“The way to a customer’s heart is much more than a loyalty program. Making customer evangelists is about creating experiences worth talking about.”  ~Valeria Maltoni

Loyalty programs were originally designed to reward those customers who frequent businesses on a regular basis. The thinking behind the program was, if the customer was loyal to a particular business, the business would show their appreciation in some way. At least that was the way it was supposed to work.

Loyalty programs today take all forms of shapes and sizes and many consumers belong to multiple loyalty or rewards programs. But do these programs really have the customer’s best interest at heart?

Let’s be honest…if your product or service is terrible, it doesn’t matter how good your loyalty program might be. You won’t have many customers for long.

I belong to a few loyalty programs, especially for businesses I frequent on a regular basis. And why not? If I can get something in return for my loyalty then I want to take advantage.

But some programs leave something to be desired. It seems their program benefits the company more than the customer.

For example, I belong to a rewards program for a national restaurant chain which my family likes, and when we spend a certain amount of money, they will reward us with a free entree. So far, so good. Recently, we hit the amount that triggered a free meal and I wanted to take advantage. So when I went to place our order and cash in the free reward, I was told I was too late, that it had already expired! Excuse me?

Upon calling their corporate headquarters, I was told (for the first time) that the free meal was only good for a certain amount of time, and if we don’t use it, we lose it. Say what? We earned it, why should we lose it? That does not seem to be in our best interest.

I explained to the representative on the phone that this part of the program was not explained and that I get multiple emails every week from this restaurant chain telling me about their specials, so why couldn’t they send me an email that said we were about to lose our free entrée. She agreed and said that is supposed to happen, but she wasn’t sure why it didn’t happen this time.

Why would the company put such restrictions in their program? I am sure many other customers do not know about this time-sensitive limitation and lose their reward just as we did. And if they don’t pay close attention, it could be they don’t even know when they reach the free meal reward. There is loyalty from the customer, but a lack of it from the company.

As it turned out, the representative put the free meal back into the system for us, but again, I had to use it in a certain amount of time. And while I appreciate the customer service rep taking this action, I still have to think the program could be more customer friendly. If you are going to put restrictions in your loyalty program, at least make them somewhat lenient (give us a year to cash in the reward, not a month).

And while I’m on this little rant, why do store coupons have an expiration date so close in the future? I understand and appreciate that businesses want us to buy their products and services now, but putting an expiration date so close in the future defeats the purpose. If you want to give us an incentive to buy your product then make it worth our time. (Tip of the hat to #BedBathandBeyond for accepting all of their coupons, even if they expired last year. They just want to get you in their store.)

Make it convenient for the customer to do business with you, and you will see loyalty the likes of which you have not seen before. You cannot compete just on price anymore; you have to be the leader in product, service, and convenience. And if you do that, your customers will not just remain loyal, they will tell all of their family, friends, and neighbors about you. Isn’t that the real message behind your loyalty program, to create raving brand ambassadors?

What are some of your pet peeves about loyalty programs? And which are some of your favorites?

Paul Rutter is a customer loyalty, repeat business and customer service expert, a keynote speaker, corporate trainer and business author. He has had the unique opportunity to live with his customers and co-workers for months at a time traveling the world, and shares his experiences with land based businesses. For more information on More Than Perfect® Service, contact Paul at Paul@PaulRutterSpeaks.com, follow him on Twitter on @RealPaulRutter or visit him on Facebook/PaulRutterSpeaks.

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