When I was 15 I went camping for 2 weeks with a friend, without our parents. It was our first taste of freedom. We met some teenage girls and in the last few days, romance blossomed as only it does when you are 15. Our holiday over, I left my girl behind, promising I’d see her again in 10 days when I returned to the campsite, this time on family vacation.
I even sent a letter to her at the campsite during those pre-mobile phone days, telling her my arrival would overlap her departure by 2 delicious days. My two hour journey back to the campsite seemed to take forever.
On arrival I found her besotted, in the arms of another. An older guy (16!), a rugby player. All the things I wasn’t. And there it was. My first experience of how it feels to be demoted!
It’s happened to us all I guess. Jilted lovers, promotions that we were passed over for, the lead role in the school play that you didn’t get. Rejection is never good, which is why it baffles me why brands would go out of their way to do it to their customers.
I think most brands misunderstand their own loyalty schemes. Some look at it as a data capture exercise, others view it as a way of trying to ‘hold on to’ customers. Most still run an unimaginative 1980s model, attributing ‘points’ as you buy. But some actually go out of their way to do damage to brand advocacy.
We No Longer Love You
Recently I received a communication from Aer Lingus, the Irish airline. As I fly every week from Ireland, obviously I clock up a fair amount of ‘points’. Like many schemes they have different ‘levels’ you attain. The more you fly in a given 12 month period, the more ‘important’ you become to them, and thus the more benefits the programme gives. So far so good.
So I moved from Gold to Prestige. A new coloured shiny card, different from the others. They told me how much more important I was to them now, that they were delighted to welcome me to this next level. They loved me! That was less than a year ago.
Last week on opening my post I was once again that 15 year old boy! Apparently my points earned from flights in the last 12 months were just under what I needed to be at this higher level. I was being demoted to ‘regular’ status, back to just ‘Gold’.
Two Fingers to the Customer
I have to admit I laughed. Imagine going to all the trouble and cost of printing new plastic cards and posting them, all with the aim of pissing off a customer. It really is quite funny, if it were not so damaging to their brand. And thinking about it further these ‘Prestige’ and ‘Elite’ level customers are their most important. The people flying with them most! So you are pissing off the customers MOST important to your business. It is as if someone decided ‘let’s see how much damage we can do. I know. Let’s pick our most valuable customers and make them feel less so’!
This seems like ‘brand advocacy 101’ to me. Look after your customers and they will return the compliment. Delight them and they may even bring you some new customers. But go out of your way to annoy them, well that just seems like stupidity.
Ok. You want to let them know they no longer qualify for the additional benefits of this ‘higher’ level. But of course you also want to keep them as a customer. So you should write, telling them they no longer qualify BUT you are STILL going to allow them this higher level for 6 or 12 months to catch up. Now you have a customer who is happy, who might try to fly more with you to repay your kindness. But instead they told the customer ‘you were special to us. But now, eh, not so much’.
Every Moment Counts
Now thankfully I am no longer 15 and at this stage I can take the rejection, but it did make me think. Every brand needs to learn from this slightly comical situation. Every communication you have with a customer is an opportunity to build brand advocacy. Every single one.
The idea that an outbound communication from a brand could do damage seems not to register with many. And in this all pervasive social media environment, that damage can be instant and viral if you are not careful.
Loyalty and reward schemes are simply not strategic enough. Most brands are failing to see their inner power. Like anyone I am probably a member of 10 or more, between airlines, hotels, and retailers. But do I feel an emotive connection to any? No. Have any of them delivered benefits that make me feel valued over and above other customers? Rarely. Do I feel like the loyalty cards are just useless pieces of plastic in my wallet and on my keys – well yes. Have I thrown a few away recently – absolutely!
Why Do You Have a Loyalty Scheme?
I think every brand needs to sit down and rethink their loyalty and reward schemes. Why do you have them? What are you trying to achieve? Do they add real value to the customer experience? Most don’t, even when you think they do.
How many times a day are you asked for your loyalty card somewhere? At every coffee shop, at every retailer. ‘Are you a member… would you like to join…’ and most of us politely decline. Of course we do. Because they don’t offer any real added value to our already complicated lives.
Reward schemes should aim to delight customers. Small surprises. Make your customers feel special (see previous post Why Your Brand Should Go Boo). They should ensure rewards delivered encourage further product use. They should retain and reward current customers, and reintroduce lapsed customers. They need to be far more strategic and less ‘tick the box’. Add Big Data in there and they can be a really powerful tool to have 1-on-1 conversations with our customers, personalising communications to target specific behaviours
And they certainly should NEVER tell a customer they are less important than they were.
“There’s nothing wrong with you” said Aer Lingus. “It’s me. I’m just not that into you anymore”.
Now where have I heard that before?
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