eCommerce Insiders

The #1 Tool of Customer Loyalty Programs

Empathy. Empathy is the #1 tool of loyalty programs.

Not a certain technology, or a formula, or a metric. Granted, these tools help, but they’re all useless without empathy. A loyalty program can have every tool, metric, bell and whistle, but without empathy it is doomed to fail.

Or most importantly: if you have a better sense of empathy than your competitors, you will have more loyal customers.

First we need to make sure we understand empathy. I like this definition of empathy:

“The capacity for understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another without having these explicitly communicated.”

So why is empathy the #1 tool of loyalty programs?

The effectiveness of a loyalty program is determined by how well the program is aligned with the interests, desires, opinions, feelings and goals of its users. Just like any marketing message, your audience needs to:

  1. Receive the message
  2. Understand the message
  3. Find some sort of value in the message

Empathy is key in all of these. Let’s dive into each.

1. Receive the message
In order for a customer to receive the message, they must interact with it in the appropriate channel. Do your customers prefer to use Twitter, Facebook, your website, or email to receive this specific message? What time is best for them? Who do they want to receive the message from? Yes we need to have the technology to deliver the message, but we also need to understand where and when to deliver it. Think of all those 4 paragraph emails on Monday mornings that you don’t read because they’re too long and you’re too busy; do you think that the sender has enough empathy for you to understand their email?

2. Understand the message
In order for a customer to understand the message, we need to make sure we convey the message with empathy. We know what language and tone our audience prefers. We must know how much time the message has to be understood and how to best explain the message. Want to know why infographics are so popular these days? An empathetic marketer already knows.

3. Get value from the message
After the message has been delivered and understood, we need to make sure that it delivers some sort of value. Our customers must have some need, desire or value positively influenced enough to appreciate the message. This is where empathy is best used. The brands that can best deliver the most value that is best aligned with their customers will always do well. Yes, Apple products are innovative, but the technology isn’t what keeps people lined up overnight for the next iPhone.

Let’s get away from the philosophical side of things and dig into some practical uses of empathy in loyalty programs. One of the areas that lacks empathy the most in a loyalty program is what your customers receive for their loyalty. We need to truly understand what motivates them in order to create the best loyalty program.

When I’m consulting a merchant on their loyalty program, I’ll ask:

“What type of redemptions do you think you should offer?”

They’ll sometimes come back with:

“What can I offer out of the box with this software?”

This is the wrong mentality. Don’t approach a loyalty program from the technical angle, but rather from the “what is best for my customers” angle. They’re real people who experience your brand in more complex ways than just purchasing and discounts. They enjoy status, interaction and feeling special. They like recognition for being loyal.

As an empathy-armed loyalty marketer you can not only offer more rewarding experiences for your customers, but can also offer brand-differentiating rewards that set you apart from the competition – in a more cost efficient manner.

For example, imagine only the most loyal customers of your eCommerce store receiving access to the CEO’s email address. Or a children’s clothing store offering busy mothers a chance to spend their loyalty points on a week’s worth of laundry credit. Or the top loyalty earner of the month having their favorite product named after them.

This is how we need to approach loyalty programs. Technology enables the message, empathy powers it. From now on make it your goal to fully understand your customers. It’s as easy as some personal emails, a few phone calls or meeting up for coffee. Arm yourself with empathy; deliver some value, reward great customers and create some truly engaging experiences with your brand.

And stop sending me those 4 paragraph emails on Monday mornings.

Steve Deckert has been involved in the eCommerce community since 2007. In 2009 he helped to envision and develop Sweet Tooth. Steve has helped over 3,500 merchants reward over 15 million customers, improve their customer experience, develop their customer loyalty, and increase long term profitability. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, & Google Plus

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