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Customer loyalty: Creating your own Grand Design

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11th May 2011
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Whether you’re creating a new loyalty scheme or thinking about how you can change your website to enhance the customer experience, you know that second-rate design won’t stand up to public scrutiny. Success doesn’t happen without expertise at the planning stage, says Chris Ford. 

If you haven’t yet watched Grand Designs, it’s worth seeing, at least a few times. Kevin McCloud’s genuine interest and enthusiasm for the people, places and projects are a big part of what makes the programme such compelling viewing. But I’ll also own up to another reason I enjoy settling down in front of More 4 for a little architectural light entertainment.
Because (and I may not be alone in this) I secretly relish the moments when it’s revealed that not everything’s going exactly to plan. The funky new floor treatment is stubbornly refusing to set; the prefabricated roof struts don’t quite fit the way they’re supposed to; the gleaming UPVC window frames have arrived, but the local authorities point out that they have no business being installed on a Grade II listed building.
What always amazes me is how so often the would-be developers resolutely battle on, ankle deep in muddy trenches and bleeding thousands by the minute. It’s a bad sign when McCloud begins mildly offering suggestions that might help. And it’s even worse when he thrusts his hands deep in his jacket pockets, sadly but resignedly peers at the camera through the inevitable drizzle, then slowly walks away… distancing himself from impending disaster. 
Maybe our hapless couple didn’t plan properly. Maybe they took shortcuts or bought on the cheap. Maybe they simply didn’t ask the right people the right questions before they began. Whatever the cause, it’s going to cost them time, heartache and a whole lot of extra cash to put it right. Not to mention the embarrassment of having made a very public mistake.
Early investment pays dividends
It’s all too easy to criticise when all we’re doing is observing from a safe distance and our own wallet remains safely tucked away in our back pocket. Yet creating, delivering and running a successful website, customer engagement programme or loyalty scheme can expose you to all kinds of potential pitfalls. And even if you have a good idea of what you want and how to achieve it, it’s worth investing just a little cash up front to make sure you’re building the right thing in the right place - and in the right way. And of course, the same applies to renovating something that’s already standing.
It all starts with the survey
Zig Ziglar said that “a positive conviction without accurate information is a dangerous thing” and it’s not until you accurately assess the current lie of the land and what you want to achieve that you can begin to draw up plans. When you’re under pressure to deliver within budget and to a set timescale, time and money spent on research can seem extravagant, even unnecessary. Yet time and again, I’ve seen organisation begin thinking they want X, when in fact even something as simple as a one-day workshop with key stakeholders reveals that Y will deliver far greater impact and ROI. Sometimes it’s only a small tweak or two that’s needed to something that’s already there – an addition, perhaps, or a revamped look. And sometimes the best thing to do is start from scratch and build from the foundations up. 
The key to successful understanding is, of course, research: asking the right questions and having the expertise to identify both potential challenges and opportunities before trying to come up with all the answers. If you partner with a company like Grass Roots that can work with you throughout your project - from scoping your programme to its ongoing maintenance - so much the better, as they’ll have that wider range of vision as well as practical first-hand knowledge. But there’s nothing to stop you consulting different professionals at different stages.
Call in the architects
Once you have a vision of what you want to achieve, and a clear picture of the constraints to which you may have to work, you can then begin on design. Your ‘architect’ can advise you on what technology will be fit for purpose, and what will only work as a short-term.  
For example, there’s no need to build a new website every few years, when you could have a web platform that will evolve with your business and changing market conditions. And when the Joneses are determined to try and keep up with you, a flexible design will enable you to stay one step ahead - making sure your offering always stays fresh and competitive.
Too often programmes and cutting-edge websites have an initial ‘halo’ effect that slowly fades to nothing - yet by monitoring data to spot trends and pre-empt churn points, you can adapt and respond before customers think about switching brand (much easier than trying to hold onto someone who has already made up their mind to leave). A good architect will be able to come up with various models to show you what’s possible, how to build in and use valuable market intelligence, and how to ensure your foundations are strong and future-proof.
"We wanted to develop and launch a national customer loyalty programme. Our chosen provider identified what we really needed, came up with a strategy that would support our future long-term plans and gave us a solution that has massively improved our customer advocacy ratings." Head of CRM & Loyalty, leading UK Hotel & Restaurant chain.
Your designers should also help you take into account any concerns raised by other areas of your organisation that could be affected by your project – as well as enabling you to meet the latest regulatory and technical requirements. 
So ask a man who really knows
The great thing about working with specialists is that they bring with them lessons learned and finishing touches picked up from other projects they’ve worked on in the past. Like a good accountant helping you with your taxes, design expertise will usually save you time and money in the long run, as well as making sure that the results are as they should be.
Chris Ford is business development director at Grass Roots. Grass Roots is a business services company, specialising in Digital Marketing and Loyalty. Find out more at www.grassroots.uk.com
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