Influence Your Customers
by Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
A Flexible Rewards Program Can Support Company Goals Year-Round
There are few things that affect a home comfort company’s bottom line more than the decisions that individual customers and prospects make every day.
Each customer or prospect will decide individually which company will get their business. They will choose whether to install a new boiler now or wait another year. They will decide whether or not to switch to gas heat. And your company’s prospects will rise or fall based on how they choose.
Home comfort executives might feel powerless to influence these customer decisions, but there are some strategies you can employ to give you more clout with customers. One excellent tool is a flexible loyalty rewards program that enables you to allocate reward points exactly as you see fit. When you develop a rewards program to support your goals, you are taking matters into your own hands and helping your team actively pursue the objectives you have set.
Flexibility is essential in a rewards program, because it gives company management choice. Executives can identify the company’s top priorities and then strategically allocate the loyalty rewards budget to most effectively support the goals.
For example, if the company wishes to increase the number of heating system upgrades it performs this season, it can use the rewards program to create a special incentive to drive sales. If you typically offer a $300 off coupon as a redemption option in your rewards program, you can increase the amount to $500, $800 or more without raising the loyalty points cost. You will sacrifice some of your profit on the installation, but you will be supporting a vital goal you have set for the company.
Support New Services
Similarly, a company that has diversified and launched a new service such as home sealing can use its rewards program to drive participation. Create a redemption option in your rewards program for a very generous home sealing coupon that will inspire customers to try your service. Again, the discount is a cost you must bear, but you are setting the agenda in support of your own priorities.
To support goals that change from season to season and even week to week, you need a capable rewards program that allows you to make changes on the fly and alert customers about current specials. You need the capability to offer a mix of redemption options that you control, and you need to be able to communicate rewards program news to customers.
Redemption options are essential in a home comfort loyalty program, because every customer is different. Some people will set their heart on a larger prize like a new iPad that requires them to bide their time, while others will welcome a coupon that lets them save money immediately.
Changing With the Times
If this sounds nothing like the loyalty rewards program at your company, it’s time for a change. A traditional home comfort rewards program is designed to foster loyalty by allowing the customer to accumulate savings year-by-year for an eventual equipment upgrade. That was an excellent plan 10 years ago, in an era when customers were more inclined to be loyal.
Many of today’s consumers, unfortunately, will move on from a home comfort company for no good reason, so you need to go the extra mile to hold on to them, and your rewards program is one piece of that. Customers likely won’t stay for the rewards alone, but as long as you are providing great service and value, the rewards program is part of an overall great customer experience that leaves little room for improvement.
A flexible program is also a great tool that can help improve customer relations in lots of different situations. For example, when the company lets a customer run out of fuel or is an hour late for an appointment, you can award some bonus reward points as part of the make-good. Be sure to do everything you normally would do after a customer service error first, and then add the points after the fact, preferably by e-mail the next day to create a nice, happy ending.
In addition to allowing flexibility on redemption options, a rewards program should be based online at your company website. Running the program through your own website allows you to use the rewards program portal as a marketing hub where customers gain exposure to your current special offers.
Whenever a customer pays a bill or makes a purchase, you should immediately award them points from the rewards program.
If the system is automated, the points can be awarded automatically, and the system can notify the customer by e-mail or text.
The text or e-mail should be thoughtful and appreciative and should include a link to the reward points portal and a brief message inviting them to visit their rewards page and see how close they are to qualifying for the different merchandise and coupon options.
The rewards portal itself should be one of your primary marketing pages, along with the home page and the customer account login section. Those pages will get the most views, so they provide excellent, low-cost opportunities for promoting your most timely products and services.
Use the pages in the reward points portal as billboards for your most compelling offers, particularly the ones that leverage coupons that can be “purchased” with reward points. Be sure to offer coupons at a variety of “price points” so you are offering something for everyone, regardless of how many points they have accumulated. That way, everyone can take advantage of the rewards program in the manner that they prefer. Some customers will hold out for one of your bigger prizes while others will be less patient and cash in their points for a coupon they can use now.
Whether they cash in now or later, the program is providing the kind of reward that they prefer. Companies might prefer that customers wait to redeem, so that they are carrying a large points balance that would be hard to walk away from, but you can’t herd customers any better than you can herd cats. Some people don’t like to wait, so it’s better to present a nice range of options and get out of the customers’ way.
Keep the Customer
Of course, the ultimate goal is to retain your customers, and that is even more important in heating oil and propane sales than in most other economic sectors. Starbucks or Delta Airlines – companies in other industries with established rewards programs – don’t have nearly as much to lose from customer defections as you do. A Delta frequent flyer can take occasional trips on other airlines without hurting Delta, but when your customer shops elsewhere, they’re probably gone for good.
If you are suffering too many defections, attack the problem with purpose, because it threatens your very livelihood. Look for patterns in the defections that have occurred and root out any systematic problems that are costing you business. If you have employees who alienate customers, retrain them as soon as possible.
At the same time, review all your customer service procedures and make them as customer-friendly and easy to use as possible. The more business customers can do online, the better you look, because many people don’t want to get on the phone unless they absolutely have to.
Make sure you have protocols for every kind of customer phone call and that employees know the protocols and follow them. Avoid being short-staffed in critical areas at critical times.
Don’t expect your rewards program to “take care” of customer loss issues. Instead, make a commitment to outstanding service throughout your operation and integrate the rewards program into that approach everywhere you can. Look for new and innovative ways to reward customers that will make them feel good about being with you.
Also, be sure to brand your rewards program in harmony with the company brand, so that it reflects well on the company and is clearly yours and not part of a syndicate.
If you’d like to target customer retention with a flexible rewards program, please give me a call at 800-796-3342. Our OnPoint program is flexible and online, and you can use it through any company website.