Home > Uncategorized > Loyalty : Points or Surprise & Delight

Loyalty : Points or Surprise & Delight

So often I have been engaged in conversations with clients about building customer loyalty. Rather quickly the conversation turns to loyalty programs, points, cards and so on. At some point it all looks too difficult and it is shelved. Rather infrequently, a half hearted attempt is made to run something to get that tick box in the marketing scorecard.

Yet as I look at the many loyalty programs being run how wonder how many of them genuinely build loyalty to the brand. How many make you feel better about the brand?

Here’s an example of what I mean

Going by the cards I have, I am loyal to Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Kenya Airways, Emirates and Qantas. Yet when I booked tickets for my family last night, I booked Qatar because they had better timings.



Going by the cards I have, I am loyal to Starwood, Marriott, Hyatt, HIlton yet when I travel I look for the hotel close to where I need to be.

For sure I first look to see if any of my ‘loyalty’ brands have an option that suits me best, but final decision is based on other factors.

I have flown Singapore Airlines for many years. I love the airline for any number of reasons. But I don’t know that the fact that I am a krisflyer member makes me feel better about the brand.


I totally get that in this day of intense competition one needs to recognise and reward one’s most valuable customers. And putting together a point program seems like the most obvious way to go.

But what about if you sell a breakfast cereal? Or a detergent? What do they do? They don’t know their customers at all. The current trend seems to be facebook pages and driving likes.

I recall, many years ago, a paint brand in India would drop a silver coin in its paint cans. Every painter knew that. This drove painters to recommend this particular brand and drove loyalty.

A toothpaste brand used to put in little figurines of animals in their pack (not the tube!!). Guess which brand kids forced their parents to buy.

So there are ways around the ‘but I don’t know who my customer is’. Sometimes, you don’t have to know who your customer is, to build loyalty.

Four Seasons hotel till recently did not have a loyalty program. For them ‘every customer is an important customer’. However, from their reservation system they were able to identify who their frequent customers were and arrange little things like room upgrades, a free drink etc that made customers genuinely feel attached to the brand than being busy tracking points. They too have, however, recently succumbed to the need to have a points progam and will launch one any day now.

And finally a most recent example. There’s a guy who sells flowers from a little shop, outside a mall, near where we stay. And we’ve bought flowers on the odd occasion from him. I would hazard, not more than a dozen times. Last time we visited the mall, we mentioned to him that the last set of flowers we bought from him didn’t last very long. Not a complaint, just a mention. When we came out of the mall, he was waiting with a whole bouquet of flowers. For free. Because we were not happy with our last experience. Guess who just got a 100% loyal customer.

Other examples like amazon.com and zappos come to mind immediately.

Yes I completely understand that this is the basic requirement to build loyalty. Have a happy customer. Surprise and delight them.

But how often do brands get caught up in systems and processes and let the points do the talking.

Marketers that construct systems that keep that fundamental principle in mind will build real loyalty. Others will be caught up with ‘value of a point’, ‘value of a like’ and the ilk.


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  1. April 9, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Well written Harish ! In India there was also a sense of importance which a consumer got by having a loyalty / preferred card so that is what some of these companies try to capitalise on. If you recall the old Diners Club card where they captured a lot of people only with the concept that they were a cut above other cards !

  2. Anant Deboor
    April 9, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Hey Harish – hope you’re well. Excellent post. And very relevant and topical to my dear client right now. Hope you don’t mind my sharing this with them.

  3. April 10, 2013 at 9:49 am

    I think there’s a great deal of truth in this. Points try to buy people. Surprise and delights make people think differently about the brand.

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