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The influence of customer service in loyalty programs

I think it’s fair to say that we’ll never forget the best and worst customer service we’ve experienced throughout our shopping excursions, dining at restaurants or travels. Customer service is an integral component of the loyalty experience and is essential for enhancing the consumer to brand relationship. When a customer encounters a positive experience with your brand, they are more likely to make a purchase and sustain the relationship. In fact, 7 out of 10 customers said they’ve spent more money to do business with a company that delivers great customer service.

So when determining what creates an effective customer service experience while you’re fine tuning your plans and strategy, think about the role of your people, technology and data.

People

While there is a lot of hype around technology for marketers, humans should always stay at the center of your marketing. Brands need to connect to actual people, and training and associate empowerment is essential for understanding what will resonate with customers. If you invest in training your customer service associates on all your business functions and processes (including the details of your loyalty program) you will be successful.

Let’s take a look at Walgreens. Prior to Walgreens launching their Balance Rewards® loyalty program, the company had each and every associate enroll in the program and test all the fundamental components of the program including enrollment, redemption, interacting with a customer service agent online and so on. When your customer service associates understand your program – both the purpose and functionality – they’re ‘better equipped’ to provide exceptional service to your customers.

Combine this business functional insights training with customer service specific skills training, such as empowerment, and you’ll achieve award winning service. When thinking of a brand who incorporates empowerment into their training, the Ritz-Carlton comes to mind. The Ritz-Carlton Gold Standards states “The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests…. We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” It’s engrained in the culture that the associates’ main focus is service – both expected, like the high level of hospitality, and unexpected, like the delightful surprise of getting a free room upgrade. And technology and data help to enable these service components of your loyalty program and beyond.

Technology

With the ever-changing technology landscape, it’s important to take a step back and perform an audit of your technology to see how it supports and enables your customer service goals. Make sure you have the basics in play. For example, when a customer calls into your customer service center, recognizing them by their phone number is an important first step. And if they engage with your online chat/customer service feature (chatbot), have identity recognition functionality installed and activated so you always know who your customer is. Provide your customer service reps with the functionality they need so they’re able to view the customer’s behavior in all channels and truly understand (and fulfill) their wants and needs. And make sure to act in real time – if you snooze, you lose.

Epsilon’s Agility Loyalty enables marketers to connect with consumers in the moment with Momentum, our marketing scoring decision engine that enables real-time content messaging. It’s about being prepared and anticipating ‘content needs.’ Momentum helps marketers move away from structured campaigns to “always on” interactions in the moment. And these ‘in the moment communications’ are enabled by data insights.

Data

Data—well, the right data that is—fuels your customer service reps with the intelligence so they can engage with your customers 1:You (a holistic customer experience strategy that’s personalized with the best choice for individuals across all interaction points). Many brands continue to create personas leveraging modeling tactics, which is a good strategy, but providing your customer service reps with the right combination of data is needed for them to truly get to know your customers.

As my colleague recently shared in his blog, at Epsilon, we work with multiple brands to help them solve their identity challenge. For many, their loyalty platform is viewed as ‘a base’ or ‘starting point’; then all data sources from both the online and offline channels are integrated into the platform solution and it’s enhanced with third-party data, such as TotalSource Plus® providing an expanded view of the customer, bringing together data from several different sources. Whether it's by device or by different physical addresses, we give our clients a holistic view of the customer so they can get a better understanding of who's generating the most lifetime value and who's generating the least, so our clients can effectively plan their marketing efforts.

When it comes to getting to know your customers, think of all the ways they interact with your brand to ensure you’ve activated all of the available data sources to know and form a relationship with your customer. Eventually you’ll achieve a 360-degree view.

Putting it all together – brand in action

As I’ve mentioned, we all have experienced customer service that’s been memorable. For example, I recently flew for pleasure on an international JetBlue flight. After arriving to the airport, I tried to check my bags at the kiosk; however, it did not recognize my passport. After a handful of attempts, I asked an agent for assistance. The agent scanned my passport and realized that my passport credentials did not align with how my name appears in my Mosaic account (JetBlue’s frequent flyer program). So, the agent escorted me to “kiosk assistance” desk in which I was greeted by a smiling JetBlue associate who provided me with 5- star service.

She instantly called up my profile in her database and was able to see my account history and status; and although she was not able to print a Mosaic boarding pass because of the disconnect with my passport credentials, she stamped my boarding pass with “even more space” so I was able to take advantage of the pre-boarding at the gate. Additionally, she provided me with the Mosaic tags for my carry-ons and escorted me to the security gate check-in and informed the gate personnel that I was Mosaic status so I could avoid the long security line. From my perspective, she went above and beyond to service my travel needs.

So when you’re evaluating your customer service strategy, consider how your people, technology and data will enable a positive and memorable experience for your customers.