When Customer Loyalty Schemes Go Wrong

Halloween Horrors: When Customer Loyalty Schemes Go Wrong

There are many benefits that a well thought out customer loyalty scheme can bring to a business, but with the season of witches and zombies upon us, let’s look at the dark side: let’s look at what happens when loyalty schemes go bad. This is a true story…I was meeting some friends to have a chat about something or other and, as the library was closed and the local community centre booked (honest!), we decided to have our catch-up in a local pub.

It was an ordinary late autumn Thursday evening, wet leaves underfoot and a playful breeze in the air.

After an unadventurous journey, we reached the pub, found a table, took our jackets off, pooled our cash and sent someone to get the first round in.

Approaching the bar, it turned out that the pub had introduced a loyalty scheme: buy ten pints, get the 11th for free. The poster explaining the rules was very clear and very simple: it only included draft beers and ciders and wasn’t valid on a Friday or Saturday night after 5pm. But that was about it: ten pints, one free. Fair enough.

There were five of us and we were anticipating a fairly arduous brainstorming session, so the nominated individual at the bar dutifully filled in his details on a card and got the first round in. We began our discussion.

The second round rolled by, washing down some increasingly animated conversation that may or may not have stayed totally on the matter in hand.

The problem arose when one of us went to get the third round. Handing over our card that now had ten stamps on, we were told by the landlord that we should only get a stamp per round rather than per pint so the stamps we’d collected weren’t valid.

We then proceeded to have a benign discussion with the landlord, asking why we hadn’t been told this when we’d had the previous drinks and querying the logic that underpinned his scheme. We even tried appealing to his good nature and simple sense of fair play.

He wouldn’t budge though, the member of staff that had served us previously had failed to understand the rules of the promotion and he would have a word. It seemed that the free pint we thought we were entitled to was not going to be forthcoming.

By the time that we’d had this conversation and the landlord had proved himself to be unwilling to compromise, we decided to take our custom to the pub down the road and continue our discussions there. None of us have been back to the first pub since.

What should have happened – getting customer loyalty schemes right

Rather than blame his staff for misinterpreting the rules of the promotion, or look at us as though we were trying to pull a fast one, the landlord could have accepted that there had been a simple misunderstanding and tried to find a way of compromising.

The last thing any of us want is to do is add to the financial challenges that public houses face, but poor customer service cost that particular pub five occasional visitors and potentially the custom of a number of other people that we’ve discussed it with.

Obviously, there was room for interpretation within the wording of the promotion and hopefully the landlord fixed the problem as quickly as he could, because I assume that we weren’t the only group of people that ended up in that discussion. Thinking through his promotion in greater depth or getting the opinion of other people before going live could have saved a great deal of embarrassment all round.

Even the simplest customer loyalty schemes can turn complex when you put them into practice. So brands big and small should seek independent advice and a fresh perspective before putting them in place.