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Read or listen to articles published in this section and via BartonRock’s Digital Careers podcast series – also featuring interviews with high profile business leaders internationally.

The Art & Science of Customer Loyalty – An Expert’s View

The retail landscape & psychology behind customer behaviour in 2021 has shifted beyond anything experts could have predicted. Whilst the ongoing pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the growth of online shopping, many brands have now been forced to up their game with the importance they place on customer loyalty in their marketing & recruitment mix.


In this article, I’m going to be exploring how recruitment in the loyalty space is now becoming a key growth area.  The pandemic forced many retailers to fulfil big spikes in online demand and adapt quickly to provide ‘fit for purpose’ technology platforms with customer loyalty a lower priority.  Now as we ease into the ‘new normal’ retaining these new customers is quickly becoming a major focus for many organisations.


This shift in focus towards customer retention and loyalty is fuelling demand for marketing professionals, especially for those with data insight and analytics experience within the retail loyalty sector. Forward-thinking businesses are interpreting this shift and making the most of this valuable window of opportunity to recruit digitally-savvy executives. Understanding customer behaviour data, being able to interpret customer pain points and create agile and engaging solutions is now a huge priority.  Salespeople increasingly need to be able to demonstrate the ability to have data-driven conversations with a story-telling focus.


Changes that were expected to happen over a five-to-ten-year period have been condensed into a year. According to a McKinsey study on consumer sentiment, 75% of consumers have changed stores, brands, or the way they shop and most intend to continue shopping this way after the pandemic. Trends for online grocery shopping, DIY meal & cocktail kits and concierge-style services; whereby clothing is delivered with the courier waiting to take any unwanted clothing back, are all expected to stay.


I recently interviewed Global Loyalty Leader, Bryan Pearson to look at how the coronavirus pandemic has affected how, what and where people buy and what he thinks will shape a career in the customer loyalty sector now.  We started our interview by looking at the impact the pandemic has had on customer loyalty and what the future of consumer buying behaviour might look like post-pandemic. Here’s what Bryan had to say:


“The pandemic has actually provided a wonderful opportunity for retailers to really up their game and focus on new areas. Whether that’s been opening new channels of distribution, improving their digital experience, or waking up and recognising the importance of their loyalty asset. I think the change is relatively permanent with new retail channels, new digital experiences and new demographics now engaged in shopping experiences that they weren’t before. “


I asked Bryan what advice or checklist he could suggest for businesses considering their loyalty programmes; here are his key points.


“A lot of businesses found they didn’t have the right data files and systems in place and had not fostered the right environment to create ‘relationships’ with customers. The coronavirus pandemic made businesses realise how important their customer data was and that loyalty was an asset. Many companies didn’t have their data in the right state it needed to be. This has now resulted in renewed investment by companies who realise the importance of knowing who their customers are, investing in their loyalty programmes and ensuring they can have a robust dialogue with them in the future.


What we’ve seen is digital was a critical differentiator. The last 12 months has been a huge leveller with everyone having to up their game with digital and consider what their value proposition is, how good their engagement is with their customers and understanding that loyalty programmes are now playing a bigger game in the marketing mix.”


We looked at the various loyalty mechanisms retailers are now adopting or adapting and considered which brands were doing it well. In Bryan’s view, he favoured what he called ‘a Frankenstein approach’ to loyalty incorporating a range of omnichannel mechanisms that put the customer first, with a deep sense of personalisation and community at the heart of them. He cited Canadian fitness clothing brand Lulu Lemon as an example of a company that has successfully combined in-store experiences with yoga classes and wellness themes whilst introducing an online subscription-based loyalty programme.


Many clothing retailers over lockdown have adopted this unique subscription-based service as a profitable way of connecting their brand experience with their customer base adding to the opportunity to provide a deeper sense of personalisation. Bryan also highlighted the need for brands to connect consumer issues with their brand to tell richer stories, something that’s very important to the younger generation of consumers.


We finished our interview by talking about the mindset and leadership qualities Bryan would be looking for in a potential new employee right now in the retail loyalty sector. These are his thoughts.


“We always like to talk about the art and science of loyalty. What we are looking for is someone who can take those consumer insights and really be able to see what would engage the consumer, the challenges they are facing and combine that with the science and analytics. The rise of digital marketing creates a data exhaust on customers which allows us to have a much richer view on the analytics and measurement you can apply against them which allow you to be more effective and efficient at what you do.”


Bryan’s view matches my own perspective on what I’m finding companies are looking for in this sector.  The ability to display right-brain thinking (relationships, creativity) combined with left brain (analytical and data-driven) skillsets.


“When I look for talent, I look for people with that ability to engage on both sides especially at the senior levels and put them together.  The greatest indicator of success I’ve found is intellectual curiosity. They don’t just stop at an outcome they continue to dig and explore until they get to something interesting. So, what I’m really looking for is an appreciation for strategy, technology, psychology & maths and how those things come together.


The people I’ve found who have excelled in this sector have been the ones who have had a 360-degree view of what it takes to run and optimise a loyalty programme. I like to move people around the business to round out their experience so they have an appreciation of the data and what can be done.”


Candidates who can display evidence of having intellectual curiosity are always the ones who, for me stand out in my recruitment experience. In my view curiosity is assessed more by the questions they ask not just the evidence-based answers they give.


We finished our discussion by looking at the commonality between customer loyalty be that for a grocery retailer or airline and how customers expect brands to transfer the good practices they might receive in one setting to the other, regardless of industry type. The behavioural psychology and way a consumer thinks about things is consistent. There might be cultural norms and differences around the world but essentially how we operate as human beings is embedded in our DNA. It’s the job of the customer loyalty practitioner to crack the code and connect the dots.


If you are interested in finding a senior executive who can combine the art and science of customer loyalty, then get in touch Guy’s recruitment and executive search career spans over 20 years working internationally in the UK, Hong Kong and Singapore handling senior digital recruitment and executive searches across Asia-Pacific, Europe and the US.