7 Rules of Etiquette for Better Reward Program Behavior


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Does Your Loyalty Program Live By The Golden Rule?

Reward programs issue points as a courtesy for a customer’s business, but how courteous is your program when it comes to handling the relationships you build from those transactions? The basic rules we learn in childhood, which advise we treat others as we’d like to be treated, should be the central theme of a program’s playbook.

There’s are calculable financial reasons for doing so: Nearly 80% of consumers have said they only buy brands that prove they understand and care about them. In a moment when high prices are causing consumers to consider switching brands and merchants, a more thoughtful, generous rewards program can influence those choices.

Present Your Rewards Program As A Proper Person

If companies believe their loyalty programs are designed to build relationships, then they must equip those programs with the kinds of qualities their customers appreciate. Here are seven rules of behavior that can help to polish reward programs of all manner.

  1. Make a thoughtful introduction. Any program should introduce itself in easy-to-follow language that will engage the members and encourage participation. The convenience store chain Wawa’s reward program, for example, breaks the ice in a highly conversational tone: “Wawa Rewards is a great way to earn tasty deals just for doing something you already love – going to Wawa.” It describes each of its three reward types in a short, but enthusiastic, sentence (“We’ll send you Bonus Rewards throughout the year just for being an awesome member”). It then lands the pitch with an immediate click-through to download its app.
  2. Listen to your guest before speaking. Reward programs that bury new members under promotions before they’ve had a chance to participate are like party guests who assume to know you based on your age and gender. At the most, a “welcome aboard” message should invite members to share what they want the company to know about them. Then the program can indulge their interests and focus on what’s in it for them. Amazon Prime set the standard for listening-based reciprocation with its “If you liked that, you might like this,” personalized messages on its landing page. These messages aren’t pushy, and they let the member know Prime is paying attention.
  3. Give genuine compliments that “complement.” If a new acquaintance praised your minimalist home décor but then tried to sell you on his brocade-and-tassel window treatments, you’d feel a bit had, right? Programs that customers stick with tend to be true to their word. They use their member data for the reasons their customers share it – to be better understood so they receive complimentary perks and offers that matter to them. CVS ExtraCare’s infamously long reward receipts are a good example of “nice try”: usually, fewer than half of the reward options hit the mark. This may be partly why 40% of consumers don’t trust companies to use their data ethically. Nordstrom demonstrates what matters to members by inviting them to set up their own “double points” days; the number of which they get annually varies based on status.
  4. Be punctual. Don’t keep members waiting for the opportunity to earn or redeem a reward. The Dillard’s Rewards credit card offers an intriguing perk – a 10% off shopping pass that members can use for one full day. Sign me up! But wait – a member must accumulate 1,500 points (that’s $750 in spending) to earn the pass. That spending level can take a long time for a lot of customers. Dillard’s then requires members to wait up to two billing cycles before receiving the pass. The other reward option, a $10 certificate, which equates to a sad 1.3% in rewards payback, also requires up to a two-month wait, and feels paltry after having spent $750 with the department store.
  5. Don’t be boastful or loud. Members see through programs that overstate their value and the resulting word-of-mouth isn’t pleasant. The four-tiered Uber Rewards program offers lots of promising perks, from earning points for rides (basic membership) to priority pickup at the airport (platinum membership). However, while Uber service is available in 80 countries, its rewards program is reportedly recognized in only six countries (United States, Australia, France, Brazil, Mexico and New Zealand). Further, members can’t use rewards earned internationally until they return to the U.S. If I wanted to redeem points on a ride in Toronto, I’d be out of luck.
  6. Dress properly for the occasion. A program should present itself to members with respect. Know your base, know why they came to you and choose a look that puts them at ease. REI’s Total REI Rewards page is carefully tailored with well-coordinated imagery and language designed expressly for members: $100 off a mountain bike “just for members,” a brightly illustrated grid of “just for members” perks with a drop-down menu; and a photo selection of curated gear – again, just for members.
  7. Stand when the member leaves the table. A good rewards program is structured to recognize each member transaction once completed, accompanied by a currency update and an occasional surprise. Restaurants can really max out on this benefit by immediately updating their apps with the member’s points balance and sending a certificate for a food item on their next visit. But even luxury hotels can issue forms of instant recognition that are highly valuable to their guests. Leading Hotels of the World (think Ritz) gifts its members free continental breakfasts and priority room upgrades upon arrival.

The Most Important Etiquette Rule Of All?

Lastly, always, always, always say thank you. But not just any old thank you will do. It should be personalized, it should be immediate and it should be genuine. It should include why the customer’s purchase and loyalty are valued by the company.

In short, a reward program’s expression of gratitude should be just like its greeting – an action that treats customers as they wish to be treated. That in turn encourages better, more profitable, behavior.


This article originally appeared in The Customer.

Jenn McMillen
Incendio Founder Jenn McMillen has been building and sharing expertise in the retail industry for 20+ years. Her expertise includes customer relationship management, shopper experience, retail marketing, loyalty programs and data analytics. She's a retail contributor for Forbes.


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