What’s In Style? Keeping Customers (And Keeping ‘Em Happy) Is The New Black

Originally published in Adotas on July 17, 2015

Winning new customers is increasingly tough. Advertising, long the staple of that initiative for larger companies, has become an exercise in crawling through glass with the rise of media fragmentation, proliferation of subscription media, paywalls, ad blocking technology, and mobile behavior which has turned much media consumption from passive and one-way to (very) active and two-way.

While winning new devotees has become harder, nobody has offered relief on the topline. Growth is still required. So where does that leave you?

Keeping what you’ve got has never been more important. A leaky bucket of churn has never been more damaging than it is right now.

Your current customers, especially your best ones, are the gold. They must be protected, nurtured, and celebrated. Turn your back on them and you’ll turn around just in time to see the safe door swinging open, the gold plundered by someone who cared more— or seemed to.

Modern loyalty has very little to do with the consumer demonstrating their fealty to companies. It has everything to do with companies expressing— tangibly demonstrating— their devotion to customers. Switching has never been simpler. Every day a company is born with the sole intention of disrupting the Old Guard.

Sounds good until those startups grow up to become established themselves. That noise, at first faint but now growing louder by the minute? Those are the new barbarians at the gate. And so it goes. Disruption is no longer generational. It’s daily.

So to show they value their customers, companies have to know them. Of course there’s the blocking and tackling of name, address, contact information and purchase history. Those are greens fees. Real loyalty is rooted in deeper understanding about customer wants, needs, and aspirations. It’s less about what they’ve done in the past and more about what they’re doing right now and even what they’re likely to do in the future. The Weather Channel has one of the most downloaded apps but engagement was low with fans spending mere seconds in the app just to check the weather. To drive deeper engagement and consistent usage, they began incentivizing behaviors fans already did — would they watch one more video or view the radar if they were rewarded? By incentivizing existing behaviors of their fans, the company saw a 25% increase in time spent in the app with the average fan using the app 32 times per month.


Customer actions (not just purchases) are made in real-time. Company reactions must respond in kind— often via mobile when the customer gold is hot. For this reason, more and more companies are putting the customer gold under lock and key internally, rather than farming it out – like BMW who recently internalized a formerly outsourced IT operations to get better control of its digital footprint. There’s no time for handoffs between agency-CMO-CIO-CTO…as the customer moves between web, social, POS, eComm and app. Timing is of the essence. Data must be captured, profiles must be updated, decision-trees formed, and engagement enacted to keep pace with the speed of mobile. High value behaviors must not only be incentivized, they must be rewarded with a careful eye toward lifetime customer value, not one-time transaction cost. Take Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten who expanded their “Rakuten Super Points” loyalty program to over 40 mobile properties and offline services. By capturing consumers habits across multiple platforms and rewarding high value behaviors, Rakuten saw in a 50% increase in mobile participation and doubled the 7-day retention rate among participating users.

It’s a big job. It takes a corporate village across multiple systems and constituencies to manage adroitly. But done well, there’s gold in them hills.

Lars Albright

As a Mastercard Advisor, and SessionM’s CEO & Co-Founder, Lars helped build SessionM into the market as a leader in customer data management and engagement, working with the world's largest and most innovative brands to help them build stronger relationships through smarter engagement.