How Not To Run a Loyalty Program

I'm usually a big fan of customer loyalty programs, whether it's airline frequent flyer coalitions or casino player rating cards. Anything that provides me some minor amount of personalization or benefit for expressing a preference is typically a reasonable return on my time and money.

Unless I spend so much time trying to get into the program that even having a long trip's worth of DVDs hand-delivered doesn't make up for the time wasted. Such has been my experience since Sunday trying to register for the "rewards" program at a certain big box retailer.

The short chronology:

  • Went to the store on Sunday, loading up on DVDs, extra headphones and some new music for the few weeks everyone is home before school starts. Realized I've spent enough there in the last few months to generate the first level of reward, so I grabbed a new enrollment flyer from the cashier's stand.
  • Cashier scanned my brand-new bar code, and didn't ask for any other information, directing me to the store's program website to register. Clever and time-saving, or so I thought.
  • About 10 hours later, I tried to register, and got a message that new account activation typically takes 1-2 days. And it requires the phone number I provided at time of purchase (which I didn't provide, because there was no information given about who would be calling and annoying me on that phone number if so provided).
  • I waited 48 hours, and tried again, and finally called the customer service line. I was informed that (a) it's currently taking 72 hours to enter new customers and (b) their "systems are updating" so I'd have to call back again in 2-3 hours to resolve my problem anyway. I muffled complaints about 72 hours not being equivalent to 1-2 days, and that batch updates are best done when customers are sleeping; I'm not going to badger someone in a call center bullpen when IT lets me down.
  • At this point, the likelihood that I'll ever complete the registration is asymptotically approaching epsilon. I may, if I remember before I go back to that store in a few weeks, but it's a lot less likely now that I've had three attempts locked out.

    There is an entire refrigerator-sized box of process improvement here: If you need some piece of identifying information, ask me for it, or better yet, generate it on the sales slip and let me enter it when I register. It's unique, safer, and doesn't impair my privacy (the Hard Rock Cafe and Staples do this for customer surveys and rebate offers). Don't bulk load data in the middle of the day, rendering customer service service-less. If you can send my credit card information to the merchant bank in real time, you can probably get the member number into your own loyalty system in about the same time frame. What takes 3 days for an electronic transfer? As Chris Anderson points out in The Long Tail, the right combination of real world and online properties can increase sales of less popular items, relying on the online store to capture the long tail while the real world marches the hit parade. But after three days of trying to marry the two, and spending longer blogging about my experience than actually enduring it, I just proved the longer-held theorem of customer service: people who have bad experiences share them.

  • Comments:

    You are so right! I guess the only good thing in the end of your story is that you have one less loyalty card stuffed in your wallet!

    Posted by SandyB on August 15, 2007 at 10:09 AM EDT #

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    Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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