Monday, October 1, 2012

When a Reward Program Feels Like a Slap

One of the keystones in a business-consumer relationship is the idea of reward. The concept is simple - the company says, "Be loyal to us and be rewarded by us" to the consumer.

I'm not going to rant how credit card companies, airlines, hotel chains and other business conglomerates have  shifted their "reward" programs from any meaningful measure of reward to S&H green stamp-like "points you can cash in for cheap consumer goods." Today I'm going to focus on a situation that any small company might run into - when a reward ends up feeling more like a punishment.

The company in question is, generally speaking, excellent in both word and deed when it comes to customer service. They recently ran a promotion in which current customers would receive a code that could be decoded for a discount to be used on a future purchase.

There were several problems with this contest right off the bat. Non-purchasing people who visited them at an event were able to get the discount code card - and presumably more than one, to get a better discount - while people not at the event had to jump through some hoops to get a card. It wasn't as easy as sending one's email address - it was a throwback to the old days of send a 3" x 5" card with 1" block letters and a self-addressed stamped envelope.... That was Step 1. It wasn't an insurmountable hurdle, but it did feel weirdly anachronistic and awkward. And it mean that I waited 2 weeks to get my card, where people who just happened to be at the event were able to get theirs right away by mere coincidence of time and place.

When one received the card, it contained a QR code which, when scanned, would reveal the code, or the code could be entered in a special website to reveal the discount. Step 2. Again, not by itself arduous...but why couldn't this have been Step 1 for people not at that event? I give you my email, you send me an email with the code. Faster, less waste of paper and less time.

Step 3 was where it really started to go wrong. I revealed my discount and found that I would save....4%? Seriously? I admit - I felt insulted. All that time and yes, I paid for a stamp...to get 4% off an order? I'll be honest, any discount less than 15% annoys me. When I discount items, I never discount less than 15%.  But to go through that rigmarole and wait to receive a 4% discount...well that was much less of a "thanks" than they intended, I'm sure.

But this wasn't over. I kept the card, even though it had what I considered to be a relatively limited time period - it was good for only 3 months. So, not a special reward  discount so much as a time-sale coupon.

Step 4 - I finally put an order together and went to apply my discount...only to find that the items I chose were not eligible for the discount. (To be fair, they were already discounted, but still.) So, in the end, as a reward and to thank me for my support, I'm out the price of a stamp.

As I say, I genuinely love this company. I can totally understand at each step of the process why it had to be the way it was, but in the end, the special discount was more like a slap in the face.

When developing reward programs, consider the process as a whole, as well as individual parts.

Make sure that the end goal - to reward and thank customers - is executed fully, or you may actually accomplish the opposite of what you intend.

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