Customer loyalty is important in normal times, but during the unprecedented times of a pandemic, loyalty to and from customers is paramount to success. It can not only show that you might be a brand customers value materially, but also that you’re a brand people want to continue visiting because of how it makes them feel.
Comarch has been working in the customer loyalty market for over 20 years, helping brands find customer loyalty solutions. Loyalty360 was able to speak to Bindu Gupta, a Loyalty and Marketing Strategist at Comarch, about loyalty during the current times, important elements brands should remember about retention and one big trend in the loyalty space.
Can you give us an introduction to your company and a bit about your role?
Comarch is a global company in every sense of the word – we were founded in Poland, and we now have offices all around the world. We have over 25 years of experience in designing and implementing IT solutions for large enterprises including airlines, travel companies, telecoms, financial institutions, and retail companies. Our wide range of IT solutions includes a full suite of Loyalty and Marketing services – and this is where I come in. I am currently heading up Comarch’s Loyalty Strategy Consulting practice. My primary role, in simple terms, is to build loyalty strategies that inspire customer engagement and loyalty to increase a brand’s overall ROI.
What are you hearing from your loyalty clients about their concerns on some of the current disruptions?
This pandemic has undoubtedly hit everyone hard, and many brands have had to shift their priorities and cut their budgets. In this uncertain environment, many consumers, too, are forced to change their habits and brand preferences, because they often value product availability over all else. This is a big challenge for brands, as we all know how difficult it can be to ensure product availability, especially now. When planning current and future strategies, brands must remember that customer loyalty is imperative to long-term success. While many may be looking to impose budget cuts on marketing, it’s actually more important than ever to boost marketing efforts and invest in a strong loyalty strategy. One way of doing so is by allying with the right partners to meet the evolving needs of customers.
How do you believe this crisis and uncertainty will impact overall customer experience and/or customer loyalty?
Often, consumers make buying decisions based on their emotional state, and their emotional state often intensifies during unstable times. During a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, their feelings and emotions are heightened, and brands need to understand this and adjust their loyalty strategy accordingly. They must think big picture and focus on customer-centricity.
It is also important for brands to map out the customer’s journey not only through their lifecycle but also, if data is available, throughout their life stages. A customer’s buying habits will change considerably after they reach certain milestones, such as purchasing a house or having a baby, and this should be accounted for in the brand’s loyalty strategy. Mapping out the customer journey can also help identify gaps and challenges so that brands can create a more seamless customer experience.
How can you help brands with mature loyalty programs adapt to current disruptions?
Brands with existing loyalty programs are, of course, a step ahead of brands who haven’t invested in one yet, but that doesn’t mean they can sit back and relax. They should be consistently conducting health checks to ensure customer satisfaction and assess the program from a business, technology, financial and competitive viewpoint. This is especially important right now because of the different circumstances we’re in. I always suggest that brands begin by asking the following questions:
How relevant and attractive are the program terms to current customers?
What is the purchase frequency of members vs. non-members?
How efficient is the current technology infrastructure?
What is the breakage rate?
What are competitors doing to manage disruption?
The answers to the above will provide a strong baseline to identify potential opportunities and gaps in the program and pave the way for a redesign to make it more relevant to the target audience.
What are the most important elements that brands should focus on to ensure retention?
A customer-centric vision is the ultimate key to long-term customer engagement and retention. In our latest whitepaper, A Guide to Building Customer-Centric Loyalty Programs: 16 Actionable Strategies, I have outlined how to build a customer-centric loyalty strategy and program to ensure retention. Let’s focus on two of these key methods: Personalization and Gamification.
According to the 2020 Loyalty Barometer Report, 85 percent of consumers would like to select the benefits and rewards they receive by personalizing their loyalty program based on their specific purchases and individual preferences, based on data specifically provided by them. This means brands should make it a priority to take personalization to the next level and maintain trust by giving the customers the power to choose what activities can help earn points as well as the rewards they can receive from them. By putting the customer’s needs first, brands can increase the average lifetime value of a customer (CLV).
Brands that incorporate gamification into their customer engagement strategies see a significant rise in engagement, brand loyalty, and brand awareness. A study by Snipp found that more than two-thirds of the world’s top 2,000 companies have already embraced gamification. With a strong gamification strategy, brands can encourage recurring behavior, incentivize specific actions, and engage customers beyond transactions.
What is the one thing that brands should continuously focus on to ensure their loyalty strategy and program are aligned with changing environments?
This is an easy one – brands must consistently use test-and-learn strategies if they want to ensure that their loyalty strategy is on par with changing circumstances. Today, the last thing a brand wants to do is come off as outdated or irrelevant. Thus, brands should be continuously testing their program and making changes based on the results. They should challenge the status quo or past “known truths” by bringing in new ideas to test, measure, and learn. For example, if a brand does not employ tiers within their program, they should test if introducing tiers will boost customer engagement. With everchanging consumer needs and preferences, I highly encourage brands to work with an expert to build a detailed test plan and continue learning. Whether it be through piloting a new loyalty program in specific markets or determining what types of rewards would be most redeemable, the beauty of testing is that it can be done on many levels and in many ways. Test-and-learn strategies provide data which allows brands to make informed decisions – and with the advent of automated testing and AI, the process of testing has become more effective and reliable.
What is the one big trend in the loyalty space that you think is here to stay?
Partnerships – without a doubt – are here to stay. When they’re done right, they can boost customer experience and engagement by offering more ways to earn and redeem. Customers get excited about partnerships that allow them to earn and use their points differently than usual – and this type of excitement is contagious. We have seen this with Air Canada and Etihad’s partnership, in which they offered reciprocal mileage earning and redemption opportunities, as well as with the partnership between Wyndham Rewards and Caesars Rewards, which allows members to earn and redeem points at Caesars Rewards locations in the United States and Canada when they book directly through Wyndham’s channels. We can expect to see many more partnerships like this in the future. Brands should evaluate their current loyalty strategy and determine what types of companies may be strong partners. Oftentimes, the most successful partnerships are the ones you’d never expect.