The 2023 Retail Technology Buyers Guides
loyalty experience

Beyond the Transaction: the Importance of Creating a Connected Loyalty Experience

For travel loyalty programs, the importance of creating a branded end-to-end experience for members cannot be overstated. Combine full-service booking capabilities with diverse travel and lifestyle products and intuitive UX, and members will interact longer and more frequently. They get recognizable value from the relationship, and the brand earns valuable insights from the data generated through multiple interactions and transactions. On the other hand, a disjointed platform with numerous link-outs and inconsistent flows puts brand equity at risk, exposes members to competitors, and creates the potential for missed revenue.

By Ed Silver, Chief Information Officer of iSeatz, a loyalty solutions company

Having a connected loyalty experience is the ideal state for travel loyalty programs, yet many fall short of this goal. Some brands may lack the experience and technical expertise to build a loyalty platform that offers a seamless travel journey for members. Others may be hampered by outdated legacy technology or view their loyalty program as outside of their core functionality and therefore a lower priority.

But travel loyalty programs that seem to be “good enough” are breeding grounds for missed opportunities. With a more connected, cohesive experience, companies can burnish their brand image, gain a more nuanced understanding of member patterns and preferences, and ultimately serve their members better.

What makes a connected loyalty experience?

Put simply, a connected loyalty experience is one in which all of a member’s needs are met within the loyalty program ecosystem. This includes the basic loyalty mechanisms of earning, redemption, and points balance management, as well as booking and servicing, all integrated into a singular platform. 

For travel loyalty programs – most of the major loyalty programs in the US fall into this category, including those offered by 27 of the largest financial institutions – a connected experience implies a few specific capabilities. First, it means a member should be able to book all components of a trip on the brand’s platform, and not be linked out to a supplier website or third-party booking agent. Second, it should include lifestyle products that are complementary to the core travel products and services available for redemption, like dining and live events or other relevant lifestyle rewards [link to lifestyle article]. And third, that support for those components be available through the loyalty program.

By offering these capabilities, a travel loyalty program becomes not only the go-to tool for members’ travel needs but also the lens through which they view their travel experience. Of course, they’re aware that they’re flying airline A and staying at hotel B, but their vacation is courtesy of their loyalty program and the company that sponsors it.    

The expanded data advantage

If program members get a cohesive and seamless journey from their connected loyalty experience, brands get the benefit of more member data generated by expanded touchpoints and transactions. When members have more options to browse, redeem, and book within the loyalty program environment, the platform can capture what each member looks at, what they search for, and what they ultimately purchase or redeem points toward. Each of these actions is a rich data point revealing trends and tendencies and providing insight into member behavior. 

This insight can be leveraged in a number of valuable ways. Most broadly, it can hint at marketplace trends, as loyalty program membership bases are often analogous to a brand’s customer base. It can also be used to fuel personalization efforts, generate recommendations, and create incentives. For example, if a loyalty program knows that a member booked a ticket to a Broadway show on their last trip to New York, they can offer that member seats to a similar live performance in their hometown as an incentive for reaching the next loyalty tier. But this is only possible if the member was able to book their Broadway show through the loyalty program in the first place, and if the loyalty program has the ability to capture that data and put it into action. 

Being able to leverage data in this way is not only a tactical advantage, it demonstrates to members that the program can recognize their needs and wants, and can tailor options based on those preferences. That creates a virtuous cycle of positive brand experiences and contributes to brand loyalty in a way that goes beyond the transactional.

Building connection capabilities

Creating positive brand experiences should be the goal of every loyalty program, and that goal is most achievable when a program offers a connected member journey. A good customer interaction with one facet of a trip – an upgraded hotel room, or a luxury-class rental car – pales in comparison to a good overall experience. Travel loyalty programs are in a unique position to influence the totality of a member’s travel experience and therefore enjoy a boost in brand affinity when those experiences are positive. But only if they offer the right range of products, provide the right level of service, and keep their members under their brand umbrella. 

Too often, brands do not make this effort and expose their members to fragmented travel loyalty experiences. They do not have to, however; implementing a platform that offers a connected loyalty experience is simply a matter of finding the right technology partner. Major banks with significant resources like Chase, Citi and Capital One have invested in overhauling their travel booking platforms to create more connected experiences, indicating that they see the value in “owning” the entire customer journey. 

But you don’t have to be a top-5 financial institution to build a robust selection of reward offerings that can cover loyalty members’ whole-trip needs (and therefore create connected member journeys). Out-of-the-box travel loyalty solutions that can be deployed quickly are available for brands that don’t have the stockpile of resources or internal tech teams that the big banks have. Others with existing loyalty platforms that just need to expand their capabilities to create connected experiences can engage with a partner that provides a more customizable solution. Still, others whose legacy systems lack the data management and storage capabilities that can transform member interactions and touchpoints into actionable insights can find a solution tailored to their specific needs as well. 

A connected travel loyalty experience is within most companies’ grasp – and they should reach for it. The benefits to their members and their bottom lines are ripe for the taking.

To learn how iSeatz can help your brand build a connected travel loyalty experience, contact them at info@iseatz.com.

Ed Silver

Ed Silver is the Chief Information Officer at iSeatz, a loyalty technology company. As iSeatz CIO, Ed leads a diverse team of engineers, operations professionals, product managers, project managers, and quality assurance specialists. He utilizes his passion for blending technology, product management, innovation, and marketing to grow iSeatz’ core business, while also accelerating innovation and new product development. Ed has over 25 years of travel technology and new product experience, including co-founding Lodging.com and Hudson Crossing.

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

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