Phil Rubin, CEO of loyalty marketing firm rDialogue
The people of Atlanta – including myself – are in a time crisis. Our city was already known for long commutes and horrific traffic. Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did: a bridge on a major highway collapsed on March 30.
It’s going to take months to rebuild. In the meantime, weary workers are resorting to our city’s limited public transportation system, MARTA. Ridership has risen in recent weeks as people try to get around.
Time is a valuable currency in loyalty marketing. Unlike typical loyalty currencies, time is actually increasing in value. When you ride the train instead of driving alone, you can do other things – work, read or relax. MARTA has an opportunity to show new “this is my only option” customers why they should choose public transit even after the bridge is repaired.
Many companies are already leveraging the concept of time as currency. When I fly, Clear gets me through security faster than Pre-Check. With Delta, I get to board the plane first, because I’m a loyal customer. That means I don’t have to worry about room for my carry-on bag or being bumped off an oversold flight. When I use my Starbucks Rewards card and app, I don’t have to wait when I get there.
Why get in your car, go to a store, look for what you want (and maybe not find it), pay and drive home when you can buy anything online in a fraction of the time? That’s one of the main reasons why malls and department stores are struggling while Amazon’s profits are growing. More and more people want to save minutes more than dollars.
Opportunities to increase your loyal customer base ebb and flow – sometimes it just happens – like when a bridge collapses (and note – no one was hurt during the collapse, or this would be an entirely different story). Here are some important considerations when seizing the moment to move customers from trial to loyal by selling them back their own time:
1: Do you do what you do well? Backing up claims of giving people what they want has to come with a total commitment to high-quality product and outstanding customer service.
2: Can I count on you? If you can only mobilize for a short period of time, then loyalty gains will likely be lost when the increased services go away. Unless that gift of time is consistent, changing my habits isn’t worth the effort.
3: Can you leverage customer data? How many times do they have to try your product or service before they’re hooked? What can you do at that point to push them over the edge? And more importantly, to say thank you and leave them feeling recognized, which ultimately leaves them wanting to return.
In the coming weeks, if MARTA emphasizes the time that public transit can give back to commuters, it stands a strong chance of holding on to the current momentum. It must be prepared to meet the demand with good service and friendly staff. And if it can learn about these new customers through collecting and analyzing data, its opportunity is even greater. The choices it makes could offer lessons for businesses far and wide.
And if you come to our city, please, take the train.