Personalizing experiences at the intersection of UX and loyalty

Personalizing experiences at the intersection of UX and loyalty
By Colin Eagan, Lauren Sutherland, and Bindu Gupta
Jun 10, 2022
5 MIN. READ
A seamless, personalized loyalty program requires an understanding of the latest user experience trends and common pitfalls
Loyalty experiences are much more than loyalty programs—and interactive design can either enhance loyalty to a brand or detract from it.

Customers interact with loyalty programs in a myriad of ways, from native apps that track points implicitly to web portals and dashboards or even stored cookies that make an experience more personal even when not signed in to an account. But no matter what device or platform a customer uses, every touchpoint should have a positive impact. This can be difficult because loyalty programs contain many different merging elements—communications, different channels, look and feel, and program terms and conditions of participation. With this confluence, customers need navigation to be intuitive so they can get to where they’re going instantly. How can you give them all that and more?

Loyalty UX puts a priority on designing with user data

While it’s more common in general for users to expect personalized experiences, designing the digital touchpoints for loyalty programs places a special emphasis on delivering personalization. That’s because loyalty programs are, by definition, unique to an individual’s relationship with the brand.

There’s a barrier to getting people to download or sign up for something, which is why your product needs to have quality, be simple enough to understand, and able to deliver value quickly. The accompanying user experience should be intuitive whether a user visits the brand on an app, desktop browser, or tablet. Additionally, the design needs to be optimized for all audiences, taking into account accessibility needs, dark mode preferences, and privacy rules.

Collecting and using loyalty data the right way

For marketers, designing for loyalty can be tricky because privacy stakes are high. One of today’s best practices is two-edged: Give users control over safeguarding their data by giving them the ability to opt out of notifications or choose to share only specific data. While most customers will share their data with you, providing rich zero-party data that can help your brand deliver better experiences, in return, they expect you’ll leverage the data appropriately, such as to recognize frequently used devices and refrain from selling data to a third party. We’ve all had the frustration of trying to board a flight and, unable to log in to the app, frantically searching email for another copy of our boarding pass. In general, best practices have shifted to focus on the customer’s ease of use balanced with data control.

Designing a consistent loyalty program vocabulary

UX designers need to keep best practices in mind as well. Having a consistent vocabulary for the many components of your loyalty program is critical to keeping the experience intuitive and familiar across devices.

Consider geofencing, when it comes to in-store shopping. For example, an In-Store Mode on an app can let users access their loyalty dashboard, coupons, and more so that they have all the information at their fingertips needed to shop while in person. But even though the In-Store app mode is specific to a time and place, it should still function as part of a consistent loyalty experience that reflects the digital experience on a desktop website, app homepage, in an email, or push notification.

Trend toward simplifying Loyalty experiences

Every interaction should feel like it’s a homogenous part of the whole brand. To help achieve that, there’s a rising trend in simplifying branding and all digital loyalty extensions. People have limited space in their minds for any brand, so keeping the naming and log-in procedures simple across channels and devices helps users recognize the full scope of a brand in their heads.

We are seeing fewer isolated sub-brands with microsites and more subscription program designs that are simply outgrowths of the core brand itself. When designing your loyalty dashboard, for example, consider authenticating the user into the main site, rather than taking them to a separate website removed from the core content. While the dashboard is still personalized to a user, they still have access to all the product information, articles, and more that the main site offers—and the visuals are all standardized to avoid confusion.

Integrating technology and avoiding UX "overreach"

Two of the biggest pitfalls brands face when designing a strong loyalty user experience is lagging technology or poor solution fit. While strategy should always drive technology adoption, execution requires the right marketing tech stack. Without real-time integration amongst CRM, loyalty, and partner technologies, customer experience suffers when point balances are inaccurate, rewards are inaccessible, return processes are lengthy—all of which and more, are a source of agitation, especially in today’s world where instant gratification is the expectation.

Effective integration is key to keeping customers eager to interact with your brand again and again. For many, loyalty is less about the price and more about the experience and emotional connection they feel with the brand. For example, if a customer orders clothes from two different companies and one has an easy return process while the other has a complicated process, they’ll likely choose the former brand again over the other—even if it doesn’t necessarily offer the lower price because it offers reliability and engenders trust. There are so many aspects to the customer journey that it’s impossible to address pain points or improve the seamlessness of each touchpoint, all at once. It can also be overwhelming to choose where to start, and even tempting to rely on unfamiliar or new technology offering one-size fits all solutions. In many cases we suggest digitizing one aspect of your loyalty program extremely well, vs. trying to overreach and implement on a number of touchpoints poorly. Take the time to pilot new functionality with test groups before rolling it out to your entire userbase. Build on what you know works really well before diving into the nuances of the next challenge.

Reaching your customers through loyalty UX

The way customers primarily interact with brands looks different across industries, socioeconomic standing, age, and more, and not all channels make sense for all brands or all audiences. Having a solid foundation of knowing your customers and what kinds of channel engagement they want will offer you the opportunity to deliver personalized experiences tied to your brand and drive loyalty.

It’s a large goal to accomplish, which is why having a partner with years of loyalty experience and a deep benchmark of capabilities is essential. A partner can streamline fact-finding; combine industry expertise with creativity to help you differentiate your brand while maintaining customer expectations and ensuring benchmarks and milestones are met. The better the partnership, the better off your brand is—and the better the experience you can deliver to your customers.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
Go to ICF Next
Meet the authors
  1. Colin Eagan, Colin Eagan - Partner, User Experience Strategy

    Colin is a user experience strategy expert with more than 10 years of experience in content strategy and information design.   View bio

  2. Lauren Sutherland, Strategist, Customer Loyalty
  3. Bindu Gupta, Senior Director, Strategy

The latest marketing trends, uncovered.

Subscribe to get insights, commentary, and news sent straight to your inbox.