- NORTHFIELD, NJ, October 03, 2006 - With more and more businesses adapting some variation of a loyalty program, whether a simple punch card program or a more elaborate computerized program, many are led to a false sense of security thinking that once implemented customers will be theirs for life. The reality is that with the proliferation of loyalty programs in use today, you need to make sure that your business is doing as much now if not more to keep your customers coming back again and again. Just relying on a basic loyalty program to do it for you is not enough!
Ahhh, and there lies the real question you need to ask yourself. What is enough? In the old days just having a good product along with customer service was more than enough to keep your customers coming back again and again. But in this day and age you are only as good as the next coupon in the mail, or email for that matter. What do you need to do to be able to stay one step ahead of the competition? Sure you have to provide a good product with customer service but how do you continue to out perform the competition?
Just implementing a loyalty program is a start. When you think about loyalty programs, what are you really are getting or for that matter giving? The general concept of giving something away to a customer after they have spent "x" dollars or have earned "x" points is a very basic loyalty program. Is that enough? Does that constitute a good loyalty program? How about if the program you are using collects data on your patrons, such as name, address, phone number, email address etc. Does this mean you have a good loyalty program? Not even close! Just implementing a point program or collecting customer data is no where near enough if you cannot use it! It's what you do with the information collected that distinguishes a successful loyalty program from an unsuccessful one and to use your data effectively, that data must be collected, and available, in an easy to use format.
So what is the answer? Have you ever turned to a co-worker and asked "have you seen John in a while or Mary"? When customers stop frequenting your establishment, do you have the tools to recognize and do something about it before it is too late? If you can not easily reach out to John and Mary after they have left your business than you have your answer!
The loyalty products that work best are the ones that not only reward your customers while they are in you store but, can reach out to them after the sale, after they have left your establishment. Being able to communicate with your customers after they leave is paramount to being successful with a loyalty program. Whether it is communicating with your customer because it's their birthday, anniversary or because you haven't seen them in a while, each chance you have to draw them into your store helps make them a true loyal customer.
A few things you should consider when looking at a loyalty program for your store:
● Is the program terminal based or PC based?
If the program is terminal based (transactions captured using a credit card machine) chances are you will have less flexibility as opposed to a PC (computer based) system. Depending on the service provider you will need to ascertain how general data is captured besides just the card number and sales amount. You do not want to rely on the discipline of a customer going online to enter their name, address, email etc. The characteristics of a good loyalty program allow you to add, delete and modify customer data on the fly (while the customer is at the register).
● What happens if the customer loses their card?
It always seems to happen during the busiest of times... your customer has either lost or misplaced their loyalty card. Well the truth is it won't do you or your customer any good if you cannot easily lookup their account and reward them whether they have their loyalty card or not. If the program becomes too tedious for the customer they will stop using it thus, defeating the whole purpose of having a loyalty program in the first place. The loyalty program should not just rely on your customer having their loyalty card with them and should not be the only means to access their customer record. The program should be able to access a customer record, without delay, with or without a card by first name, last name, business name, phone number(s) etc.
● Can the loyalty program collect additional data beside sales amount, (i.e. name, address, email address etc.)?
If you are not collecting additional data on your customers than you will not have the ability to effectively connect with your customers after the sale.
● Once the data is collected, is it easily accessible? Does it allow for rules filtering? What format is it in?
Whatever data your system does collect, it should be easy to get too and should allow for sorting and filtering in a manner that is usable to the mailing you will be doing (i.e. miss you promotion or a birthday promotion etc.). Your data should also be exportable in a standardized format, not a proprietary format that cannot be used outside of the program.
● Do you have to pay to access your data or is it available as needed? If you have to pay to access your own data you will need to factor that in every time you decide to do a mailing. This added cost may deter you from doing mailings which in turn will defeat the whole purpose of collecting the data in the first place.
● Does the loyalty program allow for emails, post cards and hard copy letters to be created and sent internally, or do you have to create your own and do a mail merge each time you are creating a promotion or contacting your customer?
If you need to import the data into another program, sort it and create from scratch your own promotions and marketing materials, this alone may be too tedious and time consuming. You need a quick and easy to use solution when trying to reach out to your customers.
● Does the company running the loyalty program manage the mailings and email campaigns for you or can you do it yourself?
This may be a good option for larger companies that can afford the additional expense of having someone manage your program for you but, the truth in the matter is, if you elect to go this route you need to plan ahead so you can set aside the needed funds associated with running a program on this level. You will be amazed how quickly costs add up when someone else is running the program for you. This added cost must be factored into your return on investment as well.
● Does the company running the loyalty program tie you into a contract?
This should be a red flag when looking at a loyalty program. There is no reason you should have to sign a contract, let alone a long term contract with a loyalty program provider. Just ask yourself... why? Are they concerned that you may go somewhere else? Not if they are providing you with an excellent product and service.
So ask yourself... is your loyalty program merely a glorified punch card or do you have the tools required to bring your customer back after they leave, time and time again?
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