by Leo Jakobson | February 09, 2017
Maritz Motivation Solutions has launched a new tool designed to make it easy for companies to provide appreciation gifts for top customers.

The LoyaltyNext Gift Portal is not intended to replace an existing employee or consumer loyalty program, but rather to allow clients to provide a gift experience unrelated to any specific action taken by the recipient. 

"It's not your traditional mercenary loyalty program, where you do something for me when I do something for you, so there's a quid pro quo going on there," said Barry Kirk, vice president of loyalty solutions for Maritz Motivation Solutions. "We know that that's most loyalty programs. Gift Portal really is, in most cases, a 'just because' gift. That's the power of it: 'I didn't have to do anything to get it. You're just acknowledging that you value what I'm doing.'"

That said, Gift Portal does work in tandem with one, targeting high-value customers such as a hotel company's platinum-level loyalty members, Kirk said. "You're going to be selective with the application," he added. "It could be that a couple of times a year you're acknowledging your best members. I don't think you'd do it right after a stay, because you do want to know that that customer is someone who's going to bring you repeat business. That piece is still important."

One key, Kirk added, is that a "surprise-and-delight approach" like Gift Portal must be targeted to customers with whom the company already has a strong and established relationship. 

"This is not just about a website or a selection of gifts, it's about having the right engagement strategy in place to make this work," he said. "To really have a high response rate to something like GiftPortal, you need to have already established a good, highly engaged, trusted relationship with those members, so they're going to trust that it's not just some hidden type of offer or marketing scheme. You don't want to use a technique like this right out of the blue."

While the main use of Gift Portal is to express appreciation to a target audience of high-value customers, it can be used in service-recovery situations, such as a data breach that exposed customers' private information, Kirk noted.

Another key is that the Gift Portal process has to be a simple one, because the award experience is experiential. "What you're really doing there is beginning to focus less on the points and financials of the program, and more on the experience that you're creating," he added. "Points are really important, but increasingly, the experience you're creating is important. But you can't do this for everybody. You have to figure out which segments to apply it to."

One client that has been seeing good results with Maritz's LoyaltyNext Gift Portal is Barclaycard US, a leading issuer of credit cards and co-branded programs. 

"Customers who receive appreciation offers are more likely to recommend Barclaycard than non-targeted customers," said Maureen Connors, vice president of marketing planning for Barclaycard US, noting that her company focuses ongoing research on evaluating its customer service experience. "Gift Portal provides another way to reward our customers for their business and loyalty, and allows us to see the impact of a customer appreciation strategy."

Nor does this method require a huge gift budget, according to Kirk, who noted that some of Barclaycard's award-winning Gift Portal programs used a choice of $5 coffee gift cards from Dunkin' Donuts, Panera Bread, and Starbucks, as well as $10 movie cards from AMC Theaters, Regal, and Fandango. The value of the gift, he said, depends on the segment of the customers that you're targeting. 

"The more valuable the customer, the more business they do with you, the more likely you are to include higher-end items like Bose headphones," he noted. "You look at, what is the reason I'm using Gift Portal to engage a particular segment, and what is appropriate based on their level of value in the program?"

Another point is that the selection of items to choose from tends to far more limited that in a traditional loyalty awards program. Kirk pointed to the choice-of-three that BarclayCard used. "When I'm trying to thank you for your business or to make you feel better about a service issue, I don't want to create an experience where you have to spend a lot of time figuring out what your benefit is," he said. "By giving you a limited choice, I'm saying that I've selected things that I know will be of interest and value to you."

That knowledge is vital, he added, noting that the award selection must be carefully curated for the recipient, and is more likely to have nine selections than 90. "When I'm trying to thank you for your business or to make you feel better about a service issue, I don't want to create an experience where you feel like you have to spend a lot of time figuring out what your benefit is," Kirk said. "By giving you a limited choice, I'm saying that I've selected things that I know will be of interest and value to you."