Keeping Changing Customers Loyal with Aimia: Q&A Part II

This is the second installment of our talk with Sara Galloway, Director of Loyalty Consulting for Aimia. You can read Part I here.
Aimia is a loyalty vendor that has tracked these changes whenever and wherever they have occurred. A global data-driven marketing and loyalty analytics company, it keeps tabs on the loyalty trends that are driving today’s consumers—and the trends that may change the loyalty space in the future.
To learn more about these trends, we recently spoke with Sara Galloway, Aimia’s Director of Loyalty Consulting. Galloway provided considerable insight into the changing loyalty landscape, and touched on topics ranging from “hyper-personalization” to approaching data acquisition to a movement toward simplicity in loyalty marketing.
In the research we did earlier, we saw that over 50 percent of brands don’t trust their current suppliers, and it’s in the high 60 percent for brands who don’t trust new technology providers. How do we address that?
Transparency is key, right? When selecting a vendor, if that vendor is not transparent with you around being stock-compliant or compliant with GDPR, then they’re not the right vendor for you. That vendor should be pretty open with the technologies that they use, the data warehouses that they have access to, where the data is being housed.
Do you have centers in Canada, and China, various spaces in the US? Are you using leading servers for continuous uptime? All of those types of technology and advancement should be transparent. That transparency just drives trust. The logo side’s important; don’t get me wrong. But, if you don’t actually have the security to back up the logos, you’re kind of flying without a pilot.
How can we address that as an industry? How can we keep the security, the trust that suppliers have in the market? That’s a big challenge, right?
That’s a good question. I’m a loyalty guru, so I tend to think that loyalty as a general statement is going to help solve part of that in and of itself, just by the nature of the mutual exchange of being smart with the data and giving the customer something in return.
I think we’re going to see more and more companies naturally shift towards data housing initiatives that tie directly to marketing where it’s safe in the consumers eyes. I don’t know that for certain but as a loyalty optimist I tend to think that’s where things are just going to naturally head based on the consumer having so much control right now.
Is the “customer journey” used as much as it was? Does it still mean something to you in your organization?
We tend to make it bigger than it actually is. It’s actually a pretty straightforward question, which means the answer is rather simple. A customer journey, in it’s truest form, is consumers having unique moments of needs and having moments of truth. In those moments of truth, they expect something from a brand. They expect something from a friend. They expect something from an engagement.
A customer journey is all about recognizing those moments of truth and personalizing across each touchpoint to guide members throughout that path. Ultimately, within a purchase customer journey it would be towards loyalty or ultimate habit building with a brand. It’s really just recognizing those unique moments of truth and then tailoring it to each individual.
So, it’s really about creating simplicity, listening, and making sure that the response is tailored and relevant to what the expectations are?
Yes, and listening to learn, not just listening to listen. Listening because you’re going to do something with it is key in that.
We talk about how there’s a difference between listening and just hearing something. Hearing, in contrast to listening, doesn’t necessarily prompt you to respond.
Exactly. What’s interesting about a journey—I think just based on the straight definition of using the word “journey”—is visually, what do people think of? They think of a path; people are running down a street, or they see a line.
What we know about life is that’s just not how life goes. It isn’t linear. It zigs and zags and goes in circles, and sometimes you go back to where you were five years ago and you learn something new, then you go down a different zig. You’re interacting in all these different ways. The concept of a journey is so much more, which is why the concept of these unique moments become really important, because those can be at any point in time, across any channel, in any direction, and they’re going to guide you based on preferences, or likes, or dislikes, where you might go. Understanding what those zigs and zags might be in a journey helps to further tailor to those personalizations at those moments of need.
What does authenticity and trust mean to you, and what does it mean to your customers?
Trust is continuous. Within loyalty is a mutual agreement between a brand and a consumer to have a two-way dialogue and give something to each other in return. It means that brands have access to a lot of data, which is a trend we’ve been talking about over the last couple of Q&As. But, the brands have access to this data, and consumers need to know what it’s being used for. That trust comes from transparently and respectfully showing how it’s going to be used and then wisely acting on it to improve both sides of the relationship.
When I think about trust personally and how it has impacted the relationships that we hold at Aimia, it means consistently demonstrating high performance. From a consumer, it could mean removing friction based on the data that you’ve achieved. Ultimately, sharing the value through listening. This kind of goes back to that concept of, how active of a listener are you? Truly listening what the customer has to say and acting on it.
What is the future of customer loyalty and customer loyalty programs?
I think this ties into one of your earlier questions. As we touched on briefly, we see the future of loyalty heading towards personalized programs. At Aimia, our approach is to truly look at the data, and I don’t mean slices of data. I mean really looking at all the data that we have and understanding, based on the data, what does each individual customer want? Building up individual customer journeys as we just called it, or individualized mini-loyalty programs, versus a one size fits all, and then using that to influence and drive customer behavioral changes.
As an example, I am highly motivated by an in-person, personalized-touch experience. I’m not a big online shopper. I probably go against the norm. Giving me the benefits for online frictionless shopping is just not going to get me to go and shop. Building a program that’s centralized around quick two-day delivery because you are a valued customer—it’s just not going to do anything for me. Giving me an in-store experience where I can talk to someone who’s helping design product or maybe has firsthand experience (and that means that maybe I’m going to get the product ten days later), that’s actually more valuable to me. I’m willing to spend more to get that. Others may be more incented by the next-day delivery.
It’s a lot about understanding what the consumer really wants, what’s motivating them to engage with the brand. That’s why we talk about the individual customer journey. People are different, their likes are different, their dislikes are different, and we need to start tailoring to that.
How important is personalization, and how do we do that at scale?
It’s my strong opinion that you can’t have loyalty without at least some level of personalization. It’s essentially a differentiator that loyalty brings to the table, because you actually have the data that you can use to help drive that. Truly, when we think about personalization, people think, “I need to have this massive data ready to go, in order to collect all of my data from all of these different sources, make sure its smarter for me.” So much of personalization is just being agile in your approach, making sure you have the right vendors who can help you create personalizations at those right moments of need.
A lot of my clients have heard this. It’s the common concept of “What happens when you check into a hotel? What’s important there from a personalization standpoint? What does the agent at check-in need to know?” Most often, when I check into a hotel, they, say, “Hi Sara, how are you doing, have you stayed with us before?” That just makes no sense to me, because as a loyal traveler who has stayed at these hotels frequently over many years, it blows my mind that they can’t simply state when I’m checking in: “Hi Sara, it’s great to see you again. We see you really like the 7th floor away from the elevator. Thanks for being a loyal customer!” Basic things like that actually quite surprise me that they can’t be enabled today.
There are other elements within personalization where it might not be as important. Making sure to select a vendor that can get data to the right places to the consumer at the right time is really, really, important. It’s maybe less about, how important personalization is across all areas of loyalty, and maybe, how important personalization is at the right point in time for the consumer within loyalty to really drive a changing experience.
If you could suggest one thing to brands, to marketers, to help them drive deeper customer loyalty, what would that be? Do you see one thing that’s working better than others in the industry now?
Start using your purchase data in a way that will analyze the individual versus the broad database. It seems like a pretty simple concept, but it’s not uncommon for us to see our clients say, “I want to drive purchase conversion, so I’m going to look at the average time between purchases across the entire database and then send out an email on day x, because I see that people typically should make purchase by day y.”
I think that type of analysis made sense a few years ago, but based on how much information we have today, the data that consumers are willing to share, the access that we’ve been granted, we’re required to be a little more thoughtful in how we analyze that data to truly change the experience and drive that next purchase for the consumer. Not just looking at it by general database, but looking at it by category, looking at it by channel, looking at it by preferences of the consumer, looking at it by social influencing patterns and search engines, clicks. All of those types of analysis should be considered to truly build a model that’s predictive and can help change and influence the consumer behavior.
Any prediction for what we’re going to see in the industry in 2019?
Predict, predict, predict. That’s the number one thing we’re seeing; consumers don’t want models that tell us what happen. They want us to build models that will predict where the customer is going to go, making sure that the tools that you have are using AI, being thoughtful about truly pushing data analysis forward. It’s the number one thing we’re pushing towards our clients. It’s the thing that we’re seeing drive the largest results. If you’re going to house the data, and you’re housing it securely, let’s make sure we’re doing something fun with it that’s really going to drive results.
How should we as an industry be talking about customer loyalty? What are things we should be doing to get a unique perspective from the brands, the marketers, and understand challenges?
I think that when people say, “I want to build a loyalty program,” there is still a little bit of a stigma centralized around points or cash discounts, buy/get constructs. I think that it’s time for that stigma to change. We as combined industry leaders need to make sure that we’re pushing and educating our clients and partners that loyalty is so much more than just a point. We see more and more companies shifting away from that. Truthfully, you can get so much from a consumer and give so much to a customer without a construct of points.
There’s so much more out there that the market is asking for and I think if we can start to shift that concept of “what do I get?” to “what do we give and how do we increase value?” that conversation becomes a little bit more interesting, and all the sudden, it becomes a connector to how we enable that across all technologies, all channels, all employees within an organization and less around “how do I make sure that my liability isn’t blowing up, because I’m giving away too many points,” which seems to be a common concern when we first start working with new clients. We need to shift away before our customer has to ask for it.
The idea of innovating with the consumer is one that we’re hearing increasingly. In a way, it bypasses the need to communicate a value proposition, because it gives consumers exactly what they want. We’re interested to see how this approach to innovation evolves in coming years, and we’ll be paying attention to Aimia’s activities on that front.

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