I was shopping at the local supermarket a few weeks ago and wound up with a hefty bill for all the groceries I threw into my cart.
Why is it that you never realize just how much you've put into the cart until the cashier tells you your total, and why is it almost always a surprise?
Anyway ... getting back to point, I paid my bill and started pushing my cart full of food toward the door when someone from the customer service desk walked up to me and informed me that I’ve spent enough money to qualify for their customer loyalty program -- and that they will have my membership card ready in a few minutes, if I could wait.
That instant, I totally forgot all about how much I spent.
I felt like a pig in a fresh batch of mud!
I was elated that the local supermarket considered me a valued customer.
I felt like 'somebody.'
It’s been a few months now and I've shopped there a few times ... so, now I'm wondering how many points I accumulated ... and what do I get with these points? I wish they had a website I could log into as a "valued member" of their loyalty program and find out.
But guess what ... there is no such thing.
Brands have realized that it's not just important to keep customers engaged with an "offer here" and "a letter there," but to provide them with an online community where they can share their enthusiasm with other customers who are just as proud of the brand.
And this is where customer loyalty software meets social software.
Building a branded community using a social networking or community software works much the way as an exclusive lounge at the airport for select customers.
It gives you a sense of "belonging to the club" of others who have had the same experience as you.
Car manufacturers are well known for their customer loyalty programs and pay special attention to make their customers happy about the choice they made, long after they’ve made their purchases.
It’s not much different online.
There are a number of manufacturers, as well as enthusiastic fans, who have set up great online communities around their brands.
Take a look at:
… and there a lot of others ... and you'll notice they are all exclusive meeting places to discuss, share photos, blog about experiences, ask questions, be the first to get updates, and get the the latest scoop on new products that launch.
For the businesses, these websites are in many ways better than the traditional customer loyalty programs, where it was a one-way process where they had to keep trying to reach out to customers.
In the form of an online community, it’s a lot more interactive, where customers become as much a part of the process and use the platform to manage the bulk of the activity and ... the best thing about it, is that they provide the content themselves.
The local supermarket chain or store can extend their websites to offer the same social networking software (or some type of community software) and social features by simply building on a social software platform and customizing it to their loyalty programs. They can create that exclusive space for their valued customers and interact more closely with them using this space.
The availability of social platforms enables just about any business, in any sphere, regardless of size, location, etc. to build a community around their brand and keep their customers happy.
It opens up many possibilities on improving brands and making the loyalty programs more interesting.
Perhaps I should go have a word with my local supermarket.
What do you think?
Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.
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