Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 3 Types of Loyalty Programs and How to Make Them Work

Does your small business use a loyalty program to keep customers engaged and spur them to buy? The Boston Consulting Group recently published a report on loyalty programs and what it takes to make them profitable and effective for businesses.

According to BCG, there are three main types of loyalty programs:

  1. Earn-and-Burn. The classic punch-card program (Buy 10, get one free) is an example of earn-and-burn, in which customers benefit from their purchases by earning rewards at specific thresholds. Other types of earn-and-burn loyalty programs include points programs (in which customers earn points they can redeem for free products) and discount programs (in which members get discounts).
  2. Recognition. In a recognition program, repeat customers get special perks or services only for them, based on the total amount they spend or the total number of points they accumulate. Airline rewards points are an example of a recognition program; customers who accumulate a certain number of points earn special perks and upgrades. 
  3. Customer Relationship Management. CRM programs are the most sophisticated type of loyalty program. They typically use loyalty software to capture purchase data, then use that data to develop targeted special offers for loyalty members. Examples include members-only promotions or targeted communications such as newsletters, emails or even website content.

According to BCG, each type of program has its pros and cons. The cost of an earn-and-burn program can eliminate any gains, while recognition programs by their nature limit the number of members, and CRM programs can have both of these flaws.

Ideally, you’ll want to find a loyalty program that enables you to prompt more spending from customers, increasing your margins rather than cutting into them. BCG uses the example of a company with a 35 percent gross profit margin. In this case, a customer who spends $100 annually generates $35 in profit. If the customer joins the loyalty program and increases spending by 10 percent, to $110 annually, the company makes an additional $3.50 in profit. However, the cost of the loyalty program ($3.30) eats up most of that; essentially, the business is breaking even. But if the customer spends 20 percent more, the company makes $7 in profit, or $3.70 minus the cost of the loyalty program. At this point, profit begins to grow rapidly.

According to the study, the most profitable loyalty programs invest more in the customers who spend the most. Typically they do so by using a tiered rewards system: As customers meet increasingly higher thresholds of spending, they qualify for bigger and better rewards.

Ideally, you’ll also want to use rewards that are inexpensive for your business to give, but have high value to the customer. For example, a hotel that has an expensive room sitting unused can score points by upgrading a loyalty customer to that room. It doesn’t cost the hotel anything, but it earns greater loyalty from the customer.

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