The Business Generation Gap

A few months ago the EMAAR Group announced the launch of their loyalty program in the UAE, UByEmaar. That by itself is good news because it shows the growing adoption of customer loyalty programs by businesses including giant groups like EMAAR.

Considering that EMAAR is one of the top groups in the UAE that is known for its quality and its mega-ambitious projects (the likes of Burj Khalifa the tallest tower in the world), one would expect nothing but new and exciting ideas when they launched their loyalty program, UByEmaar.

However, the excitement about what new things we are going to see and experience with the UByEmaar program was very short-lived the minute one tries to actually register for the program. It was a disappointing experience, which led me to think about at why big brands, like EMAAR, would still lag behind when it comes to catching up with customer engagement trends and technologies right when they should be the ones leading.

Some programs are still stuck on the very old model of accumulate points and wait, where a customer has to spend a lot of money, accumulate a lot of points over a long period of time to be given the chance to get something. This might still apply to some industries but even then customers expect some immediate recognition or at least a certain level of personalization. Consumers are no longer interested in waiting to get something, they want to engage in real time, which means they want to be recognized the minute they engage with the brand.

All this leads to programs that are still too confusing for consumers to understand. A lot of times, simply “personalizing” the relationship with your customers would take your a long way towards loyalty without even the points and rewards.

So many times, I have seen brands start working on a customer loyalty solution only to see it drag for years and by the time it is launched it is already far behind the new trends and customer expectations. This is why a lot of newly launched programs still look and feel like they were launched years ago because the chances are that’s when the work started on those programs. Not to mention the cost attached to those years. I have talked to a few brand managers who confessed that the solution they ended up with is really not what they wanted but because of all the cost and time involved they did not dare suggest an overhaul.

This is what I would call the “business generation gap”. One of the main and biggest challenges about businesses today is their inability to move at the speed of the market in terms of trends whether in technology or consumer behavior. Historically, established businesses are slow to change and catch-up with the trends of the time and considering the fast evolution in technology from social media to mobile and data collection and analytics to consumer behavior and expectation, the cost of falling behind is becoming extremely high.

Unfortunately, we still see many businesses tackling customer engagement and loyalty systems in a very traditional way and working with “legacy” companies that failed to adapt to the new changes. This means that a lot of businesses are still spending years and a lot of money on customer loyalty systems that by the time they are done they are already years behind.

I am not going to discuss here the tidal wave that cloud computing, agile companies, and mobile technologies that is creating havoc across the globe (in a good way) enabling businesses not only to quickly have systems in place to engage and learn about their customers but also to adapt and adjust on a ongoing basis at a fraction of the cost that they used to spend on similar initiatives. A lot of great articles have been published around this topic and many companies are being created globally to tackle exactly that.

However, as a business, the minute you start thinking about customer engagement you need to make sure that whatever solution you put in place needs to have the following basic aspects:

  1. Quick to Setup: I am not talking about a full solution here but a starting point that enables the business to start engaging and learning about customers today and not next year. Customer Loyalty is an on-going process so you need a system that allows you to start quickly so you can start learning about your customers and evolve.
  1. Simple: Again a lot of businesses are still giving the helm to technology teams to build those systems while it should be the Marketing and Customer Engagement teams who should be driving this with the support of the technology team. It is the marketing team that should decide how the system will be used, if it is not easy for them to use then it is of no use to them.
  1. Flexible: Long gone are the days where you spend years building an infrastructure along with a suite of features. Today’s technology and tools enable businesses to have something in place quickly and that they can easily adjust and configure based on feedback from customers and changes in the market.
  1. Open: which means it is easy to integrate with other systems (gone are the days of installing everything on your servers in a locked room). The whole world is becoming more and more connected so your customer loyalty solution needs to also connect to the world.

So if you are launching a program in the 21st century, make sure it doesn’t look and behave as if it is still in the 90s. “Understand” your customers first, then “evolve” your solution to make it “relevant” to them so you can start building “personal” relationships for the long run.

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