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Comparing loyalty program providers

The Beginner’s Guide to Comparing Loyalty Program Providers

You can’t rush perfection, they say. This especially rings true when planning a transformative decision, such as choosing which loyalty program provider should power your customer loyalty program. After all, loyalty technology vendors come in many shapes and sizes, each with different strengths and areas of expertise. Some of them cater to small businesses with limited but easy-to-implement solutions. Pure-play loyalty program providers, on the other hand, offer sophisticated solutions fit for international enterprises. 

The key to success lies in identifying the technology most capable of empowering your business needs and KPIs — which is why you should thoroughly compare the loyalty program providers of your choice. 

To lend you a hand, I present a clear-cut guide with a handy worksheet. This guide will take you through the ins and outs of evaluating customer loyalty program service providers, and the worksheet is a tool that helps you make the comparison. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Loyalty Program Providers 

What is a loyalty provider?

The term loyalty program provider refers to a business developing and selling loyalty management software that allows businesses to run and manage their own loyalty programs.

What type of loyalty program providers are there?

There are three types of loyalty program providers: CDPs which also offer built-in loyalty features, management services that offer both technology and management services, and pure-play providers that specialize in state-of-the-art technology. 

Who has the best customer loyalty program?

Though there is no crowned champion when it comes to reward programs, the reward systems of Starbucks, Sephora, Amazon and Nike are often cited as some of the best customer loyalty programs

Is a loyalty program part of CRM?

A customer loyalty program can be slotted into many departments. Some treat it as a marketing project, others refer to it as a CRM initiative, while some businesses create a whole new department to run the loyalty program. 

Why It Is Important to Compare Loyalty Platforms

The truth is, objectively evaluating loyalty technology vendors is more complicated than it seems. Companies often set out with a handful of qualifying criteria, but might overlook some aspects they don’t deem as important. 

For example, if you want to have a program that focuses on gamification, then you’ll judge vendors in large part based on how good their gamification features are. That’s a big mistake! Price, integration, support, data security… these should all be equally important aspects of the decision-making process. 

Before committing to a tech vendor, you need to know which type of loyalty technology is good for you. In this episode of Mission: Loyalty, Agent Jess tells you all about it. 

How to Evaluate Loyalty Tech Vendors With the Comparison Worksheet

Antavo’s Loyalty Management Platform Comparison Worksheet helps you avoid a lopsided or incomplete evaluation. It features a comprehensive list of criteria to compare loyalty program providers, divided into multiple categories. By putting the information you collect side by side, it’s much easier to clearly identify the strengths and weaknesses of each vendor. 

Here’s how to use it:

  • Dedicate each column to a different tech vendor.
  • Fill out each field with relevant information, dictated by the instructions in the corresponding row.
  • Use the worksheet as a guiding light, so you don’t miss any critical topics.
  • Sometimes you can assign a number value to a field, representing how good a certain provider is in a certain category, such as gamification. This value should be based on your own evaluation.
  • The worksheet comes with most of its fields pre-filled with Antavo’s details to make things easier for you. However, some information, like exact pricing figures requires specific information that needs a direct meeting. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!
  • Naturally, this worksheet is not a substitute for a full-fledged RFP. Think of it as a supporting tool in your actual evaluation process. 

Below you will find a step-by-step explanation of each of the categories found in Antavo’s loyalty program comparison worksheet, coupled with best practices for your research. 

Step 1: Collect Key Information About Each Loyalty Program Provider

Your research should always start with the technology vendor’s reputation. How long have they been in business? What are they known for? What type of clients do they serve? Answering these questions will help you place loyalty program providers on the map. 

About the company

  1. Company description
  • The way a company describes itself is often indicative of its key strengths and area of expertise. 
  • It also hints on the terminology the company uses, such as reward types or mechanics.
  • You shouldn’t copy all of the information into the worksheet, just a few points of reference so you can tell them apart from the competitors.
  1. Founding year
  • Though you should record the founding year of the company, the overall time the company spent on the market isn’t always in direct correlation with their expertise.
  • Sometimes, upstart go-getters are more innovative and have a more agile product.
  • Of course, the older a company is, the more likely it has accumulated knowledge, streamlined its technology, and stabilized its internal and management processes.
  1. Offices
  • The location of the company’s offices play an important — but not critical — role in measuring the effectiveness of the company’s support.
  • If the tech provider has offices in your region, it means they have a good understanding of the local market and its trends.
  • In addition, being in the same timezone makes meetings, workshops and troubleshooting more straightforward.
  • However, close vicinity isn’t a must-have in today’s era of digitalization. Moreover, a tech vendor that isn’t in your region might be more driven and dedicated because they want to make a strong impression.
  1. Positioning
  • The best way to place a loyalty provider is by looking at industry reports from Gartner or Forrester.
  • If a vendor isn’t in an official report, that doesn’t mean their offerings are poor, of course. However, you might need to look elsewhere, such as direct testimonials from their clients, to understand their positioning.
  1. Target audience
  • Understanding a tech vendor’s target audience is the key to a fruitful partnership.
  • You shouldn’t try to win over a tech vendor if you are not in the vendor’s target audience. Doing so will either require a lot of custom development, or you will end up with a platform that has a lot of features you don’t use. 
  • “We serve everyone” is a red flag, as it means that the business hasn’t really found its niche on the market.
  • Getting into a discovery call or email exchange with a company representative is the easiest way to assess the fit.
  1. Industry focus
  • Industry focus determines what areas a platform provider specializes in, and whether they have previous knowledge in your market. 
  • Having a vendor with a matching industry focus should be a strong plus.
  • However, industry focus alone shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. At the end of the day, if the technology supports the kind of use cases you are looking for, it’s a clear sign that the loyalty provider can power your program.
  1. Key clients & their case studies
  • Exploring what kind of clients or customers the provider worked with is an essential step, because it will tell you more about the platform’s capabilities and their clients’ achievements.
  • It’s definitely worth contacting some of these clients and asking them about their experience working with the vendor.
  • Brand logos and testimonials are great, but also look for case studies, because they go in-depth into how the tech drives specific use cases and, in many cases, shares quantitative results.
  • Keep in mind that the company’s website isn’t the only place to find case studies. Sometimes SDRs or managers can share additional information that is not yet publicly available.

Step 2: Estimate the Pricing Structure and Additional Service Fees for Loyalty Program Software

The overall fee associated with using a technology is often a deciding factor when it comes to loyalty provider comparison. However, a common mistake in budgeting is to only look at the initial numbers, like the subscription or implementation fee. If the concept is poorly conceived and/or needs custom development, or if there are roadblocks in integration, the amount you pay for the launch can skyrocket. That’s why you should consider all aspects carefully, not just the price tag.

Pricing

  1. What is the subscription fee based on?
  • There is no universal rule on how SaaS loyalty technology fees are calculated. Fees vary for each vendor.
  • If a company offers an out-of-box solution with little to no implementation, they might charge a standard fee.
  • For a more complex, pure-play technology, it’s likely that the subscription fee is based on the size of the project, and you will have to commit to a certain number of years.
  1. Subscription fee per user/transaction/etc
  • It’s also possible that the subscription fee is flexible, and decided by the success of the customer loyalty program. 
  • If the fee is based on the number of active members or on certain actions (such as transactions made), you may have to pay more, but that higher fee also means that your program is more successful.
  • There also tends to be a certain limit to these variables. Such as you pay a set annual fee for up to 100,000 active members, but have to pay extra if this limit is exceeded.
  • Overall, this factor requires negotiation with each individual vendor.
  1. Implementation fee
  • Just like the subscription fee, the implementation fee cannot be determined by taking a glance on the website — it requires a discussion with the provider.
  • Generally, the bigger and more complex your tech stack is, the higher your implementation fee will be.
  1. Proposed ROI
  • Some loyalty technology vendors may propose some form of loyalty program ROI, but it’s not industry practice. 
  • Every company calculates ROI in different ways, and reward programs usually don’t go into the black until the second year. 
  • However, platform providers can share best practices and client use cases that will help you estimate the ROI and increase the customer lifetime value. 

Step 3: Take Notes on Key Features and Tech Solutions of the Customer Loyalty Software

This is probably the most important part of comparing loyalty program providers. In the worksheet, you can take notes and collect the kind of features that caught your eye in the “Highlighted features section” or add them in more detail at the end of that particular section. You can also use the rating system to rank core features and capabilities. 

Product

  1. Gamification modules
  • The term ‘gamification’ covers a wide range of features that serve different purposes. For example, badges in a rewards program drive different KPIs than a sweepstake or prize wheel. Therefore, always ask for a list of gamified features that are supported by the vendor.
  • Here’s a list of features supported by Antavo’s gamification module: badges, challenges, offline/online treasure hunts, sweepstakes, prize wheel, and social media contests.
  1. Loyalty logic customization
  • Loyalty logic refers to a loyalty management software’s ability to shape how its rules and campaigns work. This includes, for example, how much a tiered system can be customized to fit a custom loyalty program concept. 
  • A low score means that the system is rigid and allows little-to-no room for flexibility.
  • A high score should be awarded to technology that lets users set up any kind of custom rule or campaign desired.
  1. The range of rewards and incentives
  • If you seek to reward customers, there are so many more options than discounts and coupons. 
  • Besides monetary incentives, a customer loyalty platform should be able to handle events, physical gifts, partner rewards, experiential benefits, VIP privileges (like early access), and downloadable content.
  • To receive a high score on the worksheet, loyalty program providers should be able to handle the administrative and management side of these rewards. 
  1. Multiple loyalty program types
  • Loyalty programs include more than just tiers and points. A loyalty vendor should be able to accommodate different strategies out of the box.
  • To receive a high score, the loyalty software should have settings and capabilities that directly enable a given loyalty program type. For instance, Antavo supports 11 loyalty program types.
  1. User-friendly backend
  • Customer loyalty program managers are going to interact with the management interface of the rewards program on a near daily basis. Therefore, a user-friendly and easy-to-use backend is a must-have.
  • Make sure to ask for demo access on how the platform works. It’s a plus if the vendor offers courses, training, and materials on how to use their technology. 
  • Look for loyalty software that’s low-code or no-code. These platforms can be operated without coding knowledge or help from the IT team. 
  1. Reporting & BI Capabilities
  • Reporting and data analysis in loyalty programs can be done at either a high level or a deep level.
  • High-level reporting means that dashboards are available within the platform, and the system uses all available data. 
  • For a deeper understanding of how certain customer segments interact with the program, loyalty data should be fed to a BI tool.
  1. AI capabilities
  • The common use of AI in loyalty programs involves automated churn prediction or providing deep data analytics in its dashboards.
  • Similar to BI tools, the lack of non-member data prompts loyalty software developers to support the integration with platforms that have  a full view of data, such as marketing automation services.  
  1. Community-building elements
  • Loyalty programs can reach customers outside of the buying cycle and build loyalty by fostering a like-minded community
  • The vendor can enable this through features such as friend referrals, leaderboards, access to members-only events, badges based on member interactions, incentivized product reviews, social media contests, etc. 
  1. A/B testing capabilities
  • A/B testing in rewards programs mostly revolves around multi-variant testing. For example, which incentive is more effective when you want to reward customers cost-effectively? A coupon or bonus points? A/B testing can also be used to test out the audience’s reaction to new features.  
  • If a loyalty platform offers a limited range of A/B testing options, it is not necessarily a weakness. Marketing automation platforms are, by nature, more honed in on this feature, which is why many loyalty software providers choose to integrate with said providers, instead of developing their own A/B testing tools. 

Step 4: Integrating the Customer Loyalty Program Into Your Existing Tech Stack

Customer loyalty programs are just one piece of the puzzle. A crucial one, true, but you still need to make sure that they fit seamlessly into your existing ecosystem. That’s why you should ensure the technology is advanced enough to serve your marketing channels and have pre-built integrations with the necessary third parties. 

Integration

  1. eCommerce integration
  • When it comes to eCommerce integrations, the biggest decision is how you wish to connect the loyalty program software. 
  • If you are working with an eCommerce platform such as Magento, Shopify or Salesforce, it’s vital to ensure that the rewards program provider has experience integrating with them.
  • If no intermediaries exist, the eCommerce integration is done via APIs. 
  1. Omnichannel capabilities
  • In essence, having an omnichannel loyalty program is all about setting up a holistic form of customer engagement, seamlessly engaging with loyal customers across all marketing channels — offline, online and mobile.
  • Be aware that omnichannel is more than just supporting these channels. The loyalty program has to be able to bridge the gap between them and create a unified experience.
  • Digital loyalty cards, loyalty passes, support for beacon technology, and app-based customer engagement — these are just a few examples of what an omnichannel loyalty vendor should provide.
  1. Mobile
  • In terms of establishing a mobile presence for your customer loyalty program, you have three options: make it a part of your existing native app, build a standalone loyalty app, or simply use mobile passes.  
  • Either way, the vendor you choose should be able to handle the following functions: 
    • Showcase the type of benefits and point balances currently available for members 
    • Let loyal customers earn points and benefits for shopping (no matter how they transact), as well as give them the ability to redeem their rewards during checkout
    • Allow for communication with members through direct messages, emails or push notifications 
  1. Social media integration
  • If you are looking for a customer loyalty program that elevates your social media presence, you will need loyalty software capable of connecting the user profile with said websites.
  • Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are the most commonly requested integrations, but depending on your business model, you can look for other integrations as well.
  • Don’t forget that some countries have their own social media platforms, such as WeChat in China. 
  1. Marketing automation integration
  • Connecting a loyalty program with a marketing automation provider is necessary if you wish to feed loyalty data into your communication. 
  • Examples include sending out push notifications if a customer’s points are expiring or birthday emails that notify customers that they’ve received a gift of bonus points.
  • Marketing automation platforms excel at A/B testing, so the loyalty software doesn’t need to support this capability as long as the two systems are seamlessly integrated. 
  1. BI tool integration
  • Since loyalty program platforms only have data about program members, customer loyalty platforms tend to integrate with BI tools instead of developing their own.  
  • Learn more about what type of platforms Antavo integrates on our dedicated page.
  1. Comprehensive API capabilities
  • Also known as ‘being headless’, loyalty providers that rely on APIs make it easier to launch and manage a loyalty program. They also enable you to display personalized loyalty data on any device. 
  • To some degree, all companies use APIs, but their extent of using them determines how ‘headless’ they are. 
  • As an API-first company, Antavo relies heavily on APIs. Here are some of them: Events API, Entities API, Customers API, Display API, Rewards API.

Step 5: Ensuring You’ll Receive Proper Support

Working with a SaaS loyalty technology provider goes beyond simply downloading software. It’s a complex platform that you need to learn to operate. Make sure that you aren’t left in the dark after the launch, and that you’ll receive proper support — both technical, in case an issue occurs, and strategic, to keep the reward system growing. 

Account Management and Support

  1. Dedicated customer success manager
  • A customer success manager is essentially the first point of contact a business has with the loyalty software vendor. The title for this position might vary, as well as what their duty entails.
  • Antavo’s customer success managers have the following responsibilities: 
    • Handling escalations and regularly updating you during the implementation phase.
    • After launch, their goal is to help you succeed by holding executive business reviews, sharing the latest loyalty metrics for your program, and providing suggestions for the reward program’s improvement.
  1. SLAs on service availability and customer service response time
  • By recording vital information regarding the loyalty program vendor’s SLA, you can easily compare the quality and potential of their customer service. 
  • What you should definitely include is the response time, downtime, promise for the resolution time, their helpdesk method, and their support team’s timezone. 
  • Antavo offers three types of SLAs, with an increasing commitment to support according to the quality of the contract. 
  1. Technical support
  • Proper technical support is key to a healthy operation, both pre- and post-launch.
  • You should inquire whether the vendor provides 24/7 support, or is only available during specific working hours. You should also be sure to specify the timezone and possible exceptions for technical support. 
  • Lastly, you should be aware of how customer support is handled. Can you simply escalate issues to the customer success manager, or do you need to manually set up tickets? 
  1. Implementation timeline
  • It’s never possible to determine an implementation timeline before both you and the tech vendor have a solid understanding of the scope of the project. Out-of-scope custom developments and issues with third-party integrations can all slow down the implementation. 
  • Though not representative of all cases, Antavo usually handles implementation in between 10-14 months. Yet, again, this depends on the size and complexity of the loyalty program concept.
  1. Consultancy services
  • Some loyalty software vendors also offer a consultancy service, either for an additional fee or as part of the license fee.
  • The consultants can provide either business advice (how to run a successful rewards program) or technology advice (how to use the software most efficiently).
  • Generally, consultancy services provide you with best practices on which features, modules or reward types are recommended to achieve your goals.
  1. Thought leadership
  • As an alternative to consultancy, some loyalty providers offer additional educational materials that help you navigate in the world of loyalty programs. These materials tends to consist of blog posts, guides, ebooks, worksheets and reports
  • In most cases, such materials are free to access, sometimes requiring the submission of contact information before the content can be downloaded. 

Step 6: Adding Up the Pros and Cons

At this point, you probably have a strong grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of the loyalty technology provider in question. So use this section of the worksheet to properly summarize both the good and the bad — as well as the sales pitch you received from them. 

USPS and Weaknesses

  1. Sales pitch
  • This is the core message of the loyalty company. You can collect this from their website, but if you are in contact with them, they are more likely to communicate a custom-tailored pitch.
  • It’s a good sign if the pitch resonates with your company’s core values and KPIs. 
  1. USPs
  • In the worksheet, list every aspect that sets the provider apart.
  • This section should be more than just re-listing the features the technology offers. The team’s competency, client portfolio, the ease of use of the platform — these can all be USPs.
  1. Weaknesses
  • Weaknesses should involve desired features and capabilities that are lacking, any gaps in the SLA, and so on. 
  • The goal here is to have a balanced and fair look at all the pros and cons of each provider, side-by-side. 

Step 7:  Protecting Your Business and Data

Data security and information privacy are crucial parts of operating a loyalty program, yet their importance is often overlooked. Just think about it: the points you distribute in the reward program all have a monetary value, so if the system gets hacked, you not only lose your reputation, but you’ll be harmed financially, too. The same goes for when member data gets mishandled. 

Security and Data Protection

  1. Who is the data owner?
  • Technically — and from a legal perspective, the owner of the loyalty program data can either be you or the loyalty program provider. In practice, it’s always the former.
  • Nonetheless, you still need to provide the necessary access and rights so that the platform can receive the necessary data to work properly. 
  1. GDPR compliance
  • Make sure that the loyalty platform handles sensitive customer data improperly and avoids recording customer information that goes against GDPR requirements.
  • One example to consider is how the data is handled after a member manually deletes their profile. 
  1. Security and data protection policies
  • Each country and geographic region has its own data protection rules, so you have to make sure that the loyalty program provider is well-versed in them. 
  • Read more about Antavo’s Data Protection Policy here. 
  1. Comprehensive data backup processes
  • Data is the most important asset for a loyalty platform, and the best data backup processes involve systematic and reliable methods to ensure data availability and recoverability.
  • When choosing a provider, inquire about their data backup processes. Ask whether they back up data manually or automatically, whether backups are full or incremental, where the backup servers are located (offsite or onsite), what kind of cloud service they are using, etc. 
  1. Data hosting in a secure environment
  • Storing and managing loyalty program data in a secure way involves employing robust security measures to safeguard sensitive customer information and ensure its confidentiality, integrity, and availability at all times. 
  • This practice includes data encryption, physical security of documents and servers, access control and network security, as well as frequent auditing.
  1. Fraud protection
  • Fraud in loyalty programs can come from many places. It can be done internally by a fraudulent staff member, or by a hacker. The loyalty technology needs to come equipped not just with security measures, but also tools to detect or prevent malicious activities. 
  • Antavo’s fraud detection capabilities include customizable fraud detection workflows, special pending events and return policies, as well as unique access management and user groups. 

Ready, Set, Compare!

Hopefully with this guide and worksheet in your hand, researching and comparing the loyalty program providers is a breeze. Make sure to add notes on anything you feel is relevant, so that vendor pros and cons are lined up nicely. 

If you are feeling stuck in your research, or wish to learn more about Antavo’s technology in particular — after all, some fields have been left unfilled so we can discuss them — don’t hesitate to get in touch with our experts. Alternatively, if you prefer a more traditional method of comparison, you can also send us an RFP.

Antavo’s worksheet for comparing loyalty program providers is a great tool to help you organize your thoughts about loyalty vendors. Don’t forget to download it!

Antavo
Author: Antavo

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