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Your new favorite superhero: The customer

Sep 25, 2019 2 MIN. READ
Customers are swimming in loyalty programs. Want to stand out? Make the customer feel like the hero.

No two brands are the same, no two customers are the same, and no two relationships are the same. There are, however, some recurring elements of loyalty in human relationships that also apply to brand loyalty.

ICF Next’s proprietary research report “Humanizing Loyalty” identifies the key drivers of brand loyalty and deeper customer relationships. Through our research, we uncovered three different kinds of loyalty that customers have with brands:

  • Habitual: customers are loyal because it’s easy to do business with the company.
  • Transactional: customers are loyal based on products or services.
  • Emotional: customers are loyal because they feel a connection to the company.

Emotional loyalty is the strongest bond. Customers are looking for a sentimental connection, and this connection has real business value: customers are more loyal to (and thus do more business with) brands with which they feel this connection.

While our research demonstrated there are key emotional drivers that can propel these relationships, one thing we heard repeatedly from customers was that brands who do it best frequently make the customer feel like a hero. They give the customer the tools, resources and opportunities to get special treatment, issue resolution, and exclusive experiences for themselves and others.

Here’s how your program can do it too:

1. Don’t underestimate the element of surprise.

As your customers’ loyalty program of choice, it’s your job to communicate and provide program benefits in a meaningful way. Customize rewards based on their needs and their behavior. We found that 79 percent of customers want to be surprised with extras (surprise and delights or freebies, for example) that they care about – and share them with the people close to them.

It doesn’t have to be a tangible discount or product; customers are favoring experiences over more material rewards more than ever. So, surprise them with a sample of an upcoming menu item, special access to an event, or an upgrade while traveling. You reward your customer for their loyalty, and in turn, they get to share a new experience with their family and friends.

2. User experience is the ultimate sidekick.

When communicating about your loyalty program, you want to be transparent with your customer, but how much information is too much information? Minor or complicated details, aka: “infobesity,” can overwhelm and alienate your customer instead of engaging them. Instead, focus on the big picture: ensure each piece of information and each functionality of your program has value and is rooted in the overall user experience. What sets your program apart from the rest?

"We are making too many decisions that tax our cognitive bank account. We dole it out on important things and not on things that are already operating well."
— Susan Menke, Behavioral Economist
Interviewed as part of Humanizing Loyalty

For some programs, the best way to stand out is by being the most practical and easy to use. The easier it is for customers to understand why they should join your program and to start racking up points, the sooner they’ll be able to share those rewards. The outcome: your customer receives recognition from you, and you receive participation and praise from the customer.

Starbucks is known for its user-friendly loyalty program, accessible via its mobile application. With the My Starbucks Rewards app, customers are able to access their points without digging through their wallet or undergoing the hassle of signing in. The ability to scan account info right from a mobile phone allows for a quick, trouble-free transaction (and keeps everyone happy!).

3. Send a signal to your customer with shared values.

Your customer is more likely to choose and remain loyal to your program if your values align. Ninety percent of customers want brands to “live up to [your] promises.” More recently, brands have been aligning their business to a defined purpose and set values. But more critical than articulating that purpose is living up to it through authentic and tangible actions.

Apple, for example, has spent $2.5 billion towards environmental initiatives, including powering its global facilities with 100 percent renewable energy. For like-minded customers, this sends a powerful signal that Apple’s values are a reflection of their own. And that can create a more enduring relationship.

Big, bold efforts like Apple’s may grab headlines, but smaller and more local initiatives are just as impactful. In fact, it can be even more meaningful when the customer can direct where the funding goes—to their kids’ school or sports team, a favorite local charity or national non-profit. Offer to match your customers’ donations of their points or rewards, and support your customer in making a difference in the community.

Putting it all together

Making the customer feel good is obviously a benefit to the customer, but it will also benefit your company. The better your loyalty program makes your customer feel, the more likely they are to become loyal and keep coming back.

By showing your customers that you appreciate them, empathize with them and share their values, you not only confirm they made the right choice but also set your program up for success. Everyone loves a good hero, and in this case, it’s the customer.

To learn more about the drivers of emotional loyalty, download our Humanizing Loyalty report.