Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Art of Serving Customers

I spent part of last week at Loyalty EXPO in Hollywood, Florida with smart people from retail, consumer packaged goods, and banking, and vendors to those industries to talk about the business of creating loyal customers.

Perhaps as many as half the people there were all about points programs - from the card issuers and payment solutions to the brands that participate in redemption programs. These programs, once approved (which can take time), are a fast way to roll out a consumer benefit without involving many people inside the organization. Bypassing employees on the front lines – whether in the bank, the store or the call center, there are lots and lots of them – makes implementation easier.

Plenty of speakers have run the numbers and vouched for the ROI on these points-based programs. A few were emphatic about the importance of making programs multi-channel, the most important channel being the store. All were adamant that the name of the game is to segment customers, and make different offers to different folks based on their profile and what you want them to do.

I didn’t hear anyone talk about pulling the idea of segmentation through to the in-person experience – so, we’re left treating all walk-ins the same because we haven’t taught employees in the stores or branches how to tell customers apart or how to serve them distinctly. However, by leaving front-line employees out of the story, points and other rewards programs miss the point (pun intended).

Customers have multiple channels for accessing brands today. They go to the store or branch for a few basic reasons. They are in a hurry or need help. They want personal attention and interaction. They want to “kick the tires” literally or figuratively, or they want reassurance that you know what you’re talking about or that your offer is a good one.

These moments of in-person interaction can be a brand’s best loyalty builders. Talbots rolled out its Classic Awards program about six months ago and was one of the featured speakers at the conference last week. According to CRM Manager Lisa Chalmers, the company recognized the opportunity to drive program enrollment by training associates to have a dialog with customers on the selling floor about it.
“Our point of view is that the rewards program provides something outside of the merchandise to create a relationship and dialog with our customer when she’s in the store. We want our associates to interact with the customer earlier in her store visit, and not wait until checkout. So, we created talking points for them to intercept the customer, and send emails to the stores with scripts for how they can engage the customer.”
The near-in opportunity is for retailers or banks to use their sales associates to help drive enrollment and redemptions in traditional card-based points and awards programs. The bigger idea is to turn this around and view loyalty programs as just one more topic associates can use to engage customers in a relevant conversation that deepens their relationship with the brand.

Here’s a new idea for building loyalty and boosting sales: think about redirecting some of the money spent promoting points programs to training the front line in how to serve distinct customers the way they want to be served.

2 comments:

morlan said...

Judy, you're bang on. Unfortunately, training the front-line staff takes a commitment of time, as well as cost, and companies too often take a very siloed approach to their loyalty programs. To compound things, loyalty program vendors too often ignore the commitment required from the front-line staff because it will add to the time lines and complexity of the overall implementation, and may jeopardize the deal. Everyone wants a quick fix. Unfortunately, when you're implementing these types of programs and trying to drive real value out of them, you can't cut corners.

Mark Orlan

morlan said...

Judy, you're bang on. Unfortunately, training the front-line staff takes a commitment of time, as well as cost, and companies too often take a very siloed approach to their loyalty programs. To compound things, loyalty program vendors too often ignore the commitment required from the front-line staff because it will add to the time lines and complexity of the overall implementation, and may jeopardize the deal. Everyone wants a quick fix. Unfortunately, when you're implementing these types of programs and trying to drive real value out of them, you can't cut corners.

Mark Orlan