Ahead of our unique virtual panel event about the immediate future of customer loyalty: ‘Is the future of loyalty point-less?’ we interviewed our expert panellists to find out more about their personal experiences and their opinions on loyalty.
The first piece in the series is an interesting discussion with Dave Robinson, Head of Customer Engagement Development at Boots and one of the driving forces behind the Boots Advantage Card over the last ten years.
A data-driven marketing specialist, Dave has worked within Boots for over 25 years in various roles across commercial, strategy and development.
With decades of experience in loyalty and customer engagement, Dave has seen the transformational impact of digital technology first-hand and recently led the creation of a single customer view for Boots, a major MarTech implementation and the evolution of the Advantage Card programme.
Below is a section of the transcript from our conversation, exploring the big changes in the evolution of loyalty, the challenges today’s leaders face and more than a look to the future of the industry.
Gary Gould, Marketing Director at Red Badger (GG): In your years of experience at Boots and working in loyalty and customer relationships, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in loyalty schemes and how have they been adapted to meet the different needs and expectations of new consumer groups?
Dave Robinson (DR): I think I’d highlight three key changes that have made a lasting impact on the way everyone thinks about loyalty and the way brands look to engage customers.
First, is the rapid and continuous digitisation. There have been a few knock-on effects of this that have seen us get closer to members. We are now more connected and are able to open pretty intelligent dialogues with customers that are fuelled by information and context. All CX initiatives are grounded in this arena now - from chatbots to personalised incentives.
Second, is the surging expectations of customers. Fuelled by the first point, granted, but the consumerisation of technology and the proliferation of smart devices and compelling experiences has meant that consumers expect more from the brands they love and interact with. Members expect that things are more personalised and relevant to them.
And thirdly, the immediacy of rewards. A follow-on from growing expectations and more tailored experiences, members expect that offers, incentives and rewards should happen immediately. Members are now of the opinion that brands should know who they are and their information should be synced and we should be able to communicate and make available rewards instantly.
GG: Listening to you then you can see a clear pattern of how digital technology has been the catalyst to extraordinary change in consumer behaviour and the subsequent effect it will have on loyalty programmes and membership schemes today.
What are some of the biggest challenges that brands face in creating loyalty schemes that not only meet surging expectations and deliver meaningful experiences - and value - but entice new customers into the brand? And what can brands do to mitigate them?
DR: Bringing new customers into the brand is always a big challenge, and one which it’s rare for a loyalty programme to address directly. I think the brand itself needs to appeal.
Putting more of a brand’s proposition behind the firewall of a loyalty programme can help drive scheme involvement and onboarding, but it relies on sufficient appeal in what’s behind the firewall in the first instance.
I guess what I’m saying is that it shouldn’t be down to the loyalty scheme to drive acquisition, but it does need to be part of a joined-up approach with the organisation looking at how to supplement and enhance the product/service offering.
And as for how you do that, it’s going to be totally unique to you and your brand but staying true to the basics of knowing what your customers want and looking to meet and exceed their expectations is as good a way forward as any.
GG: Always sounds so simple to just give customers what they want, but things move so quickly it's a constant battle where agility is key and customer feedback championed as a guiding principle.
Looking forward then, what do you think the future of loyalty programmes looks like? And if you could design one from scratch today what do you think it would look like?
DR: I think it's almost impossible to predict exactly what the future of loyalty looks like because we are already seeing the emergence of many new concepts, communities and operating models that seem to have loyalty at their core.
New technologies and innovations are forever changing how brands interact with customers.
But there are some core trends that I believe will be forever true and should be core considerations for any loyalty scheme leaders or programme owners thinking about what to do next and how to add value to customers.
Personalisation will continue to grow as an expectation from customers. Customers recognise the importance of their data and as such will demand ever more personalised and relevant rewards and offers in return for it.
And that will be true across all channels and touchpoints, customers will expect you to know who they are.
Everything should be designed and thought of as mobile-first. We are near addicted to our devices and as such experiences should be considered from a mobile reference first and foremost.
Flexibility will be fundamental and the absolute minimum you need to compete for attention. You will need to address and remain totally flexible to changes in what’s important to your customers because it changes rapidly and constantly.
GG: It’s interesting that you call out flexibility as table stakes because it aligns heavily with our belief that organisations have to adopt a product mindset and continuously test new ideas and innovate rapidly to maintain market share and customer loyalty. Rapid and continuous innovation are essential.
My last question for you is about where you think loyalty leaders should be focusing efforts today.
What questions do you think they should be asking themselves or their organisation to help them build better loyalty programmes?
DR: I think it's really a culmination of what we’ve been talking about, but there has to be a total commitment from across the organisation to make it better - the worst thing you can do is to let it go stale.
You should always be asking how your scheme can help you better understand your customers. If you approach your loyalty programme in this way it helps you to prioritise some of your ideas and focus your efforts on value-adding activities.
Never stop asking your customers about their challenges, likes and dislikes. For obvious reasons, if you don’t do this you don’t know if what you’re doing will be well-received or wasted effort.
And lastly, think about what choices you can make to drive commercial success, whatever those may be for your organisation.
Want to hear more from Dave and our other loyalty experts?
Register your interest for our upcoming future of loyalty debate and grab a front-row seat for what promises to be an interesting and valuable session.