Interview: Collinson – Leading the Brand Loyalty Game

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Arabian Gazette’s interview with Sanjit Gill, General Manager of Collinson, Middle East, where he shares his expertise and insights on loyalty management programmes.

Back in the 90’s from when I come from, the local grocery was my go to place to grab a few munchies every time I had a craving for sugar. When you’re about six years old, there’s no question of budget allocation and what not, because all I was given was ‘One Dirham’ and had to make do with that. The grocery guy though, smart chap, had a nice incentive scheme. For every ten lollipops I purchased from him, I’d get one free lollipop at the end of the month and for this very good reason, I would only visit his little store for anything and everything.

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Ladies and gentleman, little did I know, that was my first experience of an indirect loyalty program. He rewarded me for my purchases and gave me a reason to come back to him. If something so simple could win the heart of a six year old, imagine what it could achieve on a much larger scale.

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A report published by Allied Market Research forecast the global loyalty management market to reach a valuation of $6.95 billion by 2023. Given the increasing trend in loyalty programs and brand differentiation to gain a larger market share, these are all contributing factors to the growth of this rather diverse industry.

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Moving to the current scenario, we’ve all flashed our fancy loyalty cards from the ‘MyClub Card’ of Carrefour for groceries or the Hilton ‘HH Honors’ card at your favorite resort just to gain those few extra perks for the continued support. We’d brush through our rewards statements to see how many points/miles we’ve accumulated on our last vacation to claim them for a possible upgrade on the next flight. But how many of us actually think about the backend process of these rather magnanimous loyalty programs? Who are these people who keep the show running? What sort of technology goes into making this happen? You see, that’s where ‘Collinson’ comes into the picture.

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Collinson have worked with over 600 banks, 90 airlines and 20 hotel groups in the past 30 years of being in the customer benefits and loyalty industry. Crafting unique customer experiences to help their clients have a competitive edge, Collinson ensures no stone is left unturned when it comes to customer satisfaction. Formerly known as ICLP, they were rebranded as ‘Collinson’ following the consolidation of Collinson’s loyalty, travel experiences, insurance and assistance business.

The new identity emphasizes one single vision – to approach clients’ challenges with a unified solution which leverages all of the talent, products and platforms within the company, to deliver smarter experiences that help the world’s best known brands acquire, engage, and retain their choice-rich customers.

At the press conference announcing the rebranding, I had a chance to catch up with Sanjit Gill, General Manager of Collinson, Middle East. A loyalty marketing and advertising veteran with over 20 years of experience in the field and dealing with big brands like Jumeirah Group, Emirates, Sephora, RSA, National Commercial Bank and DHL to name a few. Given my little curious mind, I decided to gain some valuable input from Mr. Gill with questions I had about the industry in general and how Collinson was tackling the various challenges that came before them.

I started by asking Sanjit a pretty straightforward question. “What’s the next big thing in the industry?” to which he replied with a smile in one word, “Blockchain”. Which made sense because why wouldn’t anyone want a centralized platform where everything is just well connected with each other and you can benefit from multiple programmes seamlessly therefore putting you in control of your spending and rewards, but that’s a long way to go. Today there are businesses with different loyalty programs within their own umbrella, particularly in the Middle East where a holding company has diverse activities.

When asked about the challenges of operating in emerging markets Gill explained it was indeed a challenge in terms of market readiness and acceptance, however their suite of products and services like Priority Pass and Loungekey were driving discussions in these markets, which offers enriched customer experiences and driving loyalty for businesses. Another key insight was how technology in these markets is a key consideration for Collinson to deliver solutions and customer propositions that work. Emerging markets don’t have the burden of legacy investments to consider when it comes to technology enabled solutions, so in some ways they have the advantage and can be more agile with their go-to-market plans.

Next on my list was of course a bit of a sensitive topic, “Privacy” and “How safe is our data?”, to which Sanjit replied “Data is the lifeblood of our business, which we transform it into actionable insight for our clients. Firstly, Collinson do not own the data, it belongs to our clients and always will. Secondly, data security is essential for any business and even more so nowadays, as regulations are coming into force to safeguard customer data and privacy. We are not in the business of selling or sharing data, however, we are in the business of data analytics and insights. Our Clients rely on Collinson to provide meaningful insight and recommendations based on their customers’ data, from whom we have their permission.”

Being a 23 year old myself, I had to discuss the elephant in the room. Millennials. We’re not an easy target group. We want everything easy. We like free stuff but don’t want to put too much effort into pretty much anything. Gill conveyed to me that Collinson conducts ongoing research with its clients and end consumers to understand their needs, attitudes and behaviors. This research lens extends into the organisation itself. Employing over 2,000 staff globally, a number of which are under the age of 30, the business can also tap into its Millennial Committee.

What better way is there to understand the needs, interests and more importantly loyalty trends than with Loyalty professionals who do this for a living? They are not only employees, but are consumers too just like any ordinary customer. “By staying on top of consumer trends, it means we’re continuously evolving in terms of innovations in the field. Technology is evolving dramatically too and if we don’t keep up, then we could be heading for trouble and that’s where these guys come in. They ensure we’re always at the top of our game,” says Sanjit.

Lastly, I was curious to know about the different challenges faced by the loyalty industry and one thing that seems to have topped the list is “How accurate is the information shared by a prospective customer”. Turns out, it’s not as great as it sounds. A lot of people just fill in wrong information to get away with the pressure tactics employed by the staff of these brands. It’s only when they realize that filling up this information could be beneficial for them in the long run that they actually divulge their true identity and to ensure this happens, firms try their best to offer as many benefits as possible. Not only does this leave you with far happier customers, it allows you to offer a personalized touch to all your goods and services. Gill added “It’s a two way street, if brands fail to deliver on their promises then customers will eventually lose interest, and in the same way if customers don’t provide accurate information then they lose out on all the great things on offer! It’s like a relationship, you need trust and assurance from both parties, and once this is achieved then the chances of a long-standing and rewarding relationship are high.”

To reaffirm its commitment as a global leader in delivering loyalty expertise, Collinson commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a global study into how businesses spanning the financial services, travel and retail sectors are faring with their loyalty programmes. Including data from the UAE and KSA markets, marketing decision makers at organisations with revenues exceeding $300 million were surveyed.

In its first wave of data, which is being shared this week, the study reveals that the majority of organisations are failing to measure the right information to really understand what drives loyalty – thus putting customer relationships and profitability at risk.

Collinson will reveal how businesses in the Middle East compare with those globally at employing loyalty strategies to strengthen existing and new customer relationships; integrating loyalty technologies with other internal processes; and where loyalty programme spend lies among wider business investment priorities over the next 12 months.

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