Payments, Podcasts

Citi’s Mary Hines: ‘With digital features, people redeem points more than five times a year’

  • Loyalty programs are evolving along with digital channels.
  • Citi's Mary Hines joins us on the podcast to talk about optimizing engagement.
Citi’s Mary Hines: ‘With digital features, people redeem points more than five times a year’

With all the choices consumers have to shop today, rewards programs are real differentiators. Turns out that 89 percent of consumers are more loyal to the stores or businesses where they are a rewards member. But just offering a rewards program is table stakes now — it has to be easy to access and easy to redeem.

Today’s guest on the podcast is Citi’s Mary Hines. Mary is the managing director of customer engagement and innovation in Citi’s credit cards group. As part of that role, she oversees the growth and development of the ThankYou Reward Program in the U.S. and 11 other international markets.

Mary describes the role customer loyalty programs have in today’s retail and payments business models. We talk about the intersection of digital strategies and what makes an effective loyalty marketing campaign. Lastly, we drill down into her strategy in delivering a seamless and remarkable experience across all customer touch points.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

The role of loyalty programs in retail and payments business models

Loyalty programs are incredibly important to consumers when they make purchase decisions. We recently did a study of 1000 consumers and 89 percent said that they are more loyal to the stores and businesses where they are a rewards member.

When you think of a payments organization, we want to give our customers a reason to use our card for every single purchase they make. Rewarding them with points that they can redeem for exactly what they want is a big driver of that engagement.

How customers discover loyalty programs via merchants

Let’s take our Best Buy partnership, for example. You intend to buy a TV for Super Bowl Sunday. During checkout, you select that you want to use your Citi card. Immediately, you get a box that pops up that says you have a certain number of rewards points and you can input how many points you want to use for this purchase.

As a consumer, you feel the value of using your Citi products and services every time you interact with these merchants. We find that our customers love this convenience and flexibility. We no longer have to curate a program following retail trends to make sure we have what a customer wants when they come to us. Now, our customers go where they want to go and can see the value of their points.

We find that when people use these types of digital features, they redeem more than five times a year. They aren’t emptying out their point bank — they’re just using a portion of their points and they’re doing it very frequently. As someone in marketing who’s trying to drive engagement, this is nirvana. There’s a constant gratification to the customer that they made the right decision to use their Citi card.

Across all touch points, creating a delightful experience for customers

We leverage an omnichannel approach to our marketing. We want to speak to our customers in the way they want to be spoken to and where they are anyway. We look at purchase behavior and previous response to marketing to determine the best offer to show them and where to show it.

For some customers, we may buy placements on Facebook and Instagram about a particular gift card sale we’re running. Others may not respond on digital so we’ll send direct mail.

The evolving loyalty program customer

Loyalty programs were really first created in the late eighties by the airlines industry. You would get miles as you flew. It then expanded into the card space with broad-based rewards programs. They remained in a similar structure for quite awhile.

But over the last seven years since I joined Citi in 2012, there’s been a massive transformation because of the emergence of digital and especially, mobile. That’s the channel our consumers want to use — especially millennials. In the research I mentioned earlier, over eighty percent of consumers are more likely to participate in a loyalty program when there’s the ability to access the program via mobile. That number jumps to 94 percent when you look at millennials.

It’s about creating the easiest digital experience that’s most relevant to our customers.

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