App strategy: The next stage of consumer loyalty

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What does brand loyalty mean to you? Does it equate to money off vouchers, in-store credit and points accumulation, or should loyalty be rewarded with behavioural change that makes our lives easier, more meaningful and improves our wellbeing?

For anyone with a plastic brand loyalty card that’s always impossible to find in a bag or wallet when you’re called upon to present it at the check-out, loyalty may have lost its appeal and can often be associated with follow-up junk mail or offers you would never consider using as they haven’t been targeted specifically for you.

For brands fully embracing the mobile revolution however, apps are an opportunity to change the way we all think about loyalty by redefining the customer relationship and rewarding loyalty with more personalised experiences.

Take Starbucks for example. ‘Mobile Order and Pay’ allows Starbucks’ customers to order in advance via the app and pick up their food and beverage from the chosen location, thus eliminating waiting time.

The loyalty reward isn’t cheaper coffee or collect 20 stamps for a free latte. It’s removing the need to wait in line, which in turn improves not only the customer experience but also the brands’ operational efficiencies.

Coffee shops and loyalty apps

Recently, I had a truly terrible experience in a Starbucks at Chicago airport involving uncooked food. The app allowed me to report the incident and as a result, Starbucks customer services immediately reached out to me, refunded my expense, apologised and turned a bad experience into a positive.

When you think about loyalty as part of your mobile app strategy, don’t opt for simply moving the discount loyalty card schemes of old onto the mobile platform

Most of us would never return to a restaurant or retail outlet as a result of something like this occurring. The app however enabled Starbucks to maintain and build on its relationship with me as a customer and more often than not, this is what inspires brand loyalty.

As our world grows increasingly more depersonalised, we are constantly looking for more personalised experiences.

Harris + Hoole, a chain of artisan coffee shops has put personalisation at the heart of its mobile loyalty strategy. Through the app, customers can check-in to a local Harris + Hoole, request their usual beverage or build their perfect tea, coffee or hot chocolate remotely.

Then, not only do they get an alert when it’s ready but the barista is able to address every customer by name without having to ask or scribble it on the side of the cup.

Hotels and other retailers

For hotel chains, rewarding regular stays and loyal app users may take the form of mobile check-ins, which alert you when your room is ready, transforms the app into your personal room key and avoids you having to queue-up at reception.

While major retailers may wish to use granular app data to reward customer profiles with truly relevant experiences.

This is what Harvey Nichols began doing in May 2015 when it launched its mobile app after discovering that 80% of its customers didn’t want another loyalty card.

Instead of offering the usual in-store discounts, Harvey Nichols focused on tailoring personalised experiences to user profiles. This allowed them to offer pedicures, blow-drys and other beauty treatments as well as dinner for two at London’s Oxo Tower or tickets to the Monaco Grand Prix for top spending customers.

The largest in-app experience loyalty scheme in the UK in terms of registered and active users is, of course O2 Priority. They’ve mastered the physiological aspect of how loyalty makes someone feel and as a result, an offer is redeemed every 12 seconds, with those app users much less likely to ever change their mobile network.

However, many brands aren’t able to offer money-can’t-buy experiences or incur the costs involved with changing all hotel door-locks to make them app compatible.

For these brands, sometimes just having a well-designed app that people actually want to use can have its own positive impact on customer loyalty.

EasyJet’s app for example has made it so easy to check-in, change allocated seats, add additional baggage and all the other functionality that you would associate with the airport experience.

If you simply have to target the price sensitive customer, then providing a seamless experience through an app’s functionality is certainly the way to go. It gets me choosing EasyJet for all my short-haul European travel.

So when you think about loyalty as part of your mobile app strategy, don’t opt for simply moving the discount loyalty card schemes of old onto the mobile platform.

That’s no longer what loyalty means. Think beyond the plastic to the customer experience and consider, what meaningful improvements to their daily lives can your app offer in exchange for their long-term loyalty?

Originally published at on August 22, 2016.

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