Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wachovia gets back into the game.

US bank Wachovia has just come out with a new loyalty program called Wachovia Possibilities Rewards. The program allows customers to “earn points toward valuable rewards every time you use your Wachovia Check Card or Wachovia Credit Card.”

The launch of the program surprised me for a couple of reasons. Not only had Wachovia been purchased by fellow US bank Wells Fargo only days earlier—but a previous Possibilities loyalty program the bank had launched a few years ago had disappeared from sight not long after its introduction. I know because I’m a long-time Wachovia customer.

When the previous loyalty program was introduced, I received a welcome brochure and immediately signed up. But I never heard about it again. No follow-up postal mail or e-mail. No mention on the bank’s Web site. Not even a small typewritten message on my bank statements.

So when I read about the “new” Possibilities program via a colorful mailer sent to my home, I was skeptical. What had happened to the old program? Had I accrued any points in it? And with Wells Fargo taking over, what’s to say the plug wouldn’t be pulled on this program as well?

But as a loyalty enthusiast, I felt it my duty to log on to the new Possibilities Web site and sign up as a member. Upon doing so—to my shock—I found I already had a substantial point balance. My points from the old program had apparently been rolled into the new program. Wasting no time, I skimmed the robust online rewards catalog and, after considering several enticing travel rewards, redeemed most of my points for a more practical choice—a new vacuum cleaner.

Now for the communications issues: Obviously, Wachovia made a mistake with its previous loyalty program, by not communicating with customers like me who had raised their hands for admission. At minimum, if there were problems with the first program, customers should have been kept in the loop and informed that a new and better program was on the way.

Second mistake: sending out an invite to the new program without personalizing the communications to tell customers they had a pre-loaded points balance. My guess is tens of thousands of customers ignored this mailing because they didn’t know they already had equity in the program—and a huge head start toward reward redemption. When possible, always let customers know where they stand and how close they are to earning a reward.

Overall though, my faith in Wachovia has been renewed. My new upright vac is on its way and a bank I have often scorned for its excessive fees has now actually saved me a few bucks. Now we’ll see if Wells Fargo has the smarts to keep the program going.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You've been upgraded...May God Bless You!

The stairway to heaven can be an extremely arduous climb. I've just realized that the path from being notified to actually being upgraded needs to be traversed with measured patience and caution!

I received a call from my bank a couple of weeks back indicating that my account relationship had been upgraded. Though the voice at the other end of the phone line emerged from an obviously new executive, perhaps rushed into the nuances of relationship banking, the main benefits of an enhanced relationship appeared rather relevant.

I welcomed the call and suggested that an email outlining the benefits be sent across promptly. The rather persistent lady insisted on a meeting in person. I proceeded to politely indicate that an email followed by a telecon would serve the purpose. The young lady reluctantly agreed, and then proceeded to ask for my email id!...and I wondered...but they already have my email id...

An extremely poorly formated email did arrive on my inbox after a couple of days, and was wondering if this in fact was a genuine email. A few more weeks transpired and the gentle damsel calls once again, seeking an appointment. This meeting in person piece must be in some training manual. Politely indicated that it may not be possible and requested a few more details...and then silence prevalied yet again.

In the meanwhile, I've come across over 30 other fellow personnel, who too have received similar upgrades. I don't feel all that privileged anymore!

Its been over eight weeks now, and am yet to be upgraded at the back end or the front end. Everytime I use my debit card, I believe that I should in fact be accruing some incremental benefits that I am not privy to as I have not been upgraded yet. This is getting extremely perturbing. I have now moved from a reasonably indifferent but loyaly customer to a more involved but disillusioned client.

The upgrade journey is designed to be a joyous memorable experience, but your customer may just not reach heaven. Reference my earlier post, its all but critical that you see through the entire process and its delivery.

Yup...there are 5 senses....

A crumpled welcome pack, an arrogant glance, high noise levels, incoherent responses, delayed replies, stale ambient air...if these are stray or consistent events littering your customer's journey, its time to quickly head back to the basics.

Truly successful service organizations have clearly mapped their customer journeys, attempted to standardize the rendered experience and create differentiators in key points of delivery.

Kingfisher Airlines, a leading Indian airline, addresses its passengers as "guests". At the end of a long 14 hour day as you await boarding the return flight home, those words can make you feel rather special. An honest smile further reinforces the experience and significantly enhances the latent value of those frequent flier points.

I've noticed that several CRM and loyalty programmes have clearly defined value propositions and crisp coherent written interactions with their customers. However the challenge arises in providing a 360 degree service delivery that is consistent with the brand promise and value proposition addressing the five senses.

As we strive to determine new product offerings and path breaking differentiators, it is imperative that we also identify and address critical opportunity areas in the customer journey. Get into a huddle with all customer facing stakeholders, experience the brand as your customer and realise the true value of your loyalty programme. Several organisations have customer experience owners and champions to address these aspects. You don't need one to find out that you've got stale air in your lounges, you need a ventillation system!

There is nothing more painful than to have a customer seeking to cross her points redemption threshold so that she may quickly pick up her free gift and bid adieu, as the quiet lounge area of a few years earlier has turned into a cacaphony that she simply cannot relate with. Even double bonus points in a charming gold envelope would not keep her back!

Is the timing right?

Much has been written of the global economic downswing in recent months. As business managers the world over attempt to redefine their business models and trace the elusive "economic value", the key challenge remains "How should I engage my customer?"

That being said, resources are crunched and liquidity continues to be an expensive luxury & any marketing investment would really need to kick in those returns at a quicker pace.

So, would you be considered senile, if you should consider launching a loyalty programme in this environment? Over the last couple of months I've come across organizations performing well (which is a refreshingly welcome sight) and others who bravely navigate these uncertain times.

Well..its rather like marriage. If you think you've got it right...go for it and heres why..
1. You can make realistic projections and not inflate numbers to impress the top brass (not that you would get away with it even if you were to try)
2. If your business case were to show value in tough times, you would truly rock when the business turns around the corner
3. Stakeholders would adopt a new programme and participate more actively to generate business, and this perhaps is the biggest benefit which cannot be quantified in an excel.

This is the right time if any...go for it!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Keep the (server) lights on, Barack.

What might have been the most impressive aspect of the presidential campaign of Barack Obama was the marketing of the candidate.

Not only did he stick with a consistent brand message, he used a variety of digital mediums to engage with prospective voters. This included, for those who opted in, a steady stream of e-mail whose every-few-days frequency felt about right. A Web site whose design was as crisp and cool as the candidate himself. And a massive social networking effort that brought hundreds of thousands of supporters together in one place, mybarackobama.com.

So now that the election is over, what’s next? Pull the plug on the server? While in the past most politicians would shut down the communications machine the day after the election, I think it would be a smart move to keep the information, and connectivity, flowing.

To borrow the title from Seth Godin’s new book Tribes (his most illuminating work since Permission Marketing), Barack has developed an outsized tribe of super loyal followers. And the best way to keep this group engaged, is to keep the information flowing and the social network thriving.

The weekly presidential radio address could be supplemented with a weekly presidential e-mail blast. Regular blogs could be written by key cabinet members or presidential advisors. And the social network could remain engaged with regular meet-ups to watch presidential addresses or on-going conversations on how to best push current and hot initiatives.

As we know in loyalty, it is always smart to keep your best customers happy and engaged. Somehow, I think the Obama marketing people may already be on to this. We’ll see.