Breaking up with your favourite brand is hard to do

Have you ever been loyal to a brand and then just moved? Isn’t it strange how emotional that can feel when it is just a product?

I have always loved the lego brick, right from the moment they launched the mini fig in 1978. I would save up my pocket money over several weeks to buy the smallest set with a mini fig. My parents told me I had the world’s largest collection until we saw photos of whole basements filled with toys when the internet came.

I was loyal though thick and thin, even when the business was at the brink of collapse when they over stocked for star wars and lost their way. So how can decades of loyalty feel broken?

Last year Lego implemented a new system for running its loyalty system, and sadly it has all the hallmarks of a poor systems implementation. Having saved up loyalty points, I redeemed them for a gift voucher, and then lost the lot because I didn’t follow the terms and conditions that weren’t obvious on the email. Then Lego failed to follow it’s promise in following up from the query. The challenge is that the ‘product’ is not just the brick but the whole experience, particularly customer loyalty.

6 Tips to retain customers when replacing technology

So what can we learn from this when updating and replacing systems? From my experience of implementing back offices systems and this Lego loyalty example, I can see 6 lessons learnt which are more about how to run projects than the content of them…

1. The development team rarely understand your customer.

Whatever the sales teams say, most of the people implementing a solution don’t know what it is like to run the system and connect it to your business. That means it is worth making one of your team the customer champion for the project and they are mindful of the whole experience from sales, onboarding and retention. They hold the power to ensure business value is made. This could be a product manager for a project.

  • Do you have someone on your team who is responsible for the end to end customer experience with each technology change?

2. Be mindful of the customer and staff journey at each stage of change

The software sales person will sell the end state – the point where you have paid for all the features. The implementation team may talk about the quick delivery and minimum viable product. Between the two there is a reality gap.

For Lego, they may have been sold a packaged loyalty system that gives them flexibility of the rewards they offer. Unfortunately the initial solution had rewards that spent points for things you could print off the internet. They had sweepstakes to win items. Both of these felt like ways of reducing their liability for real spend with points through items of low or virtual value. It didn’t give real value to the customer.

Instead they gave multiple logins, complex redemption processes, and restrictive terms and conditions to replace a simple customer process. I could swipe my card at the till or login to my account and redeem points. (Some forums say that a driver for the change was reducing the risk of fraud by staff using friend’s loyalty cards if customers didn’t have one – but making the experience worse for ALL isn’t the best way to address and internal problem)

  • When implementing systems are you looking at the ‘delta’ (what’s changed) as well as what’s new so the customers and colleagues know what is changing?

3. Good communication is about telling the good AND uncomfortable news

With any system change there will be things you lose and benefits you gain. This is particularly true with old systems with lots of bespoke changes and work arounds.

The communication from Lego on it’s new loyalty system was large on graphics and low on detail. The development team might have been interested on communication during their rollout timetable but most customers only care for the changes when it affects them.

For me, I had seen some communications but with so many marketing emails a month from Lego, I deleted most messages after I read the title. Only when I needed to redeem my points did I care to read what to do.

  • Are your communications designed around when the customer needs it or when you want to tell them?
  • Do your communications tell both that the customer will gain and that they will lose some things, temporarily or in order to gain other benefits?

4. Take care of making it easier for the customer and not always for the developer.

In the Lego example, when they first launched the new loyalty scheme they gave 30 days to redeem your gift voucher before you lost all your money. I can imagine a developer conversation ‘we only need 30 days because each gift voucher will take space on the database, and you don’t want a database of millions of rows for all these vouchers. Anyway if they are just going to use the voucher straight after getting it surely 30 days is enough?’

That’s fine until the customer wants to bank the gift voucher, and assumes it is like any other retailer’s voucher (Amazon’s vouchers last 10 years!). Then what happens when the product is out of stock when the customer wants to buy, and the company says it will be another month before it arrives? What happens when the purchasing system is designed to take, only one voucher, but the loyalty system can only sell vouchers in specific amounts? The customer experience ACROSS systems needs to be taken into account.

  • When you look at key parameters for the software, is the customer champion / product manager involved, looking at both what happens when things go well, AND what happens when it doesn’t?

5. Don’t forget e-mails and reporting in the solution

Too often software vendors talk extensively about the reporting capabilities of their product, and how you can customise e-mails. Their developers are interested in the screens, databases, and processes, and rarely interested in content. Thus reporting and communication tools within the product get forgotten and companies do not invest sufficiently in making the external facing element of a system look good.

In Lego’s case they talk about their terms and conditions on the product purchase page of the item, and then the email with the voucher had a very large image on it, did not state the value for the gift voucher, and the terms and conditions message was embedded in the image, with no link (i.e. I can’t find the terms and conditions relevant to this email). So the two important messages – how much it is worth and when it expires – were missing from the communication.

  • Do your communications and flow from the application make sense for the customer and contains the key information for THEM to make a decision?
  • Have you invested the internal time to build meaningful communication with customers, vendors and colleagues?

6. Are your other departments ready for the change?

When things don’t go to plan, then other teams might end up taking the strain. Often this is customer service, but it might also be the finance department dealing with issues and refunds. It is easy to consider the web-site and communications, but forget the other teams. When they launched the program, there were many teething problems with lost points and poor redemption items. The company had to issue a statement acknowledging issues but not really dealing with the complexity and restrictions of the system.

  • Are customer service and finance (and any other customer facing department) involved in the go-live transition for a product?
  • Have you estimated the impact of increased customer requests, and other ways of dealing with queries?

The Product Manager (Customer Champion) is key.

If there is one thing to learn from this experience, I’d suggest making sure you treat a systems implementation as a PRODUCT will make a significant difference; a product owner who holds the business purpose and customer experience will help reduce each of these issues. The project manager is interested in time, quality, and cost and the developers are interested in functionality, technical complexity and effort. The product manager can work with the other departments, and customer experience to ensure that the solution works for the customer, and reduces complaints or customer loyalty.

As of the date of this posting, I still haven’t heard feedback from Lego, and it seems that they have banked my (dis-) loyalty points, without letting me use them.

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