The Loyalty Program as a Relationship Builder
Many U.S. convenience store retailers already have a loyalty program in place — 73 percent of them, according to our most recent survey of c-store operators and consumers.
That’s because loyalty programs generate useful data and insights into customer behaviors, help retailers present the most relevant offers and rewards to their members and, importantly, encourage profitable repeat business. Most of all, a loyalty program is the ideal vehicle for c-stores to build long-term relationships with customers.
Like any mutually beneficial relationship, a loyalty program requires ongoing dialogue and effective communication. Here are three ways c-store operators can bring in the “human element” to improve communications with their most dedicated customers.
1. Be Attentive
Meaningful communication and paying close attention to the comfort and wishes of others helps strengthen all relationships, be it personal or professional. The same goes for the relationship between loyalty members and the brands they love. For a c-store operator, this means being able to communicate with members wherever and whenever they want — on the channels they prefer like digital, mobile and social channels.
That’s why most companies now maintain a dedicated mobile app for customers and loyalty program members with push notifications, an in-app mailbox, plus ongoing communication through website and emails. However, it’s not enough to simply engage in multichannel communications anymore. What’s crucial is communicating the right message to the right membership segment across channels.
Because many c-store operators and marketers handle every channel as a separate entity, they struggle to manage different channels and streamline their communication efforts. The good news is there are marketing cloud platforms that make this process easier. Retailers should look for a holistic software solution that can seamlessly deliver customized, targeted messages across channels for the best results.
2. Be Proactive
Every important relationship requires getting to know the other person and understanding his or her motivations, aspirations and struggles. In the context of a loyalty program, this “getting-to-know-each-other” process enables the c-store to gather important customer information.
Data collection is widely practiced in the industry, with 72 percent of c-store operators saying they collect customer data, according to our 2019 C-Store Shopper Report. However, retailers aren’t making full use of the customer information they have — say, for example, to convert existing customers into loyalty program members. Our research shows only 25 percent use data to identify prospective loyalty program members with similar qualities as their existing members.
For c-store operators to maximize the use of customer information, they need the right analytics and reporting tools to help them connect data points and analyze results, understand customer behavior, and leverage all this knowledge across their marketing efforts and campaigns. Partnering with a technology provider — one that has extensive experience designing, managing and evaluating marketing tools designed specifically for c-stores (as opposed to a generic, enterprise system for any type of business operation) — could make all the difference when it comes to analytics and reporting.
3. Stay Relevant
Many childhood best friends lose touch as they enter adulthood because they have “outgrown” each other or feel they’ve drifted apart, meaning the relationship is no longer useful or relevant in their lives. To avoid customers drifting away, retailers must continuously leverage insights and look for patterns in the data to help them serve up relevant offers and keep customers happy.
Understanding wants and needs is the key to any healthy relationship. Luckily, operators have data on their side to keep those relationships with customers going.
Speaking of being relevant, our report revealed what c-store shoppers and loyalty program members value most: fuel savings. A majority of c-store shoppers surveyed (55 percent) said it’s their No. 1 motivation for joining a loyalty program. In addition to gas savings, most members (52 percent) want to track and redeem their rewards through a mobile app. C-stores should take note of this: to keep members engaged for the long haul, make gas savings part of their program. Investing in a mobile app is a key component of staying relevant to today’s c-store shoppers, too.
If retailers have the ability to segment customers based on the types of offers they’re most likely to respond to, as well as the channels they expect to redeem them on, they can more effectively deliver relevant offers and messaging. It’s this winning combination that nurtures the relationship between a c-store and its most loyal (and profitable) customers.
Convenience store retailers work hard to attract customers and earn their loyalty. Once they make a valuable connection, they need to stay vigilant to keep up the engagement. And that means they should equip themselves with the right tools and seek a partner with the expertise and know-how to help strengthen relationships with their shoppers.
Brandon Logsdon is senior vice president of Marketing Cloud Solutions for PDI Software. He oversees the company’s loyalty division, in addition to its MarketLink and data monetization services. Prior to PDI, he served as Excentus’ president and CEO, and was the driving force behind the launch of one of the most successful national coalition marketing programs in the U.S., the Fuel Rewards program.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.