The cadence and purpose of email communications from brands sponsoring loyalty programs tells a lot about how the brand is managing its program. In 2009-2010, LoyaltyTruth.com tracked loyalty program communications across 21 brands in 6 industries. In all, we catalogued over 12,000 emails and learned that pitching promotions was the most common purpose of all emails sent, regardless of whether the brand was a retailer, airline, or hotel operator.
While we saw small percentages of emails triggered by a recent interaction or purchase in our research, we also saw less then 1% of all emails designed to learn more about customer preferences. For that reason, anytime I receive an invitation to voice an opinion, I take up the offer.
The survey I took today was much too long and was packed with convoluted re-hash of questions about preferences for specific benefits of the frequent flyer program. There were also too many questions that tried to box me into to answers that I found impossible to share. For instance, American asked how many flights of my total for the year would be impacted by a specific benefit. The answer is much easier to estimate as a percentage and having to choose a specific number of flights simply reduced the usability of the data I provided. By the way, the length of the survey – too long as mentioned – also negatively impacted the quality of my answers when taken as a whole.
One theme throughout the survey that should be of interest to marketers is that American sought to understand the total amount of money spent with them in fares over the past year. They smartly built the equation by asking how many times I flew on various airlines and then asked me to estimate the average fares paid by type of flight (business, leisure, coach, business class). They confirmed this annual spending total with me and proceeded to pose a series of questions that indicate they are considering crafting benefits based on spend rather than segments or mileage. If so, this represents a well advised shift of focus from frequency to value and profitability.
I mentioned the importance in cadence and purpose of email communications at the top and have to admit that an email I received from American about 2 weeks ago was still top of mind as I slugged my way through the survey. I had just missed re-qualifying for a tier status with the airline and they offered me the chance to buy my way in for the next year. I was interested until I saw the price of $450 attached to the offer. To pay that money for tier privileges doesn’t wash here if it comes from my own pocket and just think about what you’d tell your boss when asked about that item on your next expense report.
Even though the structure of the offer left me feeling mildly discouraged about American’s FFP, I give them credit for the timing of the survey they sent today and the opportunity to voice my opinion. For customers, there will always be value in having our voices heard, and brands that keep this in the center of their radar screen will outperform competition over time.