What loyalty programs keep a customer marriage happy?

I know the importance of telling customers how important they are to a company. Our company is at the point where we have been in business for a while and have enough customers to implement a loyalty program. A consultant recommended setting up “bronze, silver and gold awards” but I wonder if a simple annual dinner party would be enough. What type of loyalty programs are effective?
— Karen, Sales Manager

It’s all about the relationship 
Karen, several readers have faced a similar situation, and have hunted for ways to reward loyalty. It seems the consensus is that loyalty has less to do with dollars and cents than it does with the relationship you build with customers over the years. Your fellow practitioners recommend taking the following steps:

  • Recognize those that contribute the most.
  • Make it personal.
  • Give back.

Recognize those that contribute the most
Most readers think that a bronze, silver and gold program might be too elaborate to administer, and that those organizations that “only” rate a bronze or silver might actually be de-motivated. (Plus, someone has to set the criteria, decide who “wins” and then justify those choices.) That said, readers are unanimous in recommending that you recognize the contributions of those people and organizations that have helped the most somehow.
An anonymous vice president says her organization “gives a free membership to the top three organizations that have done the most for the association. Since our membership fees are significant, that is a tangible way to say ‘thank you.’ It is much more valuable than a plaque on the wall.”
Another anonymous Pennsylvania event sponsor looks for methods to get leverage and synergy out of long-term relationships. “We look for ways to hook up donors and vendors. We held a reception for our top donors after hours at a nearby Harley Davidson dealership, and everyone got complementary sidecar rides around town. It was a win-win for everyone — and a blast.”
Make it personal 
“The best way to reward employees is to find something they like, or a cause that matters to them, and tie into that,” says an anonymouscorporate event planner. “The same thing goes for rewarding loyal customers, donors or whatever,” she says. “For example, if you find that a customer is an opera lover, give that person season tickets — or one big night on the town. Personalizing is essential.”
Cari Beenenga, P.E., senior geotechnical engineer and chair of the Central PA Geotechnical Conference, seconds that. “I would encourage a special event to which the customer may bring family, for an evening of fun. One vendor I deal with has access to an amusement park and stadium. The vendor hosts an evening of complimentary amusement rides and food for all clients and families. It’s enjoyable for the vendor to meet my family (further strengthening the relationship) and a fun networking opportunity for my spouse and me.”
Beenenga shares the customer’s point of view: “Not only does my family look forward to these events, but the opportunity to treat them to some fun encourages me to utilize these vendors at every opportunity, increasing my loyalty.”
Give back
Paige Poulos, president of her own communications company, shares a different perspective. “Beyond the quality and value of your goods and services, loyalty is all about the relationship. Giving back is key.”
She recommends buying some of the client’s products to give to other clients as holiday or appreciation gifts, attending client events and inviting them to an annual client appreciation event or taking them out to celebrate the renewal or extension of a contract.
A final word
It seems clear from these comments that the best ways to reward loyal customers, donors or even vendors need to be relationship-based and personalized. It could be as simple as a pat on the back and a sincere thank you. Neither of which cost a dime.

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