The Price of Loyalty

August 11, 2014
When you join a brand's Loyalty or Membership Program, what do you expect?
  • Special offers?
  • Better treatment?
  • A personal touch?
  • Reward points?
Each of us would answer slightly differently,  but here's one you'll never hear. "I'd like to pay more than non-members". Just like hotels and airlines, car rental companies all have loyalty programs - although I've never found them to be particularly beneficial. I really don't have loyalty to a car rental company. I use Avis, Hertz and National, depending on pricing; and one of the best customer service experiences I had was with Enterprise (much to my surprise). But I've always had a soft spot for Avis, maybe because of their "We try harder" campaign. For a recent vacation, I logged on to the Avis site with my "Wizard" number, tried a few of their deals, but the best rate I could find was around $500 for the week. Ouch!  Then, a couple of days later, I tried again, but didn't take the time to use my Avis login. $325. Excellent! So I entered my Avis wizard credentials....and the rate went back up to $500. I tried putting the same code in as before, and the price didn't budge. Avis was repaying me for my membership of their program by increasing my rate by almost 50%. So what does Avis actually promise their members? How are you rewarded for loyalty to their brand? When I log into my Avis account, I see the message "You are a valued customer and have access to high-end services!" Apparently, these are "Faster Reservations; Skip the Line; Special Amenities; Select & Go" [Select & Go allows you to select an upgraded vehicle at the airport, for which they charge you automatically. Hmmm...]. So to be fair, Avis is not promising the lowest price; they are really just offering an expedited experience. Loyalty programs should be an extension of your brand promise. They should deliver an experience that reflects how you want your brand to be remembered, and talked about. Four Seasons promise "experiences of exceptional quality", and it is demonstrated by their consistently high levels of service. Virgin Atlantic aims to "embrace the human spirit and let it fly" - which is clearly woven into everything they do; and as member of their Flying Club program, it is borne out by their whimsical and aspirational marketing and loyalty campaigns. So when you design a customer loyalty program, make sure it reflects your brand promise. That may not mean the best pricing (although it should surely be competitive). It may mean a higher level of service, a knowledge of personal preferences, or access to unique experiences. Whatever it offers, it should deliver on your brand promise. While I doubt that Avis actually intends to charge higher prices for loyalty - it may well just be a back-end error in their booking engine - it demonstrates why it is so important to get loyalty programs right. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that Avis dropped "We Try Harder" as their tagline in 2012 !  

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