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Customer Loyalty: Going Beyond the Points

In today’s business environment, customer loyalty is more important than ever. The competition is fierce, there is an unprecedented abundance of goods and services, and increasingly short attention spans make it challenging to retain consumers’ focus. What does it take to build a strong base of loyal customers and keep them happy?

The Forrester Wave™: Loyalty Technology Platforms, Q2 2019 report might help shed some light on this. The report indicates, “There's more to earning customer loyalty than just securing a repeat purchase,”  so while points and promotions can help reinforce certain shopping behaviors, brands should focus on personalization and developing increasingly engaging customer experiences.

According to the April 2019 piece, Forrester® highlights three things successful loyalty technology platforms do well:

  • Transform data into customer insights

  • Encourage ease of use

  • Enable integration and partnerships

Currently, while most providers are efficient in functional basics like currency and promotion management, they are struggling to manage the emotional aspect of relationship management.

Forrester® evaluated top loyalty program vendors on the market and classified them based on their strengths and weaknesses. Below is a summary of the three main categories and a quick overview of what these vendors are doing:

Loyalty Technology Platforms — Leaders

Marketing clients want to see better functionality improvements, more flexibility for managing promotion, and better analytics. They also want to be involved in the development process and consider their input would help ultimately perfect the platforms.
 
The loyalty program vendors’ strengths identified in this category involved:

  • Having engaging loyalty programs. (CrowdTwist)

  • Modern, easy-to-use marketing tools. (Cheetah Digital)

  • A hands-on technology delivery approach. (ICF)

  • Excellent execution for complex programs. (Epsilon)

Loyalty Technology Platforms — Strong Performers

What contrasted the loyalty program vendors in this category from the Leaders were mainly that marketing clients wanted to see lower costs, more functionality, and better integration and communication.
 
That said, the vendors got it right when it came to:

  • Their relationship building approach. (Brierley+Partners)

  • Data-driven loyalty execution and excellent management and marketing capabilities. (SessionM)

  • Platform development that helps enhance a deeper emotional loyalty connection to customers. (Kobie)

  • Modular capabilities adapting to clients’ needs. (Clutch)

  • Building loyalty across the customer journey. (Aimia)

  • Creating engaging experiences and moments to build loyalty. (Merkle/HelloWorld)

Contenders

Some of the criticisms by marketing clients towards this category of loyal program vendors involved issues with implementation, lack of systems flexibility, and lack of innovation when it came to strategy and vision.
 
Be that as it may, these vendors were still praised for their:

  • Efficient and integrative platforms. (Annex Cloud)

  • Innovative take on emotional loyalty. (Collinson)

  • Practical, cost-efficient solutions. (Comarch)

In-depth Discussion with Merkle/HelloWorld

As noted above, Merkle/Hello World Loyalty Solution Group was named as a strong performer in the Forrester® rundown. Nicole Burguess, Senior Director, Products and Partnerships at Merkle/HelloWorld graciously spoke to CMSC Media to discuss the report’s findings, and share what Merkle/HelloWorld is doing to enhance their customer loyalty solutions.

The report mentions, “over the next 12 months, Merkle plans to incorporate HelloWorld’s promotions and real-time reward catalog capabilities into its existing LoyaltyPlus solution.” Can you talk a little bit about how the promotions and reward catalog capabilities will be incorporated?

“Today, LoyaltyPlus™ enables the creation and deployment of offers, deals, and digital rewards (like coupons, downloads, and codes) as native components of the platform. On the promotions side, our goal is to bolster these offerings through integration with HelloWorld’s promotions platform to offer a more robust chance to ‘win an engagement’ promotion types. We have implemented integration points with specific client programs so far, and we have seen fantastic results, especially for a chance to win promotions aimed at new member acquisition. Our goal is to make those kinds of results easier for all LoyaltyPlus clients to realize by creating a single API pipeline that will support multiple concurrent promotions across programs. On the rewards side, our integration goal is to make a more robust array of rewards — physical, digital, chance to win, charitable, experiential, etc. — available to LoyaltyPlus platform clients and program members through an integrated catalog experience. Reward integration will also enable clients to leverage our managed services in reward procurement, inventory management, and fulfillment.”

Forrester® also noted that clients “appreciate how configurable, easy to use, and accurate the platform is.” What are the primary benefits of your platform that contributes to this ease of use?

“The two key strengths of LoyaltyPlus that contribute to positive feedback like this are our robust array of program configuration tools and our universal integration capabilities. LoyaltyPlus has an admin portal that makes configurations and changes fast and easy. Through the portal, our team members or client users can add or change point earning, configure business rules for transactional and engagement-based activities, configure and deploy offers and other incentives likes bonus point opportunities, and configure rewards, tiers, badges, segments, and triggered member communications. Any changes made in the platform are deployed immediately once saved, so a member’s experience in the program is updated in real time. Our universal integration capabilities support ease and accuracy because we can interact with any system across a brand’s MarTech stack. We use a combination of API, ETL, and webhook approaches to award points for actions taken on a brand’s website, in an app, and at point of sale, and those same approaches integrate with CRM systems, marketing clouds, customer databases, BI tools, and other MarTech systems. We have 60+ existing integrations and hundreds of live connections to industry-leading platforms and can build custom integration to any provider. These integrations provide a holistic and up-to-date view of members’ activities across channels and standing within the program.”

It was also noted in the report that reference customers mentioned that: “the platform hasn’t changed much in the past few years and that when changes do happen, they can be slow and expensive.” Looking into the future, what changes can clients expect to see to the innovation and roadmap development, and how will these changes happen?

“When we look at our historical platform feature updates, we see that the majority of these are directly attributable to client requests and requirements. So, this feedback gives us an opportunity to improve the way we communicate new features, share our roadmap, and get additional client input into our growth plans. One way we’re doing this is by expanding our Client Advisory Council, which is a relationship between our Product team and key client stakeholders, to support collaboration and honest feedback and provide a forum to discuss roadmap themes, innovations, new products, and services. Another way we’re improving communication around platform changes and enhancements is through additional documentation, training, and planning support for clients when new features become available or when we identify an opportunity for a client to use an existing feature that they perhaps haven’t explored yet.”

A thoroughly detailed analysis of each of the loyalty program vendors and their platforms mentioned in our feature can be found in The Forrester Wave™: Loyalty Technology Platforms, Q2 2019 report. It is available for purchase and download from the Forrester® site here.
 


 
Ellie Somfelean

Ellie Somfelean

Ellie is a Reporter and Content Marketer with CMSC Media. She is passionate about social media and digital marketing. She has a vast experience with content creation, influencer marketing and brand promotion.

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