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Loyalty Expo touts Customer Experience

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Loyalty Expo touts Customer Experience
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The Loyalty Expo, a product of Loyalty360, was held in Orlando Florida in late March week and it was quite an “experience”. In fact, the word experience was used in the titles and summaries of nearly half the presentations, establishing the importance of integrating today’s loyalty programs in the context of daily purchase behavior and brand interaction as the most vibrant theme of the event.

In North America, Loyalty360.org is the de-facto industry association for loyalty marketing. This was the 6th edition of the Expo and the size of the delegate audience and diversity of brands in attendance were testimony to the continued interest in loyalty marketing as well as success of this organization.

Mark Johnson, Loyalty360 CEO, provided his own keynote for the event. Asking the question that never seems to go away with a simple consensus, Mark queried the audience on how they each define “Loyalty”. He continued by sharing a series of personal experiences with some of his most frequented airline, hotel and retail brands, making the case that the true value of a loyalty program is in the data collected. While the world spins in discussions about Big Data, Mark pleaded for brands to take advantage of “little data” to inform daily interactions, recognize valuable customers, and enable customized treatment of these customers based on their history, value, and potential to the brand.

Phil Rubin, owner of the agency rDialogue and Maggie Lang, Kimpton Hotels, followed with a case study of how the boutique hotel chain has used little data to improve its customer service and increase customer satisfaction.  The San Francisco chain is an acknowledged pioneer in bringing the boutique hotel concept to the US and now operates 58 hotels in 24 cities. Its loyalty program is named InTouch and focuses on gathering profile information for its members in order to serve up personalized experiences while on property.

In Kimpton’s and other presentations which shared examples of brands crafting customer interactions based on collected data and positioning this customization as a benefit of a loyalty program, several delegates asked for clarification between data-informed customer experience and stellar customer service. For instance, when reservation personnel at the hotel made an in-the-moment decision to provide a cocktail for a weary traveler on the house, delegates wanted to know if the surprise and delight tactic was “loyalty” or “customer service”. The answer seems to “both” and highlights another important aspect of loyalty program execution today. Front line employees hold the key to successfully communicating program benefits and making these benefits come alive for members. For Kimpton and others, training employees to understand the importance of the InTouch program and allowing them the freedom to execute within discretionary limits was the crucial link between the loyalty program and the customer experience.

The discussion of customer experience continued with Orbitz, Choice Hotels, MasterCard, American Eagle Outfitters, SunTrust Bank, Badgeville and several others. As you might imagine, it was the presentations which shared data concerning program outcomes that drew the highest attention among delegates.

Mister Car Wash is the largest chain of its type in the US, with over 100 locations in 14 markets. They operate two loyalty programs, Mister Value Program and Unlimited Car Wash club. The “MVP” program is free to join and provides a 10% discount on full service car wash and other services, while the Car Wash Club provides unlimited car washes for a monthly fee with no contract. Individual store managers were voicing concern that these programs were margin-eaters, and wisely the chain decided to respond to their doubts with hard program data.

The power of both programs was made clear when Mister Car Wash shared that members who registered an email address with the chain visited 4.67 times more than those who did not register an email and delivered an average revenue $75.42 higher than their non-registered counterparts. Those numbers translate into huge incremental revenue figures and helped sway opinion among store managers. 

Part 2 of this conference report will follow tomorrow and will focus on the future of private label credit cards.

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