How to alienate loyal customers

A favorite restaurant is an exemplar at using email and social media for customer retention. They send weekly customer appreciation 1/2-price deals to their email list and Facebook fans.

For years, they’ve had a loyalty card where you’d get one punch for every $10 purchase. You then submitted completed cards for free food.

Recently, they switched to a plastic card that is swiped for every purchase. You can check online to see your accumulated points.

Additionally, you got a $10 certificate if you visited the restaurant 5 times with the first 5 weeks of the card’s activation. Since I frequent the restaurant about once a week, this would be easy for me.

However, I ran into two problems.

1) The instructions on the card mailed to me said to activate the card online. Since within 2 days of the card’s arrival I was leaving for a 2-week trip, I decided to activate when I arrived home, thus starting my 5-week timer.

However, when arriving home I learned I was now in week 3 of the 5-week window, as they activated the card the day it was sent! So at best, customers had 4.5 weeks, and I was now down to 2.

To their credit, when I discovered this and called, they started my 5-week timer the day of the call.

2) Having completed my 5 visits in 5 weeks, I looked online to see that only one visit had been credited. When I called to explore why, I was told there is a $15 minimum charge to be counted. I usually read the terms and conditions of all deals carefully, but had missed it. I was told it was buried in the fine print.

Again to their credit, they then counted all my visits, not just those totaling $15 or more.

This story has a happy ending because of this restaurant’s commitment to customer service and retention. However, there needn’t have been any hiccups, potentially alienating the customers you want to retain.

When you offer promotions, make sure key criteria aren’t hidden in 4-point type. Why would you want to tick-off the very customers you’re trying to retain? That’s dumb. All promotions have some restrictions — make sure yours are clear and upfront. Only sleazy companies try to hide them.

Also, make sure the information on your promotions matches your practices. Activating the card upon mailing does nothing in the favor of the customer — the person you’re trying to woo! If you say the card must be activated online, stick by that. If it must be activated by a certain date, say that too! Don’t try to trick folks. It will come back and haunt you.

Loyalty cards are great things if they are used well. Make sure you are treating your customers like the valued asset they are, not ticking them off!

1 thought on “How to alienate loyal customers”

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