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.

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