Measuring Customer Loyalty with Programs is Bullshit

I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to prefer CVS as my general drug store. Now, while any prescriptions I need filled are done at Publix, I let CVS handle the generalities. But several years ago CVS did something… they created a loyalty program. At first I didn’t mind so much, they handed me card that I was required to fill out and send it in and with that I would receive “special discounts”. I went home unpacked my purchases and there the form sat for about a week until I got tired of seeing it and threw it away. But every time I go to CVS they try to give me another one. Sometimes if I just said “no, thanks” they would covertly add it into my shopping bag to be discovered once I returned home. I’ve gotten to the point now that I say, “no thank you, I have about 6 of your cards at home and I never bring a single one with me.” Sometimes I would watch as the clerk would simply scan their own cards, a ritual I could tell they had done more then once from people not wishing to jump on the card-carrying program. Some stores held a barcode right on their registers that read, “For customers not wishing to join the program, still wishing to receive the special discounts.” The stores were doing what I often refer to as “Hacking the Interface”, they had something that they knew wasn’t working, that people didn’t want, and they found a way to easily get around the policy.

The bookstore that I once frequented (and was a member of their “discount” customer loyalty program) has changed their direction in the way they wish to represent their business and the products they offer. After a few experiences with this bookseller after their makeover I realized that my discount card didn’t mean much to me if I didn’t like going to the store anymore. I paid $10 a year for that card, but the savings seemed of little value to me when I no longer enjoyed the experience of the store. I have since started shopping at another bookstore and have thrown their discount card away.

It’s About Gradual Engagement

Customer loyalty is a funny thing, something we often confuse with customer satisfaction. But customer loyalty will never be found in a card-carrying membership program or a points system. Often these programs guarantee that I (the customer) will have to maintain my information within your system to win awards that I don’t really care about, want, or that have any weight on my desire to do business with you as a company. They just stand in my way, and are annoying.

What customers want is a long-term engaging experience. Customer loyalty is created by several gradual experiences that cause that customer to continue to want a relationship with your company. Recently I purchased some Dvorak labeled covers for both my laptop and my keyboard at the office. Having not been satisfied by a previous cover I once purchased, I went to Google to find another company. The company I came across had one of the covers I was looking for but nothing for the office. I sent them an email saying what I was looking for and received an email back in about 30 minutes telling me that they were currently developing that product and that it would be available at the end of the month. He said, “Sorry we don’t have it for you now. I’ll send you an email when it’s finished up and we’ll give you free shipping on the order.” Sure enough around the end of the month I received an email from him telling me that they were available with a link to the product. Now the email could have been computer generated, but it was personalized and had his name on it, giving me the satisfaction that this individual emailed me back as promised.

So far I’ve had two great experiences with them. 1) They apologized for not having the product I hoped they would, gave me a discount on shipping when it was going to come in; and 2) Followed through on their promise to notify me when the product was available making it convenient for me to place my order. When I receive the covers, and if they are of the quality I expect – I will most definitely use them again, as the entire experience of my interactions with them have been very personable.

So what I’m trying to say is simple, the experiences you provide will build the loyalty that you are looking for. Don’t put programs in the way of buyers, most of them don’t care and find it a pain to deal with (and a poor experience by always being asked if they have their card). In a business world where things change just as fast as the technology we use to measure them it’s time to throw away our 12 year old copies of The Loyalty Effect and start building a more permanent bridge with customers that want to do business with us… not because they have our card in their wallet, but because they prefer the experience that our company provides and would come to us even while being a member of a competitor’s program.


4 thoughts on “Measuring Customer Loyalty with Programs is Bullshit”

  1. I have to say that I agree with this, but I’d like to add a few thoughts of my own.

    What you are describing is known as good customer service. You already knew that. But, the reason we are so fast to appreciate good customer service is because it is so rare in this day and age. The fact that you got a response back amazes me because I have become accustomed to the fact that if 10 people say they’ll call back, only one will actually follow through. I call this competence and courtesy. I don’t think people are competent in dealing with the general public anymore; maybe because they hate their jobs, maybe because they are apathetic (it’s hard to care when what you do does not affect your income), or maybe because they are simply disorganized. Regardless, consumers today have so little interaction with competence that we are amazed when we see it. This should be the complete opposite. We should instead be upset when we don’t get the appropriate customer service we need, whether it be with an employee who doesn’t know what’s going on, a sales clerk who doesn’t even look at you, or someone who doesn’t bother to return our call until they need us. (And we should definitely complain so management knows there is a problem.) We shouldn’t notice when we get competent people on the other end of the phone because it should happen all the time. The same goes for courtesy. We should not be so surprised when a clerk is very courteous to us because they should always be. (This whole thing makes me think sometimes that the world is going to hell in a handbasket because basic human courtesies are being ignored more and more, it seems, as time progresses.)

    I agree that customer loyalty programs ARE bullshit, because what will keep us going back, is, as you said, the experience of going. If your store provides me with the best customer service around, you can bet that I will go far out of my way to be your patron.

    Can I tell you something? (I’m gonna anyway)
    When I get home and that coupon is in my bag for my next trip to CVS, I get annoyed. Why? Because occasionally when I’ve bothered to cut the coupon off my receipt and stick it to my fridge or put it in my wallet, I ALWAYS forget to use it. It’s clutter. It’s another coupon tree being cut down in the receipt forest. And it annoys me that I will never get that discount. I would not only have to go BACK to the store, but I’d actually have to spend my brain power in remembering that god forsaken coupon. This makes me feel that I am missing out on discounts that I deserve. This makes me feel ripped off.

    Secondly, I do get my prescriptions at CVS, and I do use my little card on occasion, and it’s attached to my key ring. I use the drive through 95% of the time. Every time I pick up a prescription, the idiot at the window asks me for my card. It’s in the ignition. Obviously I’m not going to turn off my car to give it to her, and the additional 2 minutes it would take to stick it through the hole in the wall to give it to her isn’t worth that stupid coupon anyway. Why? Because I am also paranoid. I am scared that somehow that stupid rewards card is connected to the Government. And I really don’t want the government knowing what prescriptions I’m buying as well as what I buy in the store. I don’t want them knowing that I’m on birth control or that I’ve had a prescription for ritalin. Forgive me if I’m paranoid, but with the whole Patriot Act and Big Brother Bush watching everything I do now, can you blame me?

    Get rid of the stupid customer reward systems and reward in immediate, competent courtesy. Give me a reason to come back to your store instead of making me feel paranoid and ripped off!


  2. that’s funny, you don’t want the gov’t to know & think they will find out through a CVS rewards card, but you reveal it on a blog comment…unless you paid cash in your paranoid world they’ll find out thru your bank or your internet habits…and the liberals will scold you for idling your vehicle while waiting for your drive-thru prescription…

    that being said, this article was on the money although the title should probably be changed or be more specific to the little plastic cards…

  3. Creeping, the topic of the article was really outside of the “little plastic cards” – it was Loyalty Programs in general. My two examples may have had to do with membership cards, but the point as a whole is that customer loyalty is created through successful customer experiences and not through the creation of a loyalty program that forces a customer to be “loyal”. Thanks for reading.

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