It's More Than Just a Card...
By Caroline Cooper
Wednesday, 15th May 2013
According to a recent Accenture report the UK has the biggest percentage of people telling their friends about poor experiences; So to build loyalty is it just about having a loyalty card?.

Of course not, but when I tell people I help businesses build loyalty it's always the first thing they think of.

Imagine you're faced with a choice: One coffee shop has a loyalty card and you happen to have a card with just one stamp on it. It's part of a chain, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to fill up your card with the required number of stamps for your free coffee. The coffee is OK, but nothing special.

Across the road is another independent coffee shop. You know they serve great coffee and scummy cakes and everyone in there is always smiling and friendly.

Which do you choose?

I know which one I'd go for…..

Now I'll admit that there are times when a loyalty card might swing you. Let's take filling your car with fuel. Two garages, pay at the pump, similar pricing, but with one you earn points, with the other you don't. Do you care about the experience? Probably not (although you might do if you need to go in store to grab a bite to eat, pick up your daily paper or a bottle of wine). So in most cases the loyalty card will win.

But does the experience your customers get compare to the bland needs purchases of buying fuel?

4Hoteliers Image LibraryAs we learnt from the coffee shop example the first two considerations are a great experience and a great product. A great product ought to be a given, but even then be prepared to listen the customer feedback. You never know, you may be missing a trick if they have feedback, ideas or suggestions on how it can be improved. And there's nothing quite like demonstrating to a customer that you've taken their ideas on board to build loyalty.

Consider the customer experience from start to finish – what's the first impression? Get some credits in the customer's ‘emotional bank account' as early as possible. So if things do ever go wrong, you have a credit balance to call upon.

When there are queries or complaints whatever the cause, and whoever's ‘fault' you listen, empathise and deal with the issue positively, so you leave a positive last impression. Few will return if they go away with a poor lasting impression, however good your product.

Train your team so they know what's expected of them, and give them the skills, confidence and authority to respond to customers ensuring everyone gets a great experience, consistently – whoever serves them.

Stay in touch with your customers if you can.  Even if you can't get their personal details to stay in touch directly, do what you can to stay on their radar, so they don't forget who you are.

Take every opportunity to show you appreciate their business. Say thank you, listen to their feedback, make any offers relevant, let them know what's happening that might be of interest, let they know what else you offer over and above what they currently buy from you, pre-empt their needs and offer a solution, find ways to solve their problems without being asked.

Oh, and if you are relying on some kind of loyalty scheme, be it a card, points or rewards scheme, give it some value and prominence. So often they are just an afterthought. Do you and your team promote it? Do you let customers know what they'll be getting? Do you make ‘members' of your loyalty scheme feel valued; that they are getting something extra? Do they get invitations to take part in offers, events or occasions that aren't open to everyone. Are they given any real incentive to return?  Make it something that feels exclusive, special and valuable.

Then you can use it to build loyalty.

Caroline Cooper is founder of Naturally Loyal who helps businesses to get more sales through their existing customers. Caroline specialises in working with hospitality, tourism and leisure businesses, helping them build loyalty through giving customers outstanding experiences and staying on their radar to trigger repeat business. She is author of the ‘Hotel Success Handbook'.

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