HTK Executive Addresses State of Customer Loyalty

The loyalty space is presently in a state of change, meaning that new challenges and exciting opportunities have arisen in the past years. With increasing data and privacy regulations (and the potential for significant anti-trust regulation), AI and machine learning innovation, and the arrival of new payment methods, Loyalty360 is reaching out to industry representatives for insight.
 
Recently, Loyalty360 spoke with Marlon Bowser, Founder and CEO of HTK, to hear his take on the state of customer loyalty in this time of change, development, and disruption.
 
What is the biggest challenge you are seeing in the market today?
 
Data—and what to do with it—is always the underlying challenge. From our perspective, the big question, at the moment, is: how do you actually act on the insights coming from your data in a timely, measurable way?
 
As a result, we’re seeing a bigger focus on data analytics and machine learning, especially their ability to enable one-to-one marketing. Businesses have been talking about one-to-one for a long time but haven’t really been able to make it happen. AI has the potential to change that. The challenge, though, is that a lot of businesses don’t yet have the tools or skills in-house to apply AI and machine learning effectively.
 
Another thing we’re seeing is that retention—not just acquisition—is becoming a higher priority, which is a really positive trend. However, we’re finding that businesses are increasingly hesitant to employ a traditional loyalty program, as the desire for points or some other “currency” is limited. Instead, they tend to be exploring targeted point-of-sale promotions, mobile wallet integration, and other emerging tech that’s more focused on the customer experience.
 
How are you responding to these challenges?
 
For us, AI is a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to getting more value from your data. But what brands need, especially in the retail sector, is easy access to AI-generated insights and recommendations, even when they don’t have a team of data scientists at their disposal. To that end, we’re developing a suite of AI-powered tools which will make accessing, analysing, and acting on data easier.
 
That includes things like optimizing the promotions you send to improve customer lifetime value and to increase profit margins, as an alternative to blanket discounts that eat into your bottom line. We’re also looking at ways to help marketers access deeper insight and create hyper-personalized experiences on the fly. Ultimately, our goal is to make AI and analytics more accessible, so that brands of any size can uncover deeper insights and act on them straight away.
 
Where do you see retail going and what would you advise a current or new client to do in order to effectively compete?
 
It was quite a surprise to hear Sir Philip Green say that he’d “reacted too late” to the changes in retail. Part of that comes down to funding, debt, property portfolios, pension liability, etc.—things that a loyalty strategy can’t really change.
 
But equally, it comes down to ensuring that product, price, and service are competitive, going above customer expectations, and that’s where technology can help to execute a board-level customer strategy. Listening to customers is key, and with new communication channels, natural language processing, and other forms of AI, a wealth of insight can be derived and acted upon through day-to-day, minute-to-minute interaction with customers. Understanding and reacting to customer sentiment is key to the growth of repeat sales, advocacy, and customer lifetime value.
 
Facebook’s Libra—what are your thoughts? What are your clients asking about bitcoin, evolving payment applications for their loyalty platforms?
 
Bitcoin and Libra haven’t really come onto the radar in any meaningful way, in terms of what our clients are looking for. Although they’re generating plenty of press, they’re still in the very early stages of adoption, so we’ve yet to see any major brands looking to integrate them into their customer-engagement strategy.
 
The payment landscape is certainly changing, and we’re seeing more brands doing things with better-established technologies like mobile wallet and NFC. But from our perspective, mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies (and related tech) is still a ways off. In fact, some of our clients, especially in financial services, actively discourage it.
 

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