As technology evolves, so do consumers’ expectations — and their demands. While this may seem like common sense, or at least an inevitability of the information age, what it means for brands and retailers is that forward-leaning technology needs to be a centerpiece of your loyalty strategy. It isn’t just following trends for trends’ sake, it’s become a business imperative.
Unfortunately, one of the greatest challenges marketers continue to face is finding comprehensive and easy-to-use loyalty tools, technologies, and platforms. Thirty-three percent of marketers report this difficulty, according to Merkle’s 2017 report, The Great Loyalty Reset. However, the right loyalty technology can help a brand achieve enhanced personalization of offers and communications, create a single customer view that drives retention, collect and analyze data across multiple platforms, and enable a consistent global brand experience for customers.
The research revealed that nearly all North American marketers (82%) currently implementing or considering implementing (18%) a personalization strategy within their loyalty programs, the importance of this approach is being recognized. But also, according to our research, fewer are leveraging their enhanced view of customers to drive advanced strategies like optimizing communications channels (38%) or extrapolating cross-brand insights (30%). And some of this drop-off is certainly attributable to the lack of a technological solution that can facilitate real-time data resolution.
Implementing the right loyalty technology is about executing personalized experience strategies, but it is ultimately about creating emotional connections with customers. And that starts with getting to know them at a real, actionable level, not through the abstract lens of a “persona” or through generalized, broad segments. It starts with creating a single customer view.
The single customer view
At its core, loyalty technology gives brands the ability to consolidate and analyze data across multiple touchpoints and in an omni-channel environment. When done correctly, this allows brands to create a single customer view (SCV).
A customer interacts with a brand across a multitude of channels. To truly understand the customer and analyze that individual’s behavior, habits and preferences, a brand must be able to integrate data from any interaction — online, in-store, on a social network or through any customer service experience — into a single unique customer identifier (the SCV). In turn all of this data must be stored in a unified location, ready to be analyzed to extract actionable insights that enable a personalized engagement strategy. With this level of centralization, creating a SCV through a loyalty program allows brands to optimize member profiles and segmentation strategies not only for retention, but also acquisition.
AI for experience
The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, are infiltrating loyalty programs beyond those of the earliest adopters. And, they’re being utilized by consumers as well; according to a Trend watching report, consumers are increasingly willing to outsource certain retail experiences to algorithms and smart devices. Likewise, consumers expect similarly convenient and low-friction experiences with their loyalty programs and brand interactions.
But AI and machine learning can be leveraged for more than just removing barriers to the customer experience. They are instrumental in managing and interpreting customer data captured by loyalty activities and customer interactions, and in the best cases, they can help create the SCV dynamically, and on the fly. Particularly for businesses with multiple brands or large global footprints, this ability to parse data in real time and learn from developments in the market dynamically can have a very positive impact.
Omni-channel consistency is key
Just as technology enables data collection and management on a large scale, it can also help maintain the brand experience for the customer.
The consistent, omni-channel customer experiences include chatbots for customer service — but only when complemented with personalized customer data from loyalty or CRM programs (no one appreciates anonymized chatbots). Though clearly not a replacement for human interaction, chatbots are most effective in situations where a customer is trying to resolve common issues, such as placing an order. Technology of this kind is fuelling many kinds of automated interactions that can provide a consistent experience for customers when executed correctly.
Forging an emotional connection
Ultimately, loyalty marketing is about creating an emotional connection with customers. The right technologies, however, can handle the behind-the-scenes ground work that allows the human element to shine through.
For marketers and brands to be successful, the focus needs to be on designing meaningful engagement that touches on the emotional aspect that connects consumers to their favorite brands. Creating a personal partnership with customers requires innovative technology to collect relevant data, create a single customer view, analyze, and interpret that data in meaningful ways, and drive personalized, relevant messaging and offers at the right time.
Learn more about how Merkle Loyalty Service Group can be that technology partner for your brand by getting in touch with us here.