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Loyalty360 had the pleasure of speaking with Mladen Vladic, General Manager - Loyalty Services at FIS Global. FIS is a well-known provider of technology solutions for merchants, banks, and capital markets firms around the world. By applying its deep expertise and data-driven insights, FIS helps clients leverage technology in innovative ways to solve business-critical challenges and deliver superior experiences for their customers. Mark Johnson, CEO of Loyalty360, sat down with Vladic about the importance of loyalty leadership in ever-changing times.
Can you give us a little background on your focus at FIS and what makes the company unique in its offerings?
Vladic: I manage the FIS loyalty business, so all aspects of that business — from product ideation through development to the deployment of those programs for many of our clients, while actively managing and consulting our ongoing program enhancements.
In regard to FIS, one of the things that truly differentiates and separates us from other companies is the variety of product solutions that we offer for financial institutions, merchants, capital markets, and fintech that very few companies have the ability to apply to scale. The many different verticals make us a one-stop shop and are a true differentiator for FIS.
If you could only choose one thing, what do you believe most influences a great customer experience? Why?
Vladic: Customer service is absolutely what makes that experience memorable and differentiates it. I would say great service can overcome the lack of technological convenience and value, but other components in the long term cannot overcome the lack of service. I’m a strong believer that the service makes a difference. Many products and services in today’s marketplace are commoditized. That service can and should be used as the differentiator. These days, consumer expectations are constantly changing. Providing great customer service is the key to brand success.
When brands seek to enhance their loyalty programs, what can they do to earn an early win and avoid common pitfalls?
Vladic: I think doing a strategic assessment up front is an essential requirement. This requires similar due diligence as you go through when you’re deploying a brand-new service for the first time.
Throughout the years, we’ve seen brands that are so inclined to make quick fixes and changes, but those are only temporary, and I would strongly advise against it. When you take the holistic assessment approach, you’re going to see a difference in the long term. I also believe that having a crisp and clear message about the changes you are making is essential. Having a strong communication strategy and getting all the different stakeholders in the company to embrace that new message is important.
Listening to consumer feedback is crucial for pointing out how those changes are connecting to consumers’ journeys and communicating how consumer feedback helped shape the new iteration of a product experience is only going to improve consumer perception of a brand. Finally, whatever you do related to loyalty engagement, there has to be an alignment with the broader strategy for the overall brand.
What trends are you seeing in the marketplace today? How do you see new technologies impacting the loyalty landscape as we move through fall and approach 2024?
Vladic: If there’s one trend to call out, it’s the rise of emotional loyalty. This is not necessarily a new idea. It’s been out there for a while, but it’s becoming increasingly relevant as more brands realize that simply focusing on transactional-based loyalty is becoming more challenging to stay relevant to changing consumer preferences.
The reason for this is that consumer expectations are changing. We are in the early days when it comes to emotional loyalty only. Our brains are effectively measuring emotional loyalty metrics and impact. There is an opportunity for the whole industry. I don’t think there is a clear alignment, even with the true KPIs. There are different verticals and different industries in terms of measuring emotional loyalty. I do believe that’s a tremendous trend we will see over the course of the next 12 to 24 months — how transactional and emotional loyalty are coming together to create a better version of whatever the new era of consumer loyalty is going to look like.
What is your personal motto?
Vladic: I believe in the concept of incrementality. Personally, and professionally, there is an opportunity to improve every day. I think when you break it down into small chunks, small increments, it’s easier to achieve smaller goals and measure success. If you get better every single day, this impacts the way we conduct ourselves and how we support our clients. We improve as a business. The service we deliver to our clients is elevated. It also helps keep your workforce more engaged and relevant.
What life lessons shaped your perspective?
Vladic: You learn a lot from both personal and professional difficulties that we all go through as human beings. I went through a pretty rough childhood, and I do believe that, eventually, it had a great impact on me in terms of forming my character and the way that I conduct myself. Today, as a parent, a husband, and a business leader, I also must be open-minded and willing to learn regardless of how much I know or think I know. Being part of our industry is a great journey because there is always something new to learn. Given all the changes and disruptions we are witnessing in our everyday life, that’s what makes what we do fun because it’s ever-changing.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given related to your profession?
Vladic: Seek to understand first. Given the fact that you know, it is very tempting to know it all. We are consumers at the same time, and we are sometimes quick to come to conclusions based on what we observe initially. If you have patience, a comprehensive approach, and you layer the passion for shaping a better consumer experience, you can do great things. Seeking to understand before you make a recommendation is absolutely crucial, even though it’s at times difficult given the industry that we serve.
If you could bring one great change into the workplace, what would it be, and why?
Vladic: I think too many of us are multitasking at all times. When I think about the best answer to that question, I think about the workforce today. There’s technology, a workforce setting, and remote work. There’s a focus. We help our employees cope and be engaged. All of those will continue to evolve as we go. Employers would be in a much better place and have a more productive workforce if they could help their employees change their approach to multitasking. I want to be clear, I’m not against multitasking. I just think that it should be an exception and not the operating model.
During COVID, we all learned how to — we believe — effectively multitask at all times. If we rethink that approach, we can end up with a superior productive output.
Are there one or two books you would recommend, and why?
Vladic: The one that I would call out is Contagious by Jonah Berger. It is a relevant read for all of us in consumer marketing today. It reveals the secret science behind word of mouth and social transmission. There are some products, ideas, services, and behaviors that are going to catch on. Then there are others that simply don’t get a following, and there’s no adoption, if you will. I think it’s a fascinating read that can benefit any marketer out there, especially given the context of the marketplace we are working in today.
We like to end these interviews with some words of wisdom for novice marketers and loyalty professionals. Do you have a tip or a lesson you could share?
Vladic: Dream big. Dreams are part of such a unique and interesting industry. We have so much freedom compared to other professions to disrupt and evolve. Brand new marketers and consumer loyalty professionals should embrace that type of thinking, have some conviction and passion, and be the change. We have seen innovation in this industry over the course of the last 5-10 years, but I would also argue at the same time, there’s a tremendous opportunity to continue to disrupt and evolve. If you’re young, eager, and you want to make a difference, absolutely dream big.
And now we have our quick-fire question round*. Let’s start. What’s your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What excites you?
What do you find tiresome?
Inability to make a decision
If you had a theme song, what would it be?
Never Give Up
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Small business owner
What profession would you avoid?
Who inspired you to become the person you are today?
My parents and Dennis Driscoll (founder of FIS Loyalty)
What do you typically think about at the end of the day?
Did I impact a human life today in a positive way?
How do you want to be remembered by your friends and family?
Caring above all
*Inspired by the quick-fire portion of “Inside the Actors Studio.”
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. It was great hearing your perspective on customer loyalty, and we look forward to learning more from you throughout the rest of the year.
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