Turn your customer loyalty strategic plan into an action plan

Blogged in collaboration with Samantha Ngo, Senior Research Associate, serving Customer Insights professionals.

Even if you have a clear idea of where you want to end up, the route you take to customer loyalty isn't always straightforward. Outlining a strategic plan helps you understand what you need to do, but a roadmap identifies howwhen and with what resources you should tackle each step. Forrester believes there are six components to designing an effective loyalty roadmap:

  1. Time frame: The expected completion of tasks and delivery of results.
  2. Desired outcomes: Key performance indicators (KPIs)that help you benchmark the performance of your advancing strategy based on your maturity.
  3. Strategic themes: A summary of the objectives an organization needs to advance its strategy.
  4. Key steps: The specific tasks — pulled straight from the strategic plan — which an organization must complete to graduate to the next maturity level.
  5. Dependencies: The people, process, and technology required to execute the key steps. Changes to the current approach may require acquiring new team members, implementing formal processes, or buying loyalty technology.
  6. Investment level: Where and when the allocated loyalty budget will be spent.
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It's time to fall back on the loyalty basics

Blogged in collaboration with Samantha Ngo, Senior Research Associate, serving Customer Insights professionals.

As a kid, I loved going back to school. The beginning of September always meant new classes, new classmates, and of course new notebooks, pens, and pencils. And even though I’m not in school anymore, I still see September as an opportunity to turn over a new leaf, and approach things — both personally and professionally — with a fresh perspective. So, in honor of the first few weeks of Fall, let’s all take some time to study the loyalty basics. Process, while not the most exciting aspect of loyalty marketing, is necessary for building a sound foundation. Without processes, your ability to execute on your loyalty strategy is shaky at best and sudden changes to the market or unforeseen obstacles may leave you in disarray.

To avoid loyalty strategy failure, you must streamline processes around these three objectives:

  1. Building a deep understanding of customer needs and motivations. Loyalty starts with knowing your best customers and asking for their input. But, if gathering data from your customers, make sure you use it. They will expect it.
  2. Preparing for relentless adjustment. Digital business is booming, and loyalty can’t miss out on opportunities to innovate. Test and learn new customer engagement tactics on a small scale. Don’t be complacent with your strategy, but don’t over spend on improvements that won’t last.
  3. Establishing enterprise wide alignment. Do you know who your key internal stakeholders are? Identify them then build teams and processes to help create seamless customer experience.
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You just found out you’re a loyalty laggard. Now what?

Blogged in collaboration with Samantha Ngo, Senior Research Associate, serving Customer Insights professionals.

After taking the customer loyalty assessment, you know whether you’re a laggard, learner, leader, or legend:

Great, but you’re probably thinking "Where do we go from here?" You need a game plan that clearly identifies where and how improvements should be made. To do so, take the gaps in your current approach and prioritize your tasks based on whether each one is a:

  • Need to have. These are non-negotiable tasks that will make or break your graduation to the next maturity level.
  • Want to have. These are important, but not critical tasks for taking your maturity to the next level.
  • Nice to have. These tasks come in handy for differentiating your loyalty approach, but have little bearing on your maturity level.

Priorities will differ for each stage of loyalty maturity and I lay out examples of these needs, wants, and nice to haves in my recent report, Craft A Customer Loyalty Strategy That Raises Your Maturity. Do you have a plan?

Taking Loyalty Beyond The Program

I really enjoyed sharing insights about loyalty in the Age of the Customer at Forrester's Customer Experience Forum East back in June. I got some great questions from the audience about how to start planning and advancing their loyalty strategy. Next up, I'll be continuing the conversations at Forrester's Customer Experience Forum West in Anaheim, CA, November 6-7. And, a few weeks later I'll also be at our EMEA Customer Experience Forum, November 17-18 in London. Here's a sneak peek of the content I'll be sharing at my track session. I hope to see you there!

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How do you measure customer loyalty? Let me count the ways.

mixed up measure

I recently interviewed a number of companies about their approach to customer loyalty. In each conversation I asked a variation of the question "How do you define and measure customer loyalty?" And what struck me is that while many companies define loyalty using various terms like share of wallet, length of relationship, engagement, and customer value, they often measure it using only transactional metrics. Now, there are various reasons for this. Some don't have access they to the data they need to gage emotional loyalty. Others don't have the analytics capabilities or resources they need to pull the pieces together. But loyalty if multi-faceted, complex, and has emotional and rational aspects that aren't mutually exclusive, and certainly can't be reduced to a single metric.

So what should you do? First, heed my rallying cry: It's time to push past purchase as a proxy for loyalty. Second, Forrester can help. Loyalty may be difficult to measure, but it's not impossible. My latest research report provides a framework that buckets loyalty measurement into four, cooperative levels:

  • Programmatic measurement assesses loyalty program health. These metrics explain how the loyalty program grows in size, scope, and activity level over time. Sample metrics include enrollment rates, offer response rates, and program usage.
  • Purchase measurement quantifies the customer relationship. These metrics explain how the loyalty strategy improves customer profitability. Sample metrics include average order value, frequency, and basket assortment.
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The Landscape Of Loyalty Providers: Everything But The Kitchen Sink?

I field a lot of inquires from clients in various stages of loyalty vendor selection projects. Some come with a tightly defined short list, but more often than not, they aren't even sure where to start. Customer loyalty initiatives take several forms including highly structured programs and loosely tied customer service, marketing, and product development tactics spread throughout the organization. As such, vendors of all types -- from loyalty-specific service providers and platforms to customer engagement agencies and analytics service providers -- bring loyalty strategy, management, and marketing chops to the table: 

Loyalty provider categories

With so many different providers knocking on their door, it's no surprise that marketers feel overwhelmed by the selection process. My most recent report cuts through the clutter by organizing loyalty providers into categories based on their core offerings and delivery models. But, before you start dropping vendor names into a shortlist, you first must answer these three questions:

  • How does your company approach loyalty? Take stock of your existing retention tactics and how customers currently interact with your products, services, and brand. Outlining your organization’s approach will help you select new partners but also potentially enrich relationships with existing partners.
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Do you have what it takes to be a loyalty legend?

There are more than a few loyalty-esque proverbs that float around marketing departments and boardrooms everywhere: "repeat customers spend more," "it costs five times more to acquire a customer than to retain a customer,"  "80% of your revenue is driven by 20% of your customer base." If you are reading this blog post, chances are that you have uttered at least one of these phrases at some point in your career. But, if you've ever tried to put your money where your mouth is, you also know that achieving true customer loyalty requires strategic alignment, deliberate planning, and financial and cultural commitments. Loyalty is both behavioral and emotional, and companies that really want to compete for their customers’ loyalty need an evolved approach that extends beyond the program.

To help you understand where your loyalty strategy stacks up, Forrester has developed new self-assessments that examine loyalty from two points of view: the business' and the member's:

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Perking Up Your Loyalty Program Benefits Is As Easy As A-B-C

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:

Table of benefits and customer impact

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Get With The Program (Or Not): It’s Time To Evolve Your Loyalty Strategy

In 2014, customer loyalty is a bit of an anomaly. Customers are empowered, informed, and have myriad options to choose from. They don’t really need to be loyal. But for companies doing business in the Age of the Customer, earning customer loyalty is more important than ever before. Satisfied loyal customers are the only reliable source of growth.

So, what do loyalty strategies look like today? For most companies I talk to their loyalty program is their strategy. While narrow, this approach doesn’t completely miss the mark. After all, the premise of a loyalty program is to create a mutually beneficial exchange for rewarding customers and collecting customer insight. And, for many marketers I talk to in retail, hospitality, and other industries, their most valuable customers are active participants in their loyalty program. The issue is that programs today are better positioned to “lock-in” customers rather than leverage member insights to drive personalization and improve the way they serve their customers. The traditional means of “driving” loyalty with points and discounts are no longer sufficient. It’s time for companies to evolve their approach to loyalty programs and strategies with a focus on relationships, advocacy, and engagement.

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Just Published: Our Forrester Wave™ Evaluation Of Loyalty Program Service Providers

We recently wrapped up our second evaluation of loyalty program service providers. From a potential pool of over 30 loyalty providers, we selected eight leading vendors that offer soup-to-nuts loyalty strategy, technology, and program management services. What has changed since our last evaluation? Notably, we found an increased focus on building programs that go beyond transactional rewards and loyalty technology. Wraparound program management services are still a key component of their solutions, but every vendor included in this Forrester Wave evaluation offers a productized platform that can be configured to meet client requirements.

In our final evaluation of eight vendors in“The Forrester Wave™: Loyalty Program Service Providers, Q4 2013,” we found a relatively competitive field of providers. Each firm has strengths and weaknesses in its current offering, but the leaders differentiate themselves through their forward-thinking company strategies. From a road map and development perspective, further increasing customer engagement capabilities, continually improving technology, and investing in more sophisticated loyalty analytics are major focus areas.

I want to extend my sincere thanks to each vendor in the report — Aimia, Brierley+Partners, Connexions Loyalty, Epsilon, Kobie Marketing, Maritz Loyalty Marketing, Olson 1to1, and Tibco Loyalty Lab — for committing to and participating in the often grueling Forrester Wave evaluation process. In addition, thank you to my CI colleagues Samantha Ngo, Carl Doty, and Shar VanBoskirk for supporting and editing this research.

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