Many of the so-called loyalty programs in operation today don’t really develop loyal customers at all; rather, they create “frequent” customers. Loyal customers do more than just visit your business more frequently than other customers; they are your businesses’ best marketing tool and your biggest fans! They want your business to do well, and they ensure that you’re there for them when they need you by sending more business your way. Besides bringing their own business to you, they encourage others to do the same.
These loyal customers are the most valuable assets businesses have, and yet many loyalty programs provide these customers with the same standard treatment every other customer receives. Good loyalty programs, rather than “frequent customer” programs, recognize and value customers for their loyalty, rewarding them for more than simple patronage. And by keeping its best customers happiest, businesses reap their own rewards through several channels of business growth.
Below are 15 key business benefits of properly implemented loyalty programs. We recommend you evaluate each one to determine how well your loyalty program is providing each benefit:
1. Retain Existing Customers: Not only do loyalty programs provide tangible incentives for continued patronage (via earned points, etc.), programs collect customer data that allows a business to better meet the needs of its individual customers. This provides for more targeted and customized service, making the consumers more likely to remain customers.
2. Acquire New Customers: While it should not be the central focus of any loyalty program, acquiring new customers is essential to any business and should be a benefit of your loyalty program. How effectively your program attracts new customers will depend on how exciting and how valuable the rewards seem to the target audience. Use your program data to determine demographics of your most loyal customers; then target prospective customers with similar demographics in acquisition campaigns.
3. Move Customers Up to Higher Tiered Rewards Levels: Build into your program the ability for customers to “graduate” to higher rewards when certain thresholds are met. This will encourage lower spenders to increase their spend in order to move up to better rewards brackets.
4. Filter Out Unprofitable Customers: It can be more expensive to retain bad customers than it is to acquire new ones. Customers who only purchase during times of sales and discounts can cost you money rather than increase sales. Design your loyalty program to reward better customers without rewarding those just watching for the bargain buys. Professor Philip Kotler’s adaptation of the Pareto Principle states that while the top 20% of your customers generate 80% of the profits, the bottom 30% of your customers eat up 50% of the profits generated by the 20%. Ensure your program is only rewarding the customers actually bringing in business.
5. Recover Orphan Customers: Salvaging former customers can be infinitely more effective – and much less expensive – than acquiring new customers. Discover what it takes to win back old customers and target this group with “We’ve Missed You” campaigns. Then ensure their new experiences with your business are positive and meet their needs.
6. Increase Customer Lifetime Value (CLV): It’s easy to get discouraged or underestimate a customer’s value when you are viewing their transactions in isolation. Look instead at the bigger picture. Determine what your best customers bring in through lifetime patronage and focus on that when interacting with them. When your customers are valued not simply for one purchase here and there, but for their lifetime business with your company, their loyalty – and their lifetime value – will increase.
7. Target Your Best Customers: Best Customer Marketing (BCM) involves spending more time, energy and resources on your best customers in order to maximize the ROI. Use your loyalty program data to determine who your best customers are, then recognize and reward them.
8. Build Relationships: Always remember that customers are people too. When your program is focused on the “human” aspect of customers, it will go further toward building customer relationships, which in turn leads to improved loyalty – and profits.
9. Create Advocates: Advocacy is one of the highest forms of loyalty a customer can show. They are so satisfied with your products and services that they feel compelled to share their experiences with friends and family. And any good marketer will tell you that word-of-mouth marketing is far more effective than any amount of promotional material.
10. Adjust Pricing Levels: A good loyalty program can help develop solid pricing structures. If customers are happy purchasing products at a particular price, why discount it? You can also use your loyalty program to study the effects of prices changes (e.g. what customer segments’ changed their buying habits when the price changed?).
11. Respond to Competitive Challenges: By monitoring customers’ purchase histories when new competition opens nearby, businesses can quickly and accurately identify what customers defect to the competition. These customers can then be enticed back with customer-specific incentives, special offers and even direct contact.
12. Select Product Lines Effectively: By knowing your best customers’ buying habits, you can more accurately predict which products lines to keep in stock, which to expand and which to discard entirely.
13. Plan Merchandising Optimization: Again, monitoring customers’ purchase history can allow businesses better determine which inventory items need to be ordered and when, as well as more strategically place merchandise on the sales floor.
14. Reduce Promotional & Advertising Costs: Targeted marketing efforts, through loyalty program data, allows businesses to zero in on specific customer segments, to reach the right customers with the right message at the right time.
15. Selecting New Business Locations: Your loyalty program provides you with valuable details on your customers’ demographics and geographics, allowing you to choose new business locations that would be the most profitable for you and beneficial for your customers.