Building Loyalty Evolves with Data, Smartphones, and Personalization
By Scott Wallask
Building customer loyalty has always been about gathering data. As part of go to market, loyalty initiatives include a mix of actions, such as VIP programs, product upsells, and campaigns for user-based reviews.
Loyalty is one of the four building blocks that creates a core go-to-market framework for businesses. The other quadrants include offer expansion, company transformation, and market expansion.
Loyalty marketing has evolved over the years. ZoomInfo data shows a rising amount of companies over the past decade have manager and executive job titles with the word “loyalty” in them.
To better understand the modern customer loyalty, it’s helpful to take a brief look at the history of modern loyalty programs and how mobile devices changed the trajectory.
The Beginning of Modern Loyalty Programs (1980–1994)
For many, it’s been a slow march to get customer loyalty to where it’s at now.
Sure, we could reminisce about the roots of loyalty programs in the 1700s, when devoted customers received special tokens, but instead, let’s start in the early 1980s, when much of the airline industry waded into what one would consider modern customer loyalty. Air carriers knew in exchange for flight perks, they could obtain valuable information about passengers.
Air carriers knew in exchange for flight perks, they could obtain valuable information about passengers.
“Customer loyalty programs, apart from rewarding customers, were also beginning to be designed to acquire data from customers, especially for airlines,” according to this Medium post.
Airlines would collect information such as what cities passengers typically flew to and what seats they preferred. The data (and deals) helped improve the most valuable customers’ experiences.
Meanwhile, supermarkets and wholesale clubs made pioneering moves to entice customers to return, making discounts contingent on people swiping a card or keychain tag to get the savings. More swipes equaled more deals for customers — and brought in more data for businesses.
Early loyalty programs existed in part to gather data on the best customers to deliver a better experience to all customers. With the internet, companies’ access to data and customers’ willingness to provide it changed the nature of loyalty programs.
The Internet Changes Loyalty Approaches (1995–2010)
As the new millennium dawned, sellers created new ways to garner and track customer loyalty that became less reliant on paper-based relationships with customers and more influenced by online purchasers’ behaviors.
Brands focused loyalty on providing more ways to help their best customers by recommending new products based on behaviors and creating “insider communities” that receive alerts about new products before anyone else.
Sellers created new ways to track customer loyalty that became more influenced by the behaviors of online purchasers.
Smartphones from Apple and Android hit the market in the mid-2000s, but it would take a few years to realize the sway these devices would have on customer loyalty by giving companies access to an unprecedented amount of data.
Mobile Devices Make Loyalty Immediate (2011-present)
As of 2019, Americans check their mobile phones once every 10 minutes on average, according to research sponsored by Asurion.
And along with near-constant smartphone use come the apps designed for these devices.
Starbucks found early success with a mobile app that boosted loyalty by allowing customers to order items ahead of time and pay for them electronically. Starbucks had the most popular restaurant loyalty app in 2018, according to an industry poll.
“The user experience of the mobile app is very cool,” said Gerri Martin-Flickinger, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Starbucks, said in a Q&A. “But remember that behind that piece of glass on your device, a lot of different technology components are at work making the magic happen, whether that’s data about the actual store, their store hours, or their inventory.”
Such apps are also able to gather intricate data about customers, making it possible to buttress loyalty through personalization and automation. This trend has continued into the B2B space, where personalization and automation have become an integral part of the customer experience.
By linking those steps together, “customers feel like a part of our company.”
— Henry Schuck, CEO, ZoomInfo
For example, if a customer reports a bug on ZoomInfo’s sales intelligence platform, that report is linked to an engineering ticket, CEO Henry Schuck said. When the bug is fixed, an automated email alerts the customer about the resolution and thanks the buyer for reporting the problem.
By linking those steps together, “customers feel like a part of our company,” Schuck added.
The Rise of Customer Experience Roles
An analysis of job title growth by ZoomInfo is clear: Titles with “customer experience” in them have outpaced job titles with “loyalty” or “influencer” in them since at least 2010.
Figure 2: Job titles featuring the term “customer experience” have skyrocketed over the last decade compared to titles with “loyalty” or “influencer” in them. Source: ZoomInfo.
Loyalty and influencer job titles are still important and have also risen, but the rapid advancement of customer experience jobs supports the theory that companies have taken a much broader view of how buyers encounter a brand or product.
Personalization Underscores Go-To-Market Initiatives
Four decades ago, loyalty was black and white: Reward the best customers who buy from a company often.
That thinking evolved with the growing influence of first the internet and then web-connected mobile devices. What once was a singular focus on loyalty based on sales has now widened to look at the full customer experience based on various data points.
“It’s safe to say personalization is the defining trend of our modern era of marketing,” ZoomInfo wrote on its blog. “With more options at their fingertips than ever before, customers demand a buying experience that is tailored to their specific wants, needs, and interests.”
For those companies that want to boost customer loyalty as part of go-to-market efforts, the bottom line is clear: Make the customer experience personal, give it immediacy, and bring it to the screen of mobile devices.