A red carpet guarded by a velvet rope at a theatre entrance - customer VIP concept
PHOTO: Adobe

Brands are interested in rewarding customer loyalty by providing customers with an exceptional experience across all channels that leaves customers feeling emotionally connected, but what else can brands do to reward their VIP customers. According to a report from SaaSScout, loyal customers will spend up to 67% more, purchase in larger quantities, and make more frequent purchases than new customers. The report also revealed that 65% of sales revenue comes from loyal customers. Loyal customers really are VIPs, and are the most valuable customers a brand can have.

Mark Wood, CEO of National Pool Fences, told CMSWire that many brands make the mistake of thinking that once the sale is complete, the customer journey ends. "This isn't the end of the customer journey, and if you want them to feel valued, spread the word of your awesome business, and return as customers in the future, you need to treat them as VIPs, not just a sale." This article will look at 5 ways a brand can treat its loyal customers like the VIPs that they are.

Improve Your Loyalty Programs

According to a recent report from Kobie, a loyalty marketing company, 89% of customers polled said that the loyalty programs they currently belong to make them feel special or appreciated by a brand, and 94% said that the loyalty programs are convenient enough for frequent use. Unfortunately, 30% of customers indicated that they have left a loyalty program because the rewards just weren’t meaningful, and 40% have left because the rewards took too long to earn. Additionally, 76% said that the loyalty programs they belong to feel similar to one another.

Brands must find ways of differentiating their loyalty programs from those of other brands. Instead of offering basic discounts or using a traditional points-based loyalty program, consider providing early access to products and services, free or expedited shipping, two-for-one discounts, access to VIP-only events, and even the occasional free product or service. Provide experiences to loyalty program members that leave them feeling emotionally satisfied.

According to Kate Hogenson, senior loyalty and CX consultant at Kobie, over-promising and under-delivering are the most likely reasons for a loss of customer loyalty. “Trust and loyalty in a brand are won by delivering what you promise to deliver, lost by failing to deliver on your promise, and won back by delivering on the original promise plus rounding up in the customer’s favor.” Hogenson brought up a great point when she explained that the real value comes “in recognizing what attracts specific customers to your brand promise in the first place.” She said that while some customers may be attracted to a consistent and predictable experience, others may be motivated by being in the know about the latest innovations. For the former, offers of new products and services may cause them to lose trust, though that may be just what the latter is craving. “You have to understand your loyal customers and what motivates their loyalty to your brand.”

Once trust has been lost, gaining it back requires that a brand provide a strong, positive emotional experience based on a human connection. “If you have ruptured that brand trust, your win-back experience needs to include real-time ways to round up in the customer’s favor with a response that makes a human connection.”

Related Article: 5 Ways COVID-19 Is Changing Customer Loyalty

Hyper-Personalization Facilitates Relevant Content

A report from Epsilon revealed that 80% of customers are more likely to purchase from a brand when that brand provides a personalized experience. Customers that are loyal to a brand have come to expect the type of hyper-personalization that brands like Amazon provide. In fact, a report from Accenture indicated that 91% of consumers polled said that they are more likely to do business with brands that remember, recognize, and provide them with relevant, personalized recommendations and offers.

Conversely, a Gartner survey on marketing personalization showed that brands stand to lose 38% of their customers due to poor personalization practices. Customers understand that brands have access to past purchases, browsing history, shopping cart details, and past and current interactions with the brand, and they expect their dealings with the brand to reflect that knowledge by providing content that is targeted towards them, specifically, not people like them.

Joyce Kim, CMO at Genesys, an omnichannel customer experience & contact center solutions provider, shared that the pandemic has created a lot of emotional baggage in customers that are trying to deal with the ramifications of lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and school closings. “Many people are on edge, frustrated, and feel like they’ve missed out on a lot of wasted time in quarantine, so the last thing they want to do is spend more time talking to someone that doesn’t respond in an effective and human way or acknowledge that they are a loyal, long-standing customer.” Customers want to feel the same level of trust in a brand that they feel when they are talking to an old friend. “Just like chatting with a friend, customers want to feel like they are picking up the conversation right where they left off with the brand,” Kim suggested.

The brand experience is omnichannel, and customers expect the same level of personalization and emotional connection throughout their journey. “Regardless of the channel, each new interaction with an organization builds upon the one that came before it. Whether the customer is working with an employee or using self-service technology, each engagement should draw upon their individual history and preferences as well as real-time insights.”

Listen to Customer Feedback and Act on It

Getting customers to provide feedback is not always easy, but today brands have access to customer reviews, social media mentions of the brand, customer service inquiries, and information derived from every touchpoint in the customer journey. Social media, in particular, provides a wealth of details about how the customer experience can be improved.

By listening to loyal customer’s feedback, and taking action based on that feedback, customers will feel emotionally connected to a brand. “Customers will feel like they are the organization’s priority, cared for as individuals, and uniquely understood. They won’t have to repeat themselves. Their intent will be understood. Their issues will be resolved quickly, fully, and with empathy,” said Kim. “Customers need more reassurance from businesses — they need to be heard, remembered, and understood. People need empathy now more than ever.”

Emma Bourke, chief marketing officer at Zodiac Guides, an astrological knowledge base, understands the value of asking loyal customers for their input, after all, they are a brand’s most valuable customers. “Everyone wants to feel heard; ask your VIPs for their feedback and show that you really value their input,” she suggested.

Reward Loyalty By Going the Extra Mile

Customers that are loyal to a brand expect brands to recognize that they are VIPs by going the extra mile for them, whether it is by providing expedited shipping, waiving minimum orders, offering free extras, exclusive access to products, free returns, providing them with an after-hours service call, or exceptionally quick customer service. “Regardless of the channel or department, each new interaction with an organization depends upon and builds upon their experiences to continue buying from the brand. It is this consistency that fosters customer trust and loyalty,” said Kim.

Once again, Amazon is an example of a brand that goes the extra mile for those loyal customers who are members of its Prime program. Prime members get free, two-day delivery, access to exclusive movies, free trial memberships of other streaming services, as well as exceptional customer service. Prime could be considered a premium loyalty program, and it has been greatly successful for Amazon. As of December 2019, there were an estimated 112 million U.S. Amazon Prime members, and in 2020 that number grew to 142.5 million.

Wood understands the value of going the extra mile to ensure that customers know they are truly VIPs. “One of the simplest and best ways to make a customer feel their value is to just follow up,” he suggested. “Instead of waiting for customers to reach out to us if something is unsatisfactory (which is rare), we reach out to each and every customer to check in on their satisfaction.”

Because of the pandemic, customers need to be reassured that brands value them as much as they value the brand. “People’s anxiety is on the rise as they’re faced with uncertainty about almost everything — job stability, kids’ education, investments, health, economy, etc., causing even the most loyal customers to become churn risks if they feel that they aren’t being serviced in a way that fits their new realities and expectations,” Kim explained.

When brands go out of their way to make customers feel unique and valued as VIPs by being treated with empathy and compassion across all channels, the emotional bond that customers have with a brand is strengthened, and their loyalty sustained. “Brands need to adapt their customer experience strategy to show individuals empathy, gratitude and compassion and let them know that business will remain constant, even when everything else is uncertain,” said Kim.

Offer Special Incentives to Your VIPs

Loyal customers want to feel like VIPs, and special incentives are one way to do just that. One example of a brand that has notable VIP incentives is Delta Airlines, whose Sky Priority program provides members with access to an exclusive reservation line, faster security lines and check-in procedures, and priority boarding.

For online brands, special incentives could include free gift wrapping for holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries, free overnight or 2-day shipping, free gifts with a purchase, free access to an exclusive e-book, or $10 off their next purchase. Incentives could also include free access to an upcoming webinar, a subscription to a magazine or subscription-based website, or a free software upgrade to a product the brand sells.

Bourke said that it’s vital that brands identify their most loyal customers, and “reward them by treating them like VIPs to ensure their continued loyalty.” If a brand is providing a VIP discount, it needs to let the customer know why they are getting the discount. “Offer your most loyal customers an exclusive discount, mention when sending the promo code that you have noticed their loyalty and want to say thank you by giving them this exclusive offer.” Bourke understands that it’s the small touches that make the difference with loyal customers. One approach she recommends is letting them know that their loyalty has earned them a reward. “With their next purchase, they will receive a free gift, which could be a branded item if appropriate.”

Final Thoughts

Loyal customers loved to be treated like the VIPs that they are by the brands they are loyal to. Brands that wish to retain the loyalty of their customers are continually working to improve their loyalty programs, and provide a hyper-personalized experience to customers across all of their channels. By encouraging customers to provide feedback, and taking action based on that feedback, rewarding loyalty by going the extra mile, and offering special incentives to VIPs, customer engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty is enhanced, and the customer’s journey is improved.