If you follow my blog regularly, you already know that I love to travel. And while I’ve had my fair share of travel hiccups (missed flight connections, last-minute assignments to the dreaded middle seat, lost luggage – you name it), I’ve always glossed over these snafus and accepted the fact that traveling inevitably comes with a few small challenges.
Until this year, when I hit executive traveler status on a major airline thanks to the loyalty points I amassed during my trips. Suddenly, my tolerable travel experiences became overwhelmingly enjoyable ones, and I quickly came to love (a word I don’t use loosely!) flying with this airline because of the VIP treatment. My reaction isn’t unique. In fact, it’s characteristic of my generation: Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data shows that Millennials highly value loyalty programs that reward customers with enhanced customer service and special status, as Millennials cherish this sense of validation and exclusivity.
Specifically, our data shows that the loyalty program reward tactics that work for middle-aged and older consumers are not enough to satisfy Millennials. While customers of every generation want discounts, Millennials also expect loyalty programs to offer a premium customer experience. And what’s more, younger consumers want the flexibility of applying loyalty points to a variety of benefits – from travel upgrades to digital media content to charitable donations – while their older counterparts are happy using their points to get cash back.
Consumers and marketers don't always see eye to eye when it comes to customer loyalty programs. Consumers tell us they enroll in programs for the points, discounts, and savings, while companies tell us boosting customer engagement is a top goal for their loyalty programs. Sixty-seven percent of consumers consider themselves active in programs they join, yet the marketers who run loyalty programs report that only 16% of customers are active program participants. Regardless of which camp you fall into, one thing is clear: a program is only as strong as the members who participate in it. And, the value exchange a program creates is central to attracting members today and getting them to come back tomorrow, next month, and next year.
But, choosing program benefits can create some anxiety. Marketers need a mix of rewards that satisfies consumers' desire for savings while encouraging deeper engagement, and acknowledging/recognizing customer value. Forrester clients often ask me questions like "What can we offer besides points?," and "How do we make customers feel valued?." The short answer is that there are a lot of options that have varying objectives for the customer:
Many companies tie rewards to a rise in either Net Promoter Scores (NPS) or customer satisfaction scores. Unfortunately, that's exactly the kind of mistake that leads employees and partners to game the system. Porsche discovered that its stellar NPS was the result of dealers offering freebies to customers in exchange for higher scores. Similarly, when it noticed that satisfaction scores and comments didn't match, music retailer Guitar Center had to retool its rewards and recognition system to prevent store associates from massaging customer survey results.
My report describes the process for ensuring your rewards and recognition reinforce customer-centricity, rather than tempting employees to game the system. To avoid common pitfalls, companies must:
Earlier this week I caught up with Discover’s Mike Boush to talk about his keynote at the upcoming eBusiness Forum, where he’ll explore innovations in eBusiness at Discover. Here’s a snippet of our conversation, and a sneak peak of Mike’s session at the event:
Q: What digital initiative have you undertaken in the last 12 months that you're most excited about?
A: I love what we're doing with partnerships online. It's creating a whole lot of value for customers and, frankly, getting us out of the "must be built at Discover" mentality. It started with an integration with PayPal in order to deliver peer-to-peer payment services. The program leverages PayPal’s huge delivery platform, and customers love it. Then we introduced an integration with Amazon that lets customers pay for their Amazon.com purchases with the cash they earned through our Cashback Bonus rewards program. This really highlights the difference between competitors' "points" programs and our straightforward cash, and the transparency shows just how great our program is. And recently, Google announced our integration of Discover card enrollment into the Google Wallet from our website, which is convenient for customers and helps position us in the mobile payments space. These integrations are just a sample of what we've done, but they become powerful illustration of what we can do when we team up and innovate with other great companies.
Q: What gets in the way of delivering the right experience to your customers?