Take a second to think about the past year and your brain is instantly flooded with “life highlights" from the last 365 days. Most likely, you're recalling personal milestones like a wedding, impressive activities like an exciting trip or a hilarious moment with friends and family. And now, with the infiltration of social media into every aspect of life, it's easier than ever to document and share each and every experience with the world. We live in a culture where our experiences are expected to leave a lasting impression—and this mentality has made its way into our purchasing behaviors.
In a survey conducted by coalition loyalty program company LoyaltyOne, 95 percent of Canadian consumers polled confirmed that “surprise and delight" experiences (unexpected moments that “wow" shoppers and leave a lasting impression) from retailers and brand owners boost their positive perception of the brand. With 90 percent of the survey's respondents preferring special privileges from the brands they're most loyal to, these one-of-a-kind, unique moments are what consumers really want.
At Belly, where I'm the director of brand communications, we firmly believe in the power of experiences. Belly is a digital loyalty platform designed for brick and mortar retailers. Customers can "check in" at the in-store Belly iPad to earn points for rewards they'll love.
And you don't need to be a big company to give your customers something they'll cherish forever. Businesses of every size can offer experiential rewards through their loyalty programs, giving their most loyal customers something that's completely unique to their business that they can't get anywhere else. It's that type of “special privilege" experience that they'll post to Instagram and send to all of their friends on Snapchat, naturally sparking interest in what's going on inside the four walls of your store.
Want to make an impression that will last on your own customers? Here are some tips on creating a great loyalty program.
1. When it comes to rewards, bigger is better.
Loyal customers will go all in for rewards they crave. Don't be afraid to set an ultimate rewards experience at a high price point. Take Classy Girl Cupcakes in Milwaukee, for example. Last spring, Belly Member Matt Agen had to visit 85 times in order to earn enough points to get the reward he was after.
“I was definitely tempted to redeem points early on for smaller rewards, since I could have benefited from free cupcakes or other discounts," says Agen. “But I'm also a person who saves and I enjoy the satisfaction of delayed gratification, so I started looking at the big rewards that CGC offered."
After redeeming his 300 points, Agen's personalized experience included a tour of the bakery and a private decorating session with the shop's head decorator for a pastry creation of his own.
2. Vary rewards to spark changes in customer behavior.
It doesn't matter how loyal your customers are—if they aren't interested in the rewards you're offering, they aren't going to change their behavior to get them. Laurence Addeo, owner of Addeo's Riverdale Pizza, understood this before developing the experiences at his Bronx pizzeria.
“We offer rewards that will bring every type of customer back into the restaurant," says Addeo. His rewards include easier to obtain monetary rewards like Free Pizza Toppings for 20 points (four visits) and A Specialty Pie On The House for 150 points (30 visits).
However, it was the 500 point Learn How To Toss A Pizza Like The Pros experiential reward that turned a less frequent customer into a lunchtime regular. After visiting 100 times over a 2 year period, Gregg J. redeemed his pizza points for his daughter. The father-daughter duo spent two hours with Addeo, perfecting the art of pizza and calzones, and even got to take home their own hand-tossed cheesy pies.
Lauren's father, Gregg, used loyalty points to purchase a make your own pizza session at Addeo's Riverdale Pizza.
“She was thrilled," says Addeo. Addeo confirms that lower value rewards are still redeemed regularly. By offering such a range of rewards, he can pique more customers' interests, prompting them to come back more often, which drives real results for the business's bottom line.
3. Be a human and connect with your customers online.
Customers will share their unique experiences with the online world. As a business owner, it's important to see these social shares as more than one-time instances and instead as continued interactions. Engage with your customers even after they've left your business by responding to their social posts. Be natural, empathetic and enthusiastic. Current customers and, most importantly, potential customers can relate more to your business when they can tell that real people are behind it.
As you update your business's plan for loyalty in 2016, consider adding in a few once-in-a-lifetime moments for the customers who love your business most.