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A loyalty program is only as successful as those who back it, and without enthusiastic employee engagement, the program is bound to falter. Brands need to find ways to excite their employees, keep them involved and educated, and equally importantly, reward them for their loyalty.
Loyalty360 spoke with supplier members to discuss the topic of employee engagement, and how it impacts customer loyalty efforts.
Provide frequent training to retain engagement
With the initial launch of a loyalty rewards program, brands provide their front-line employees with proper training on how to implement the program and engage customers. However, training cannot be one and done. As the program evolves, it is imperative for brands to communicate with their employees to keep a high level of excitement. But how often should brands train employees on their loyalty program or strategies?
Not all employees will require the same level of knowledge about the loyalty program; it truly depends on which employees are involved.
Attila Kecsmar, CEO and Co-Founder of Antavo, explains, “Whichever team is in charge of the program, usually a CRM team or marketing, should review the loyalty program functioning and its strategy on a quarterly basis, while they should all be aware of tactical initiatives and their performance on a monthly basis.”
In addition, C-level sponsors, like a CMO, should be exposed to the rewards program and its strategies every six months or annually to ensure the direction of the program is coherent with that of the business.
Quarterly updates and training are also key to keeping store staff engaged and informed, especially for businesses with an offline presence. After all, they are the ones that will advertise the program to customers.
Says Jennifer Strauel, Chief People & Diversity Officer, Arrivia, “Keeping your programs and the benefits of working for your company top of mind are a challenge for any company. Frequent communication is critical as employees are juggling more and more. Ideally, benefits training should be included in employee onboarding and then annually from that point forward, but often that doesn’t happen.”
In an effort to combat these challenges, Arrivia recommends sending periodic communications about each reward or program available at least quarterly through a variety of media, including newsletters, intranet postings, videos, emails, company social media, and mentions in town halls or other live events.
Unique ways to generate excitement go a long way
If employees are excited about the customer loyalty efforts, chances are, the customers will be excited, too. Some brands have unique ways of generating excitement and buy-in, whether by offering employee rewards or conducting contests. The point is to keep the loyalty program top of mind long after launch.
“Ensuring employees can experience a loyalty program and enjoy its most meaningful benefits, deepens the opportunity for connections with customers with firsthand experience and personal recommendations,” says Amy Farsht, Sr. Director Partnerships at The Lacek Group.
She cites this example: Marriott Bonvoy is built upon the belief that travel enriches everyone and allows employees to earn elite benefits. This approach allows the brand to utilize employees as a testing ground for what works, what doesn’t work, and solicit suggestions on how to evolve future iterations of the program and introduce relevant, meaningful benefits that change perceptions or encourage specific behaviors.
Arrivia offers companies the opportunity to provide travel benefits to their employees through its travel platform. “They would simply partner with us in the same way they do a healthcare benefits provider,” explains Strauel. “We would administer their entire booking platform and create tailored travel benefits for their workforce.”
Work-life balance and experiences are currently one of the most valued things an employer can provide to their workforce; giving employees more time off work and a way to see the world at greatly discounted prices is unique and ignites a spark of energy that starts the fire of deeper employee engagement and loyalty to the employer.
“One great example that comes into my mind is a company that has involved many different teams in the loyalty program design and reward offering definition,” cites Antavo’s Kecsmar. “For example, the badges for offline stores and the loyalty program journeys regarding the stores were designed in collaboration with the retail team. Everyone was equally responsible for getting the right strategy and offering attractive incentives.”
High turnover in wake of pandemic requires strategic solutions
With many brands struggling to find staff and dealing with employee turnover, brands need to find alternative ways to deliver quality customer service and experience.
Iris® Powered by Generali has been highly affected by rising turnover rates and “the great resignation,” but the company remains positive. Says Eugenia Blackstone, Chief Marketing Officer, “Our customer service department (AKA our Resolution Center) is a shining example of how you can do more with less.”
At the height of the pandemic, the Resolution Center was struggling with employee turnover while simultaneously handling the highest call volumes they had ever seen (Iris Powered by Generali is in the identity & cyber protection space, and the pandemic only ripened the fraud climate). During this time, the brand also saw its highest customer satisfaction scores.
Adds Blackstone, “If your team stays hyper-focused on providing the best customer service possible, then higher turnover shouldn’t affect the customer experience.”
At Antavo, they stress the importance of implementing tools to make the customer experience more independent and driven by the end user. This can be leveraged to create a positive user experience while reducing the scope of responsibilities of a certain team.
Jennifer Strauel at Arriva suggests finding low-cost ways to differentiate the brand from other employers in the market. A quality employee experience does not have to be expensive, just unique.
Keeping employees engaged in the long run
There are several common challenges that brands face when it comes to employee engagement. How brands work to address those challenges are fundamental to sustaining a successful loyalty program.
“A common challenge we’re all facing is employees thinking the grass is greener with another employer, from media coverage, social media posts, and contact from headhunters,” explains Strauel. “This feeling could be coming from a perspective of compensation, work location (working from home), benefits, or other factors, and it creates a restlessness and openness to explore other opportunities.”
To address this, employers like Arrivia are “blocking and tackling” in a multi-dimensional approach.
“We’re talking to employees more in ‘check-in chats,’ 1:1’s with their leaders, virtual town halls, company emails, focus groups, newsletters, and more. We’re enriching our benefits in unique but low-cost ways and shouting the changes from our rooftops to ensure that employees know about them, such as the travel benefits. We’re also addressing compensation in a variety of ways, both proactively and reactively, to ensure that we pay for performance and retain our best people.”
At Antavo, they suggest finding ways to maintain excitement and motivation in the long run. Says Kecsmar, “It is normal to have an engaged and excited team at the start, but this can fade over time. Ensuring that any difficulty or poor quality customer experience is reported and addressed is important, as is feedback from employees to ensure you have visibility on what is happening and how to fix it.”
For Iris Powered by Generali, one of the biggest challenges its clients face in engaging their agents is the competition that naturally arises when they’re selling more than one product.
Blackstone elaborates, stating, “This means that our product is sometimes competing with others for attention. As their partner, we’re always working to help better educate their agents so that identity and cyber protection is at the forefront of their mind when interacting with their members. We’re constantly pumping out new collateral to help weed through the noise; and we have a partner marketing arm designed to do just that.”
The Lacek Group witnesses clients with retail, dealer or franchisee locations expressing frustration with a lack of loyalty program communication to current or potential members. From the partners’ perspective, they already have so much information to remember and processes to follow, that the loyalty program story just isn’t prioritized on the list of items to discuss with consumers.
Says Farsht, “We encourage brands to think of this challenge like any other business problem to solve, by starting with the customer experience. In this case, the customer is the business partner. Visit those locations, shadow their customer interactions and ask questions to deepen your understanding of what works well in their daily environment and more importantly, what does not.”
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