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For CX Technology, execution is more important than innovation

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on June 20, 2024

Promising technology that fails can erode customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Technology is the backbone of today’s customer loyalty programs. Sophisticated software platforms enable precise operation, efficient promo creation, rules management, and fraud prevention. But the technology that consumers care about is far from any of the wonderful Loyalty Management Systems we all know about. It’s the CX Technology that impacts their experience.

When new technology features are launched, their promise is shouted loudly. But none of the PR and hype holds its weight in water until it is tested by the program members it is designed for. When it works, customer satisfaction thrives. When it fails, hold on to your keyboards, as people will be quick to punish the brand through relentless online critique.

Cumberland Farms SmartPay

I’ve been asked frequently to name my favorite loyalty program and the answer is always a surprise. Cumberland Farms SmartPay Rewards is a payment-based incentive program sponsored by a convenience and fuel retailer, and while it may not be the most exotically designed program, it becomes a favorite based on CX Tech that works consistently.

SmartPay requires consumers to download a mobile app and connect their checking account to the program as a way to fund purchases at Cumberland Farms. Those two steps are enough to ward off many consumers, but I took a chance and have been enjoying a $.10/gallon discount every time I fuel up, plus loads of deals on products inside their stores, including free coffee on a regular basis. Call me a simple man, but I like the daily value the program delivers.

The best part of the technology is that I can activate the fuel dispenser through the mobile app. Yes, I do have to step out of the vehicle, but after that small concession, I enjoy the ACH-driven fuel discount while browsing through product deals in the app while fueling.

To echo a certain chief executive, “Here’s the deal.” I have been participating in the program for over three years, and the app always delivers. Only after a monster Florida thunderstorm did I once or twice experience pumps that were inoperative, but that was related to the heavens, not the tech created by Cumberland Farms.

Marriott Rewards Digital Key

A benefit of being a Marriott Rewards member is that I can access a digital room key through my mobile app. When I first learned of the benefit, I was excited to give it a try. I asked myself about the wisdom of offering a means for people to have access to a room without being physically present at the check-in desk - security concerns, you know. But in the spirit of accessing the world enjoyed by Millennials, I activated the digital key and progressed to my room in Salt Lake City with a hopeful heart.

The key did not work, and I returned downstairs – always a disappointing march after a long flight across multiple time zones – and asked the front desk person for help. The person at the desk was very polite but otherwise ignored that the digital key did not work and proceeded to check me in through the customary process and hand me a physical key.

I can’t say I was “happy,” but I was able to return to my room and settle in for the night. The point of this story is that I have not been able to successfully access my digital key on multiple visits to Marriott locations. I can assure you this is not user error. The level of support I have received from front desk personnel has varied widely, with some persons well-trained and informative while others were less equipped to be helpful.

The bottom line is that this loyalty program benefit has proven inconsistent and disappointing. Should Marriott remove it until can assure that it will work on a consistent basis? Maybe. If not, the digital room key will continue to be a loyalty experience eroder rather than a loyalty builder.

United Airlines Farelock

While shopping flights for an upcoming business trip, I encountered Farelock from United Airlines. The benefits of this product are brilliant. Considering the volatility of airfares today, the opportunity to find an acceptable flight pairing and fare is rare. To be able to lock it in and save it for later purchase is a useful benefit.

I am not sure why other airlines have not offered this service. Maybe they do and I have missed it. Farelock allows you to choose your flights, fill out a form and purchase a “lock” good for 3, 7 or 14 days. The idea is that your small fee secures your reservation, and you can return it in the given time limit to finalize your purchase, or let it go if you prefer.

You can read the rules page at United Airlines and find that it says “You’ll get an email reminder 24 hours before your FareLock hold ends.” In my case, I did not receive any reminders of my expiration, either by email or text. When I realized my reservation was in peril of being lost, I accessed my MileagePlus account but could not find any sign of an existing Farelock. There was virtually no sign of me having purchased the benefit and no way that I could find help on their site.

Similar to my Marriott experience, I had been introduced to a loyalty program benefit that caused me more frustration than delight.

The disappointing ChatBot

After not being able to find any evidence of my Farelock purchase in my Mileage Plus account, I searched the United website for contact information. I chose to use the chatbot via a short code on my phone to try to resolve the situation. The experience I had with this chatbot was with United, but I share it here as an illustration of the current state of chatbots with most retailers, airlines, and hotels.

I first posed a question to the Chatbot using the Farelock product name and the chatbot did not recognize that term. The digital assistant forced me into a menu that offered the options of Reservations, Service and support, Seats, or None of the above. Unfortunately, selecting None of the Above did not offer me more flexibility. Selecting Reservations took me down a path that was no help either.

In the end, I left the discussion with no resolution, only to check my messages later and see “Still with us?” as an empty invitation from the bot.

The experience I had with the United chatbot is being repeated across many other interactions with retailers in my sphere of activity. Until the technology becomes more capable, flexible, and able to process inquiries in natural language, I suggest that brands only offer chatbots with a disclaimer that sets expectations low enough that customers are not disappointed by the outcome.

Technology may be the backbone of today’s customer loyalty programs, but remember that it is the customer-facing technology that matters most. With customer expectations high and the ability to criticize completely unrestricted, it would be wise for brands to ensure that what they launch actually works—consistently.

Don’t ever limit the exploration of new technology or seek to extend the limits of what you think is possible. But be realistic with the range of outcomes from testing imperfect technology. The customer is watching with hands on the keyboard. Make sure that what you deliver sparks a positive Google review rather than a harsh critique.