2013-02-01_06-36-56_262

There was a time when companies like Best Buy separated themselves with their rewards zone program and it was actually kind of fun to go online and check out where you stand, print out the gift certificate and go shopping. Today, everyone is doing it, some customers expect it and most businesses use the program the wrong way anyway.

Instead of a tool for communicating appreciation and generosity to customers, many companies make it obvious that it’s merely a gimmick with two pages of restrictions, blackouts and provisos that only communicate inflexibility. The irony is that the same company will spend thousands to millions, depending on the size of the company, with marketing firms to build the infrastructure of that rewards programs. The physical rewards cards, the software required, the cost to get the word out about their “great program”…. all of that costs money, a lot more than the cost of the giveaways. Plus it has all become predictable, ineffective and actually a bit of a pain in the butt!

Like me, you’re probably getting bombed at every corner with some kind of rewards card. At last count, I actually have 17 physical cards in my wallet for some kind of rewards program. Not to mention spammed to death with hundreds of emails per week from hotels, airlines, insurance companies, banks and retail chains, I delete almost all of them, as I simply don’t have the time.

Now imagine these scenarios….

  •  You go to the same Best Buy, spend $40 on a couple of DVDs, the cashier says….. ”Thanks for coming in today, those are on the house.”
  • You take a friend to lunch, the server says….”We wanted to make your day, we took half off the bill.”
  • Your insurance agent…..”You’ve been with us for years, we took $150 bucks off your premium to say thank you. Let your friends know we are here.”
  • The car rental company…..”We see you rent cars all over the country, thanks so much. Please enjoy this weekend on us.”

The list could go on but the idea is no cards, no “buy 5, and get one free”, no list of “can’t do’s”, just spontaneous thanks and here you go. What impression would that give you of that companies generosity? How many people would tell? How many Tweets, Facebook posts, blog clips? How often would you go back???

Of course behind the scenes there is a structure within the companies program; a max dollar amount, so many customers per day, customers who’s been consistent purchasers or even every 5th new customer. The key part is that from the customer’s perspective, it is totally random, special, and a happy surprise. Also, how much per year could that company save by not having to buy cards or infrastructure for them?

To Starbucks credit, they have done a good job at moving towards this model. They will automatically load your rewards onto your Starbucks card when you hit a certain number of purchases. When you hit the mark, they will tell you, “You have a free drink on your rewards card, would you like to use it today?” You no longer have to mess with emails or bringing in the free drink postcard, it’s a little more random and fun. You still have to carry a rewards card around so it will be interesting to see which company can eliminate those and make it simply a spontaneous reward.

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