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When Rick Boubelik, Vice President of Loyalty at Epsilon, sits down with a client who wants to start a customer loyalty or rewards strategy, he always peppers them with a few foundational questions.
The first question being: “Why do you want a customer loyalty program?”
“The common answers are often, ‘Well my product is not selling well, so I need to give them points to help motivate people to buy,’” Boubelik says. “But loyalty programs don’t fix broken products, and they don’t fix bad customer service. There is a benefit to loyalty, but it’s not about points, and it’s not about just behavior change. It’s about connecting your brand to your customers and building trust and respect.”
In fact, Boubelik doesn’t even like to call it a loyalty program, because he sees it more as an overall strategy for the company.
“Loyalty needs to be core in what brands do − not just with the marketing team, but with customer service and finance people too,” he says. “It is critical to have them see that loyalty is a strategy and understand how it fits in with the rest of their customer engagement. Loyalty shouldn’t live on an island; it needs to be that cornerstone of their culture.”
Creating Connections Between Consumers and Brands
Epsilon is an outcome-based marketing firm, which has more than 50 years of experience providing the world’s top brands, agencies and publishers with award-winning data and technology. Among their clients: Citi, Dell, Inspire Brands, BP, Marriott, Walgreens, Dunkin, and Gap Inc.
As a loyalty leader in the firm, Boubelik evangelizes the philosophy that, “Loyalty is a value exchange between the brands and the customers. It has to be beneficial for both, so brands strive to provide the best customer experience possible to drive engagement. You want to give your customers a reason to come back again and again and again.”
Boubelik says the pandemic has caused a lot of brands to rethink their approach to customer engagement. And he adds that those companies that already had a loyalty strategy in place are the ones who will fare best in these uncertain economic conditions. He cites Buffalo Wild Wings as a brand he admires for persevering despite being hit with the double whammy of losing some in-store customers, as well as the ripple effect of sporting events being delayed or even canceled.
“They’ve done a great job very quickly of creating delivery alliances with constant and relevant updates,” he says. “They double-downed on their gaming section that’s very engaging for their members. They’ve really been focused on connecting friends and eating while watching games at home. And they’ve done a good job in how they’ve communicated that it can still be fun with updates to the mobile app.”
The Element Of Being Predictive
Boubelik says that the element of being predictive — and being better at predictive analytics than we are now — is the direction the loyalty industry is heading for 2021. “It’s time to move from analyzing data that is 30 to 60 days old, to making decisions on data in real-time, such as right after a consumer has interacted with product or service.”
Predictive models help brands anticipate what customers need so they can activate at the right time and right place. This ties back to having the right data in the first place to create a single, holistic view of customers, Boubelik asserts.
“You’re going to see predictive models that are driven by consumers themselves,” Boubelik says. “It’s not just the transactional data that’s out there. Think about understanding who the customer truly is – their behaviors, their interests, what devices they use and when is the right time to engage with them – to create 1:You personalized experiences within the loyalty program.”
Adapt or Fall Behind
Epsilon has encouraged its clients with an “adapt or fall behind” approach to keeping engaged with customers. Boubelik says being adaptable helps brands pivot more quickly, and those that embraced that strategy a while ago have been able to post better financial numbers than others. Gone are the days of the “set it and forget” approach to rolling out a loyalty and rewards plan and simply maintaining it.
Brands seek out Epsilon to keep their programs agile and in sync with their customer’s evolving buying habits. “They’re coming to us for a better, more cost-effective value exchange in their opportunities with customers,” he says. “They’re also looking for us to get to market faster with more personalized messaging. They want that instantaneous understanding of what the real-time data is saying, and tying that into real-time machine learning."
Another important pivot is the ability to create contactless loyalty, Boubelik says, which gets back to creating long-lasting bonds with consumers, and keeping them coming back—even when in-person contact is limited.
“In a contactless world when human interactions are not possible, the question becomes ‘how do we create the messages and experiences that connect with the consumer, and create the right value exchange?’” he says. You want customers engaging and spending with you, but you have to give them a reason to choose you amongst endless options in digital and physical spaces.
Learn more about Epsilon’s approach to contactless loyalty in our guide.
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