How to Win Your Customers’ Loyalty

Encouraging repeat business is an art form. Here’s what works and what can really turn off a consumer.

November 17, 2021

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By Sara Counihan

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Getting someone to step foot inside a convenience store can be tough, but getting them to come back can be even harder. Becoming a customer’s store of choice is an art form. Paula Thomas, global expert on brand loyalty and host of the “Let’s Talk Loyalty” podcast, is a guest on this week’s Convenience Matters podcast episode “Developing Emotional Loyalty With Customers” and offers insight on how to navigate loyalty with the ever-changing consumer.

Thomas thinks about loyalty in two ways: mindset loyalty and the difference between transactional loyalty and emotional loyalty.

Mindset loyalty is about gaining the customer’s trust and getting into their mindset when they think of a c-store to visit. This stemmed from how COVID-19 changed the way customers decided which convenience store they visited.

“Customers were saying to us, you know what, we’re totally scared, we’re absolutely freaked out, so we only want to shop in places where we share values with a particular retail brand,” said Thomas.

Retailers also need to think about how they can gain emotional loyalty from customers over transactional loyalty. Customers are paying attention to how they feel about a particular brand, says Thomas. They’re also noticing if a brand is being loyal back to the customer.

“Customers are half as convinced as the brands are as to who’s being loyal to who. So, brands think they’re doing a great job, but actually customers aren’t convinced,” said Thomas. “If we have an intention of loving our customers, actually they do feel it,” said Thomas.

An example is McDonald’s’ 2019 McCafé It Forward program when McDonald’s passed out 500 McCafé It Forward cards to coffee lovers or individuals who had made a difference in their communities. The cards offered an unlimited supply of coffee, and once the first card recipients got their free cup of coffee, they were encouraged to pay it forward by passing the card along to someone else. The next person got a free cup and paid it forward to someone else and so on.

“That’s not a structured loyalty program. There are no points involved here, but it means that somebody can enjoy something back from the brand and share it with somebody,” said Thomas.

Thomas also used the example of Panera Bread’s loyalty program, which is subscription based and focused on unlimited coffee and hot tea for $8.99 a month plus exclusive rewards for subscribers. Many subscribers don’t leave the restaurant with just a cup of coffee because Panera is focused on the cross-sell and the upsell, according to Thomas. It’s also a simple and transparent loyalty model.

“Transparency […] is required and making it clear and easily understandable. Loyalty is something that people need to feel, they need to understand. Let’s get away with the asterisks and the conditions and the poor redemption experience. Because if I’ve learned anything as a loyalty professional, the moment of truth and the time that you really earn trust is actually when you do reward the customer,” said Thomas.

Be sure to listen to this week’s episode “Developing Emotional Loyalty With Customers,” to learn about IKEA’s family program (Thomas interviewed the company on her podcast), the dos and don’ts of customer data and what’s up with WhatsApp.

Each week a new Convenience Matters episode is released. With more than 300 episodes to choose from, the podcast can be heard on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and other podcast apps and YouTube and at www.conveniencematters.com. Episodes have been downloaded more than a quarter million times by listeners around the world.

Sara Counihan is contributing editor of NACS Daily and NACS Magazine. Contact her at scounihan@convenience.org.