Brand advocacy, reputation management, loyalty and reward programs are all the rage now, as consumers have unprecedented opportunity to broadcast their complaints as well as their satisfaction with businesses, specific purchases and customer service. What customers say is vitally important to the public perception of a business. While advocates and reputation managers may work to improve and enhance the image of a given company in the public eye, really only one thing is required to establish and maintain a good reputation among consumers: Provide the product you promise and support that product with grace, humor, and efficiency.
Observing those steps will produce happy customers. That being said, it is worth noting that just one disgruntled customer can wreak havoc on a company’s reputation if that customer chooses to blast their criticism across blogs, industry forums, and message boards. They may employ the new Google Sidewiki feature and place caustic comments adjacent to your site (although some sites may turn off this feature if they’re aware they can do so.) Thus, brand advocates – along with loyalty and/or reward programs, can help keep the brand shiny and positive in the public eye.
As established in last month’s column, customer reviews are important to the perception consumers have of your business. While unhappy customers seem all too willing to post condemnatory comments based on their experience with you, happy customers are not nearly as inclined to do the same. In order to get those supportive customers to advocate for you, a loyalty or rewards program can be just the step to encourage such action.
What’s in it for me?
Most of us are compelled by offers for “free stuff.” If the free stuff has real value that relates to what we already pay for, those items attract interest. That interest can be used to create a body of customers who will promote a business they are happy with. Customer reward or loyalty programs offer perks which not only reward customers but also work to retain those customers. A rewards program can serve as a way for customers to share their positive experiences with your products and services in a variety of online communities. In return for their positive contributions, customers are rewarded with perks, such as product upgrades, discounts, or points for benefits in the future. The critical element required for finding those satisfied customers is a truly happy customer experience.
A business can buy customers for a time, but once the truth of bad customer support or a faulty product is evident, no reward in the world will keep a customer loyal. So, the key to the advocacy program is to satisfy your customer. In so doing, you build a base for advocates of your brand, and ensure their positive commentary. These satisfied customers don’t just provide a pool of potential brand advocates; as customers who will continue to spend money and sustain the business’s financial health, they are also the bedrock of success for a business.
Reward, VIP, loyalty programs: what’s in a name?
There are many types of programs that enhance a consumer’s loyalty to a business or a brand. Some are set up with a points system whereby purchases receive a point-per-dollar value. Examples of this type of program include MyCokeRewards, which allows point accrual for purchasing products from businesses that may not be Coke’s. This provides incentive to purchase Coke products while earning points that may be used on other companies’ products. If customers are deliberating over which soft drink to purchase, rewards from Coke brands might be just the incentive that pushes them to buy from Coca-Cola! And the quality of the product keeps customers coming back.
Other programs, such as Borders Rewards, offer discount coupons to program members, along with a coupon for a dollar value after a specific level of spend has been achieved. Probably the most familiar rewards programs are those associated with airlines. Upgrades in seating, access to airport lounges, and discounts for airfares by using miles (points) for airfare or miles in conjunction with money all are benefits that accrue to loyal customers.
What’s the plan?
If you are not prepared to undertake the creation of an in-house loyalty program, it is possible to find existing program providers. A quick online search can provide an extensive list of customer loyalty program providers. Numerous guides on how to build and make the most of your program are available if you are just beginning to develop your rewards program. It’s possible to find information on the style, form, and size that fits your need.
Don’t be afraid to entertain the prospect of a customer rewards or loyalty program for your business. It could prove to be a great benefit for your business, in terms of retaining customers and promoting your business to future customers.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.