During Tuesday’s session titled, “State of the Loyalty Industry: A Discussion with the Loyalty360 Award Winners,” Loyalty360 CEO Mark Johnson gathered representatives of four companies who took home multiple honors at the inaugural Loyalty360 Awards held Monday at the 7th Annual Loyalty Expo, presented by Loyalty360 – The Loyalty Marketer’s Association.

If there was one common and consistent theme among the four award winners, it was this: The key to a successful loyalty program is constant evolution, evaluation, and listening to the customer.

“We’re constantly challenging ourselves,” Kale Sligh, Director, Brand Experiences & Products, C Spire, said. “Is this working? Do we need to change it? More than 50% of our customers are part of our loyalty program. We need to look at active membership and stay one step ahead of the competition. We are constantly pushing ourselves, constantly evaluating, nurturing, evolving, and developing.”

Pierre Bourbonniére, the Chief Marketing Officer of North America’s fourth-largest public transit organization, Société de transport de Montréal (STM), echoed Sligh’s sentiments.

“It’s all about continuous improvement,” he said. “You need to bring more features to the program.

Another common attribute among the four Loyalty360 Award-winning brands is absolute customer focus.

“Make sure the customer journey is clear,” Sebastien Reliat-Brunettiere, Deputy VP loyalty marketing and communication Flying Blue (the loyalty program of Air France and KLM), said. “It must be the top priority−focusing on the customer on a daily basis. Make sure there is a full and clear understanding of your customer.”

Kristi Gole, Director of Loyalty Marketing, Global Hotel Alliance (GHA) spoke about taking risks as an organizational confidence-building exercise.

“You have to take some risks and shift gears,” she said. “We started off very cautious and learned very quickly what things were working and we took chances.”

Sligh said it took some time before C Spire gained the confidence it required to roll out a successful loyalty program.

“It involved a lot of research and the behaviors we wanted to drive,” he said. “We’ve always been a customer-centered company, but we never had the magnetism of the bigger brands.”

Challenges for GHA, Gole said, include resources and a limited budget.

“It was about prioritizing and making offers that were differentiating and sustainable,” she said.

Bourbonniére discussed having an ongoing entrepreneurial aspect through internal buy-in from senior management.

“You need to be extremely convincing and demonstrate the value,” he said. “You need to bring them (senior management) in early on and have them be part of the solution.”

Sligh said C Spire is “blessed” with great leadership in an industry where rewards programs are not common.

“For us, it was a lot of research, consultants, and having the buy-in from them,” he said.

Regarding internal buy-in, Bourbonniére said to make sure to create clear objectives and let upper management know what will be done with those objectives as well.

Technology shouldn’t be a daunting task, Gole said.

“If your organization understands and appreciates loyalty, invest in technology because, as fast as technology changes, if you’re one step behind, you’re like 10 steps behind. Tell your story and give them a good reason to buy your product. We’ve had buy-in and complete reign to try things. It shouldn’t be a daunting thing.”

Sligh said brands need to understand their KPIs.

“The technology is there,” he said. “Data is where you’re going to do your most convincing. For us, lower churn rates and new acquisitions are key. Start with what behavior do you want to drive.”

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