Partnerships between companies can provide incremental value to both the businesses and their respective customers. Traditional credit card partnerships, for example – called co-brands – provide airline miles or retail loyalty points to customers as well as access to credit and features such as purchase protection. The credit card company and its partner are able to engage in co-marketing activities, which leverage the combined customer lists of both firms.
Licensing agreements, such as my former employer The Danbury Mint acquiring rights to sell collectibles with Chevrolet or Major League Baseball trademarks, provide smaller companies with the ability to leverage iconic brands while allowing those big brands to earn secondary revenue and still focus on their own core businesses.
In both scenarios, it’s a win-win-win for both companies and the customer. But one big challenge is the loss of control over the customer experience. Brands should be careful to ensure they aren’t indirectly blamed by customers for a poor experience delivered by a corporate partner.
Let’s look at an example of a partnership between a major gas station brand and a local grocery store chain.
The way the program works is that for every $100 you spend at the grocery store, you get 10 cents off of gas at the pump. It’s a pretty good deal. The only problem is that redeeming that reward can be a little tricky.
Imagine you drive up to the gas station, you get out of the car, and you go over to the screen.
At the top of the screen it says, “Swipe EASY REWARDS or EASY PAY card now.” Underneath that are three button choices: CREDIT, DEBIT, and REWARDS. You don’t actually have an EASY REWARDS or EASY PAY card, so what do you do? I chose the REWARDS button.
The next screen says SELECT REWARD, and again, you have three buttons to choose from. One of them says Rewards, one of them says JEWEL ID/FR, and the third one says CANCEL. Let’s pause here for a moment; “Rewards” is generic and vague, and what in the world does “ID/FR” mean? This process has already become too difficult.
So, which should we choose? From experience I can tell you that “Rewards” is the right answer, even though the “Jewel” option was tempting since that’s the name of the local grocery store.
But when we choose “Rewards” we end up with a screen that says INSERT REWARDS CARD (which we don’t have) and three more choices! One of them is “Cancel” again, though this time it’s not in all-caps. The other two are something called “Alt ID,” and something called “ManualEntry/Barcode.” Confused yet?
Again, from experience I can tell you that “Alt ID” is the right answer here, because it turns out that Alt ID actually means, in some other language, your phone number. Wouldn’t it have been possible to just ask for a phone number on the first screen, getting customers immediately to where they have to go?
If you go back to the first screen and assume that everybody could probably figure out that REWARDS was the right choice, there are still two more choices on two different screens (eliminating “Cancel”) for a total of four different combinations that you could end up choosing. And I have chosen all four of them at some point–probably more than once!
This is a perfect example of what Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon calls “Do Simple Better,” which I think applies as much to business as it does to baseball.
All that has to happen is I have to enter in my phone number and I get these rewards, so why does it take three screens to do that? Doing simple better means finding ways to eliminate screens and keystrokes and make things as easy as possible on your customer.
Let’s take a step back: Which brand gets blamed in this situation for a poor customer experience? The obvious choice would be the gas station, which was in charge of programming the screens. But in all likelihood, Jewel receives indirect blame from customers for promoting a rewards program that is difficult to redeem and therefore has less perceived value. So, the grocery store chain is losing some value out of the partnership.
What are the takeaways from this experience for your business?
- When you build a new experience, whether it’s digital or in the real world, make sure to have somebody actually try it out before it is released to the public. That probably didn’t happen here, because any reasonable user of these screens would say that this is not as straightforward as it could be. To go a step further, survey some of your customers, or bring in a focus group to try it out, and ask them about it so that you get that feedback. This is a really basic user experience that was missed here.
- Rewards programs are meant to promote loyalty, but if you make the experience so bad or so difficult, you might actually create the opposite effect: The customer simply moves on to your competitor offering a simpler experience.
- When in doubt, make it easy on the customer. Maybe there’s a reason for three screens, but that isn’t the easy answer. The easy answer is the customer should just walk up to the screen, type in their phone number and be done.
For a breakdown of even more customer experience scenarios, and how you can apply learnings to your own business, make sure to tune into my weekly podcast with co-host Joey Coleman: Experience This!.
Views and opinions expressed by the author belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.