the brand to mine for insights is key. A better understanding of how to use it will then shape the presentation of content to customers. This is also where the “surprise and delight” experience can be created, allowing customers to come in, receive what they are looking for, and then move forward.
 

 

 
Customers Want Choice
Loaylty360 has observed how the interest in rewards incentives is changing. There’s a movement toward more personalized rewards, leveraging data. Brands are increasingly focusing on those special rewards and unique customer experiences — not only discounts and freebies.
 
“At the end of the day, customers want choice,” says Moser. “They want to make sure they can redeem their points in a variety of different ways. They want it to be seamless, frictionless, and, most importantly, they want value.”
 
Customers will compare reward redemption options to ensure they are getting the most value. Experiences continue to impact customer loyalty in terms of what customers are seeking. There are customers who are “trading down” in some brands and grocery stores, but their restaurant spending is up. This indicates to Mastercard that customers desire to be out and have that experience — it’s still important to them.
 
Moser cites an initiative Mastercard launched with Expedia in 2023, which allows customers to redeem their loyalty points for travel bookings in a white-labeled platform. Mastercard’s loyalty clients can provide the travel offering from a redemption standpoint in that white-labeled environment. It’s easy to redeem, diverse, and demonstrates the value that customers want because it gives them many choices as to where they can redeem those points.
 
Mastercard provides a network — an ecosystem — that’s stitched together consisting of three key players: the publishers that are issuing and showcasing offers to customers, the banks/merchants providing the offers, and the consumers who are utilizing the offers. With that network, alongside a broad set of offer content, Mastercard can tailor and personalize what is presented to consumers.
 
“In other words, what Jill sees is very different than what Mark sees,” explains Moser. “The goal is to offer a wonderful experience so that customers come back for more. They tell friends about the experience, and this keeps a continuous life cycle moving.”
 
Loyalty Trends in 2024
Moser points to an increased focus on gamification, as well as the desire to foster frequency. Mastercard is deepening investments — in technology, personalization, and artificial intelligence — to help build more choices for customers, leveraging the network Mastercard has created and bringing that to the forefront so that customers can be wowed by the experience. Moser stresses that loyalty, in general, is an outcome. It’s created through many touchpoints.
 
“When it comes to loyalty programs, sometimes people working in the industry think they can set it and forget it, and customers will continue to love the transactional type of behavior that drives so many points per dollar,” says Moser. “However, people must start thinking outside the box and determine if they’ve built in a surprise component and the elements that wows customers with experiences beyond what they’ve come to know and expect.”
 
Leveraging gamification is somewhat of a challenge for many brands. Understanding when, where, and why to present a gamified experience is vital for success. It’s not as simple as putting the opportunity to interact on every page. Moser advises brands to do business with the right partner, as that can make the process more seamless.
 
“There’s certainly an art and a science to the process. On the data science end of the spectrum, we’ve talked about artificial intelligence learning from what you put out there. If you add gamification to every page and you’re not seeing the engagement, then something’s probably wrong,” Moser says. “How do you learn from that in real-time and adjust what you’re showcasing to customers? That’s critical to understand.”
 
There is also an art to the process; it’s necessary for brands to understand what their customers look like. Profiles come from endless user research and understanding the customer base to ensure what is being presented to them is exciting and encourages high engagement.
 
“If something is not working, be willing to fail fast and move on,” advises Moser. “When you find a winner, accelerate.”
 
Challenges Confronting Brands Today
From Moser’s perspective, many of the largest organizations with customer loyalty programs, although mature, remain fragmented — because they’re mature.
 
“It’s not because of a lack of effort or resources,” begins Moser. “Those programs have traditionally been hyper-focused on one thing. This circles back to my advice of continuing to change things up a bit for customers so that they want to come back for more.”
 
As loyalty programs and technology evolve, they allow brands to move faster and try new things in a more efficient way. Businesses should look at their priorities and how they’ve changed. With a better understanding, brands can review if the right partners are in place — such as loyalty vendors that help accelerate that mindset and aid brands as they tackle the customer experience in a new way.
 
“Utilizing different technology stacks is part of the process,” says Moser. “A common thread with many companies is that they have different technology programs across their organizations, and they all must talk to each other to move forward in executing a plan or initiative. Having the right team in place, getting stakeholders together, and merging the data in a way that helps you execute your plan flawlessly is imperative. It’s always been a challenge, but as technology improves, we’re going to see that improve as well.”
 
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Quick-fire Questions
What is your favorite word?
Passion.
 
What is your least favorite word?

Lazy.
 
What excites or inspires you?
Loyalty.
 
What do you find tiresome?
Winter.
 
What profession other than the one that you are currently in would you like to attempt?
Pilot.
 
What book do you recommend to colleagues?
Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg.
 
What do you typically think about at the end of the day?
My kids.
 
What’s out for loyalty in 2024?
Transaction-only based programs.
 
What’s in for loyalty in 2024?
Understanding behavior.
 

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