Loyalty Marketers Need To Look at How They Impact the Customer Engagement Conversation

The customer journey can be a tricky thing for loyalty marketers to navigate effectively. Knowing when and where to impact the customer engagement conversation is a crucial piece of the loyalty puzzle.

To gain further perspective on this and other customer loyalty topics, Loyalty360 talked to three executives at Xenial: Gilbert Bailey, vice president, Analytics, Customer Engagement & Stored Value; Kristin Zupancic, director of professional services, and Jeremy Grunzweig, senior vice president, Retail.

Can you define what the phrase “customer journey” means to you? What does it mean to brands? And how do you see it changing?
Xenial: We’ve been living the digital transformation now for such a long time that people inherently know how different the customer journey is in the digital world than it was in the traditional brick and mortar environment. But it never hurts to remind merchants that the customer journey can−and does−start without the retailer or restaurateur even knowing.

It might start in search engine results, or when a customer sees a comment that a friend of a friend made on social media. They read an online review and the journey continues. Perhaps they stumble upon a viral video that influences their opinion.

Information access is all around us, and so are the points of entry for a customer journey. Much of it the business owner/manager has no control over. The smallest brands and the largest brands need to be aware of that.

Businesses also need to be aware–and let me emphasize this–that it is a lot easier to cause someone to never start the journey than it ever has been in the past, and it's a lot harder to keep them on the journey than it has ever been in the past.

Businesses need to look at how and where they can (and do) influence the customer conversation, and determine where and how and to what degree they are in the forefront of that journey. That way, whenever and wherever possible, they can lead customers to the desired path which is to turn them into a customer, and an engaged, loyal customer. 

Loyalty360: What are the biggest opportunities/challenges for brands and marketers today? If you could recommend one thing to a client (or prospective client), what would it be?
Xenial: The influence of digital and emerging technologies is a double-edged sword: It opens vast opportunities, but it also means that someone can just as easily find your competitor. Delivery is one example where disintermediation happens readily. The restaurateur hopes to get more business by working with a delivery service. Say a customer starts out hungry for pizza when they begin browsing through the delivery service's offerings. An ad pops up for a nachos-and-wings special from the local brewpub. Suddenly nachos and wings sound pretty tasty. 

The potential avenues for influence are only increasing. For example, as people order from Amazon Restaurants using their Amazon Echo, there is one more way their choices can be influenced, in this case, through the partnerships Amazon has with restaurants.
Because of the many influences (and influencers) that are out there, my recommendation is to try some rapid, focused tests and measure the results before investing too much time or money in any type of marketing campaign. This is especially important for smaller businesses, where the owner or manager is working 70 hours a week to keep their business running. It could also apply to a medium-sized company where the marketer also wears a number of other hats and finds it difficult to know where to apply effort and dollars. They are resource constrained, and they don't have the time, money, or inclination to outsource marketing to a third-party firm.
If you have software that makes it easier to try, measure, refine, improve, and try again, you have an advantage. There are tools that will enable you to run a quick campaign to a target market or a subset of your target, run some A/B testing, and measure the results, without investing a lot of time or capital.
Loyalty360: There is so much focus on customer data around creating actionable insight now. How should brands be managing data in a way that is less complex, easier to understand, and more impactful?
Xenial: We’ve learned a lot from talking with our customers about their challenges. Their needs vary when it comes to business intelligence. A merchant with a single store or a few locations typically hasn’t invested in a resource–whether that resource is technology or personnel−to help them track customer data, so they simply don’t have the data. For them, a tool that is easy to understand and use, that doesn’t require a lot of number crunching or a big-time investment, yet leads them to an answer, is golden, because they are so strapped for time. The better the insights the system delivers, the better decisions they can make. 
Larger businesses have so much customer or sales data, in so many systems or sources, that when they try to compile, compare, and make sense of it, it's a mess. We call this “spaghetti” because, visually, when you map out all the data, where it comes from, and how it all connects or overlaps, you end up with something that looks quite complicated: like a plate of spaghetti. For these customers, a solution that is powerful yet simple is best, one that compiles information from the back end–without going through data gymnastics.
Taking reporting to the next level, where it’s not just about making data available in a data warehouse, but refining it, systematically, to produce actionable insights, should be the goal of every company. It’s especially interesting to the enterprise because they have so much data that they can really improve their margins based on the right insights. Fortunately, we live in an age when systems are smart enough to lead you to the answer.
Loyalty360: What is the future of customer loyalty?

Xenial: Loyalty is going to have to be far less transaction-driven, less about offers. It has to be more about the experience and the engagement. That’s why talking about customer engagement rather than customer loyalty is more appropriate, because loyalty in many ways is dead.

Loyalty programs will be more about understanding what customers need and want and getting them that in an on-demand economy in a convenient and easy way. Look at recent successful startups around on-demand delivery such as Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s Shaving, or Birch Box. Likewise, consider retailers that let you work with a personal designer/shopper.

Yet it’s not always a product or a service that customers need. Sometimes, what they need is information. Case in point: A recent experience I had with my favorite loyalty program, American Airlines.
I was traveling with a layover in Chicago. The day before I left, I received an email from American letting me know that they were renovating one of the Admiral’s Club locations in O’Hare. They suggested that if I had enough time on my layover I could come down to the Admiral’s Club on the other end of the concourse.
That’s 1-to-1 proactive communication beyond the purchase. It makes for a great customer experience. It had nothing to do with miles, points, or upgrades; it had everything to do with my experience while on the ground in Chicago. Someone at American thought about what my experience might have been like had I walked down there only to find the club closed due to construction. And they did something, proactively.
Going forward, companies that win in the area of loyalty will be the ones that go the extra distance by using their loyalty program to create value for the customer in the context of their relationship with that customer, not just driving purchase and revenue.

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