Creating those emotional connections with customers is an ongoing quest for loyalty marketers, and is pivotal in establishing long-lasting brand loyalty.

But making those incredibly important and valuable emotional connections with customers is easier said than done.

Loyalty360 talked to Rhonda Basler, director, customer engagement at Hallmark Business Connections, about her views on this enormously important topic.

We hear so much from loyalty marketers about creating those emotional connections that sustain brand loyalty. Can you talk about this aspect of loyalty and what brands need to do to achieve this?
Basler: The word “valuable” comes to mind. The customer has to find value in the goods and services they buy, but more and more they also have to feel “valuable” to the company they are buying from. While value in the goods and services is often a logical decision, feeling “valuable” is emotional and is far more nuanced.

The last thing customers want is to feel like they are a record in your database. Whether companies are communicating with one person or one million, they have to feel like that experience is just for them. Customers want to experience the human side of a company and hear it through a genuine, sincere voice. In that way, brands can build and strengthen relationships to make customers feel truly valued and appreciated, and that leads to loyalty and customer lifetime value.

What is being done well in this regard, and where do the challenges lie?
Basler: The competition within the loyalty marketing industry continues to expand. On average, Americans tend to be enrolled in 29 loyalty programs. However, they usually participate in only 12. Although most programs are based on offers received and points earned, keep in mind: Loyalty is rooted in emotion. Thinking about these programs as purely transactional misses the relationship-building aspect that is crucial when asking customers to choose your business, your prices, and your products over competitors. Especially when competitors are only one click away.

In the past, loyalty was expected to flow from the customer to the business or provider. Quality products or service performance naturally earned the repeat purchases to the exclusion of competitors’ offers. While quality products and service performance continue to be valid factors today, expecting loyalty solely based on them is neither reliable nor sufficient enough to grow and keep customers knocking at the door. In today’s retail environment, customers are making buying decisions based on how loyal a company is to them.

A loyalty program itself doesn’t keep customers forever, but memorable experiences do. What is your view on this?
Basler: At Hallmark Business Connections, we thoughtfully plan for the customer experience using three words:

Is it Meaningful? Does the customer think it is “just for them” and touch them in a significant way?

Is it Memorable? Will they remember the experience a day, week, month or year later? If the customer won’t remember the gesture, it obviously can’t have any impact on loyalty.

Is it Measurable?  Can we measure that it had an impact?  If we can’t measure it, we can’t continue to invest in it.

How much pressure is on loyalty marketers today to make this all-important emotional connection?
Basler: Based on what is happening in the part of our business that helps companies use Hallmark cards and gift cards to engage customers, I’d say it has quickly become not only a strategic direction, but one that has proven to improve customer loyalty, business results, and marketing ROI. We lean heavily on emotional intelligence in our customer engagement strategies.

At Hallmark, we are naturally wired for intimate, personal communications. It’s in our DNA. We are seeing double, triple and up to almost ten times the ROI as other direct marketing tactics. No one should doubt the value that how a customer feels about your company is every bit as important as what a customer thinks about your company. Our CEO, Tressa Angell, likes to say, “Our clients use us as part of their business strategies not because it feels good, but because it works.”

What do you foresee as far as brands devoting more time and resources to making and sustaining emotional connections with their customers?
Basler: The customer is shaping the market so we see the CMO role evolving to embrace the tenets of customer experience or even taking on that role, either formally or informally. From my experience working with both our clients’ marketing people and those assigned to customer experience, I see them making decisions based on the firm belief in the value of emotional connections.

Our clients have reported:

An increase in response rates from 5 percent to 44 percent.

A ROMI of 38:1.

An 89 percent satisfaction rating from customers who receive Hallmark cards.

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