Rewards or Relationships

You have thousands of customers. They spend millions of dollars on your goods/services.

Collectively, these people add up to the financial and market share reports you pore over every day.

Individually, however, they�re a pain in the neck.

Whenever they write, ring or, heaven forbid, visit you, it�s invariably to complain about something.

You then have to deal with the fall-out when one of your 18 year old customer �service� representatives was rude to them.

Social media has allowed individual customers to pass judgement on what you sell and how you sell it. Unless those customers post something funny, clever or outrageous however, it�s a faint cry in the wilderness.

In the early days, you were worried about social media disasters but time has shown that the chances of something going wrong are pretty slim.

Of course you value your customers. That�s why you created your Fly / Rewards / Advantage / Club loyalty program. Throw them a few points with a little bit of perceived value every time they buy something and bingo! Loyalty!

Your clever program does the heavy lifting of keeping your customers happy, leaving you free to focus on the big picture i.e. the fun stuff.

Don’t you think there�s something a little soulless about this scenario?

Giving customers small ethical bribes to keep them using your product/service may work in the short-term but it does nothing to emotionally bind customers to your brand.

We don�t buy Nike running shoes because of the extra pair of laces they throw in for free. We buy Nike because of how they make us feel and how they can help us to become the athlete we emotionally want to be. Logically, we know this is nonsense but it�s Nike for goodness sake! When I pull on my pair of Nikes, I CAN do it.

No matter what you sell, being trapped in a purely transactional vortex with your customers is not where you want to be.

Loyalty programs may keep the cash registers ringing but there�s a problem with that strategy: if that�s your main customer relationship play you will always be vulnerable to someone who comes along with a bigger, better or shinier ethical bribe.

Invest in unique and unforgettable experiences. What�s your brand’s equivalent of a book-reading with tea and scones at your local bookshop?

Create authentic and engaging content that customers can relate to. Done well, content can be a key asset and competitive advantage.

We’re not saying that you should discard the idea of launching a loyalty program; for some customers, companies and markets they can work incredibly well.

What we are saying is that we marketers need to engage the heart of our customers before moving on to the head.

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Peter Applebaum

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